As 2017 comes to an end, much to the surprise of many, the world has not. Well, not yet, there’s still a week. One of the things I worry about given our incompetent and neuroses driven president is the potential for stumbling into a really big catastrophe.
Not the tax bill. Yes, it’s lousy, but it will not destroy the country or create huge mass suffering and it is reversible. I’m thinking more along the lines of what has happened in Puerto Rico (which is atrocious) happening nationwide. Just something big and abominable — something that makes 9/11 look tiny, like say, a war with North Korea.
We are probably not going to have a war with North Korea
Some knowledgeable people are very, very worried about this possibility. Others might argue that there is a sort of strategy of compellence evolving. Lots of threats and sanctions to force the North Koreans to the negotiating table on our terms (see below). One can see the logic of this strategy, but also recognize that, when deal with a paranoid (rational, but paranoid) regime, there is a tremendous potential for accidents. In international affairs, signaling can be a dicey business. A threat and a move interpreted by Pyongyang as hostile or a move toward pre-emption, and we could end up in a shooting war. And once that kind of thing starts, it will get very bloody very fast.
TI don’t think that is going to happen. But here’s the thing, if the probability very low, it is now low. In the world of intelligence analysis , words are considered very poor tools for probabilities. It is important to assign number, because what is low probability — 5%, 25%? It matters. So let’s say that overall the probability of war with North Korea was 1%. Could happen, don’t worry too much about it. But, with ill-considered rhetoric flying around, perhaps it is up to 10%. That is still very unlikely, but higher than it should be. Stuff that is 10% likely happens and when it is as catastrophic as a nuclear war with North Korea, you really want to keep it as low as possible.
It’s the economy stupid
North Korea is not the only — or even the first — nightmare scenario I worry about it. I also worry about the debt ceiling. They keep making temporary deals to raise it. But, if they should fail to make this deal and the U.S. starts defaulting on its debt, that would send unbelievable shockwaves to the global economy. We could plunge the world into an economic meltdown. Now, to be clear, this is also not likely. First, Congress will keep coming to agreements and if they miss a little, there are contingency plans that would buy a little extra time. But, given the administration’s incompetence, not just the White House — also the Secretary of Treasury — one can see this happening through miscalculation. That isn’t the only scenario. What about the President, in a fit of pique, ending NAFTA. Besides possibly triggering a huge recession, it could also push Mexico into a serious political instability. Again, not likely — but likelier. There are probably other scenarios I haven’t thought of. Under Bush 43 they had the 1% doctrine, that is if a terrorist threat seemed 1% likely they had to treat it as highly probable. In retrospect, it was a pretty problematic doctrine. I have my 10% doctrine, outlier scenarios that would normally be very highly unlikely (say 1%) are now just highly unlikely (say 10%). Things that are only 10% likely probably won’t happen. But if you roll the dice often enough…
Originally published at terrorwonk.blogspot.com on December 24, 2017.