Twenty Years After

“You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is to never get involved in a land war in Asia.”

The Princess Bride

Addison WigginDear Reader,

Spending more than a few minutes on a cable news channel or streaming website is usually an exercise in tedium. But tuning in this week will quickly become intolerable.

A few networks have already started their looks at the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks… and more will follow. By the end of the week, there will be an endless parade of survivors, retrospectives and regurgitated footage of the calamity taking up almost all of the available airtime.

Coverage may be even more somber in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. You may remember 9/11 was a causa bellis for invading the central Asian nation — to punish the ruling Taliban for harboring the Al Qaeda blamed for the attacks.

After two decades and over $2 trillion, U.S. troops are gone and the Taliban are back in control.

But we wonder if anyone will be brave enough to utter the tough questions underlying the maudlin remembrances… or if they’ll be too “political” to ponder on such a somber occasion.

We’re not beholden to such patriotic impulses, so we don’t mind considering out loud why we were attacked. We can consider whether 20 years of military action in Afghanistan made us safer. And we can wonder if anyone will ever apologize for the military debacle and shameful retreat.

It’s not unprecedented. As Bill Bonner and I relate in Empire of Debt, Robert S. MacNamara, Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968 — and the U.S. architect of the Vietnam War — admitted that what he had done was “terribly, terribly wrong.”

Who would have thought a more terribly wrong war could drown out the misbegotten deeds of an earlier generation? How was it that a whole new generation would be duped into fighting an endless battle against an invisible global enemy? As we’ve already heard many times over the past week, many of the soldiers returning home from Afghanistan were but wee toddlers or a gleam in their mothers’ eye when the World Trade Towers fell.

An argument could be made that the U.S. “had to do something,” lest more airliners become weapons of mass destruction. Just three months after the devastating hijacking, Al Qaeda supposedly suborned a man into wearing explosive shoes onto an airplane.

“The North Vietnamese never posed any real danger to the United States. Ho Chi Minh and his men were never going to seize Washington.”

MacNamara’s justification for sending more and more troops into Vietnam was a lot more ethereal. The North Vietnamese never posed any real danger to the United States. Ho Chi Minh and his men were never going to seize Washington.

So what is astonishing about MacNamara’s mea culpa is not his admission that he made a colossal error — though that is extraordinary in itself and places him in a superior category to most public officials — but his candid record of how life-and-death decisions are made by supposedly intelligent and responsible governments.

The experiences in Afghanistan show that U.S. policymakers learned nothing they should have from the Vietnam War. In fact, policymakers tried so hard to prevent the Afghan war from becoming “another Vietnam” that they actually magnified the mistakes of the past.

Empire of Debt explains how the Vietnam War helped put the United States on a path to ruin. The disaster in Afghanistan could seal the deal.

It’s such a top-of-mind topic that we’re suspending our look at unconventional investments to explore it in-depth. We’ll use our thoughts on Vietnam from Empire of Debt as a starting point to a discussion on Afghanistan — focusing on what went wrong in both conflicts, and what it means going forward.

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too. Just drop us a line at

We’ll kick things off tomorrow with a deeper look at “MacNamara’s War.”


Addison Wiggin

Addison Wiggin
Founder, The Financial Reserve

P.S. El Salvadore just made Bitcoin legal tender, requiring businesses to accept the cryptocurrency as payment — but only if the business has the technology to handle the transactions.

You may remember that during our March roundtable discussion, Anya Leonard and Joel Bowman discussed how Bitcoin was practically de facto legal tender in Argentina, especially with Venezuelan refugees.

The biggest difference here is that El Salvadore doesn’t have a currency of its own. It stopped producing colones in 2001, when it decided to adopt the U.S. dollar as its primary means of payment.

So adding Bitcoin to its official mix could be yet another sign that other countries are becoming wary of U.S. monetary policy. The fact that Salvadorans are being encouraged to use the cryptocurrency in everyday transactions could also help Bitcoin gain the utility it needs to be seen as a true rival to the dollar.

Bitcoin’s value, which has been surging relative to the dollar, actually retreated after the announcement. We’re not sure what it means, but we’ll keep watching.

Addison Wiggin

Addison Wiggin

Addison Wiggin is founder and executive publisher of Agora Financial LLC, an independent economic forecasting and financial research firm. He and Bill Bonner began writing the firm’s flagship Daily Reckoning in the midst of the tech boom and bust. It was one of the first widely distributed email newsletters on the Internet. The publication’s critical eye on finance and economics continues today. He’s also creator and editorial director of Agora Financial’s daily missive The 5 Min. Forecast.

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