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The $14 billion question Judd Legum

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After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which killed 2,977 victims, there was a tremendous and justifiable desire for the government to take action against those responsible. On October 7, 2001, the United States and its allies launched “Operation Enduring Freedom.” By mid-November, through an extensive bombing campaign and ground invasion, United States-led forces were able to topple the Taliban government, which harbored the Al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The United Nations was brought in to help establish an interim government. 

On October 16, 2002, 9/11 was cited as the justification for the Congressional authorization of military force against Iraq. Among other things, the resolution stated that Iraq continues to “possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability.” The United States began military operations against Iraq on March 20, 2003. Within a few weeks, the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had collapsed. On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush (R) stood behind a “Mission Accomplished” banner and declared that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” 

In both cases, the initial military objectives were accomplished quickly. But leaders did not fully consider the question: what’s next?

U.S. combat against the Taliban in Afghanistan continued for nearly two decades. The lengthy conflict claimed the lives of 6,294 American service members and contractors, 66,000 members of the allied Afghan military and security forces, and 47,245 Afghan civilians. When the United States finally withdrew the last of its forces in August 2021, the Taliban immediately re-established control.  

In Iraq, U.S. forces maintained a presence until 2011. The operation resulted in the deaths of 8,160 American service members and contractors, 50,000 allied Iraqi forces, and 200,000 or more Iraqi civilians. No weapons of mass destruction were found, and Hussein’s regime had no involvement in 9/11.

Both operations, which produced few tangible benefits, also had massive financial costs. According to Brown University’s Watson Institute, the direct cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was $2.2 trillion. Since the wars were financed with debt, the total cost could exceed $4 trillion by 2030 and $6.5 trillion by 2050. 

On October 7, 2023, Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israeli towns on the border of Gaza, killing at least 1,400 people and taking more than 200 hostages. President Biden described the attack, due to Israel’s smaller size, as equivalent to “15 9/11s.” Biden noted that the deaths tapped into a “kind of primal feeling in Israel, just like it did… in the United States.” Israel’s response has been unsparing, blanketing Gaza in airstrikes. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 4,385 Gazans have been killed as of October 21. There is also a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza after Israel cut off most sources of electricity and water. Israel also ordered more than 1 million Palestinians in Gaza in the northern part of the territory to evacuate south. On Saturday, Israel permitted the first shipments of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza but those supplies only represent a small fraction of what is needed. 

In an Oval Office address Friday night, Biden announced he was sending to Congress “an urgent budget request to fund America’s national security needs [and] to support our critical partners, including Israel.” The request includes “$14.3 billion in aid for Israel,” which would be in addition to the approximately $3 billion in military aid the United States provides to Israel annually. (The $105 billion budget request also includes tens of billions in aid to Ukraine.) 

The money earmarked for Israel includes about $10 billion in direct military aid that will fund both “more air and missile defense support” and “munitions.” The request, the White House says, does not specify what munitions the Department of Defense will provide Israel. Ariel Cohen, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, says Israel has a particular need for “bombs that can penetrate the reinforced concrete of Hamas structures in Gaza” and “air tankers, which are crucial to extending the range of Israel’s air force.” Biden’s request also lifts the cap on direct weapons transfers from the U.S. to Israel, which could push the total amount of military assistance higher. 

Biden said the money “will sharpen Israel’s qualitative military edge” and “make sure other hostile actors in the region know that Israel is stronger than ever.”

But one question Biden did not answer is: what’s next? 

According to reports, Israeli officials will “soon” launch a ground invasion. “You now see Gaza from afar, soon you will see it from the inside,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told troops on the front line. “The order will come.” Gallant says the Israeli military is in the “first phase” of a three-part operation. The initial phase includes airstrikes and a ground invasion “with the purpose of destroying operatives and damaging infrastructure in order to defeat and destroy Hamas.” The second phase “will be continued fighting but at a lower intensity as troops work to ‘eliminate pockets of resistance.'” The final phase involves “the creation of a new security regime in the Gaza Strip, the removal of Israel’s responsibility for day-to-day life in the Gaza Strip.”

The final step, which involves ending the conflict, is much easier said than done. In many respects, what Israel is attempting to do in Gaza is more difficult than what the United States attempted to do in Afghanistan and Iraq. In both of those countries, there were factions that were generally supportive of America’s presence — the Shiites and Kurds in Iraq and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. But there are no significant number of Palestinians in Gaza who will welcome an Israeli occupying force. And any “security regime” established by the Israelis will likely be viewed with extreme skepticism, at best, by the people of Gaza.   

Previous attempts at a ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces are a cautionary tale. In 2014, Israeli forces engaged in a battle in Gaza City. The conflict “killed more than 1,600 innocent bystanders and wounded more than 10,000 in a little more than a month.” But “Israel eventually retreat[ed] with no significant strategic victories.” The dense urban environment in much of Gaza makes for an extraordinarily challenging battlefield. 

Former President Bush, who set the strategy for the United States invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, has expressed support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aggressive approach. Bush described himself as “a hardliner” and encouraged Israel to take “whatever actions [are] necessary to defend herself.” Bush acknowledged that “[i]t’s going to be ugly for a while because “going into the neighborhoods of Gaza is going to be tough.” But, according to Bush, there are no other options for Netanyahu. “[H]e’s got to do what he’s got to do,” Bush said. In a video obtained by Axios, Bush does not describe how he envisions the conflict ending. 

In an October 15, 2023 interview on 60 Minutes, Biden said that it would be “a mistake to… for Israel to occupy… Gaza again.” But now, Biden is proposing more than $14 billion to aid Israeli operations in Gaza which appears to include a ground invasion. Israel’s position is a paradox. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, said that Israel has “no interest” in an occupation. But Israeli officials have simultaneously warned operations in Gaza “will be lengthy.” 

According to the New Yorker, “senior Israeli officials told the Americans [visiting Israel] to expect a war that could last as long as ten years.” If that’s the case — and the United States remains committed to helping finance Israel’s war effort — $14 billion will only be a small down payment. And, in light of the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no guarantee that the situation in Gaza will be any better after many years of war.

In his remarks during his visit to Israel last week, Biden acknowledged that, in its response to 9/11, the United States “made mistakes.” Two decades later, is the United States repeating the same mistakes in its efforts to back Israel? 

 

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Your Constitutional Right To Zyn Kiran Sampath

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Photo illustration by The Free Press

According to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, they are a “sinister new threat to the health of young Americans.” Vox says they explain “the new ethos of conservative young men.” Business Insider frets that its users belong to “a subculture on the right that doesn’t just tolerate nicotine use, but venerates it.” 

A new front has opened up in the culture war, and the fight is over inch-long nicotine pouches called Zyns. The product was developed as a cleaner, healthier alternative to “Snus”—moist tobacco pouches tucked inside the gums. Zyn pouches offer all the nicotine without the sticky mess. In other words, Zyns are to Snus what Juuls are to cigarettes—and the latest wave in the push for ever more refined, automatic, and hassle-free nicotine delivery.

And they are popular. Nicotine pouches debuted in the U.S. in 2016 and sales grew by over 540 percent between August 2019 to March 2022. Brands like On! and Velo have played their part, but Zyn, the brand born in Sweden in 2014 and acquired by the tobacco behemoth Philip Morris in 2022, commands 75 percent of the market share as of 2023.

“Part of the appeal is the name.” says Wilson Nesbit, an economics student at Yale University. “It’s short. It’s sweet. And you can put it in a lot of words.” 

In other words, it’s memeable. “Monica Lezynsky,” Nesbit offers. “Zyn-Manuel Miranda. Qui-Gon Zyn.”

Nesbit lives on Lynwood Place, a small street just off Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut. Lynwood is home to two churches, three fraternities, two secret societies, one Chabad house, and a boatload of nicotine. Hence the block’s new nickname, Zynwood. 

“It’s been known as Zynwood for two years,” says Nesbit, who lives with six boys in a house on the street. “The guys who lived here before us had a tent with the Zyn brand stamped across it.” More recently, he underwent an artistic project to solidify the community’s identity, collecting the empty Zyn tins from throughout the neighborhood—277 of them—and spelling out ZYNWOOD on the wall of their living room. 

The Zynwood sign. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Nesbit)

But Zyns aren’t just for college kids. Twentysomethings in corporate jobs now see them as a sophisticated way to get a nicotine hit.

“Vapes are unprofessional,” Andrew Schuler, a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, former vaper, and Zyn user, tells me. “We need nicotine to cope with our jobs because they are extremely stressful,” says Schuler, who goes through three to four pouches a day. “But you’re not going to rip a clunky-looking, purple-colored vape at your desk.”

It’s also about optimization, he said. “Smoking a cigarette requires a break.”

“The guy who used to work at the desk next to me used to take meetings with a Zyn in his cheek,” says one friend, a former Goldman Sachs banker. 

For some, nicotine delivered via Zyns isn’t a nasty addiction, but something of a macho life hack. Arch-techbro Peter Thiel claims nicotine raises your IQ 10 points, while Tucker Carlson (Carlzyn?) proclaimed on Theo Von’s podcast, “Zyn is a powerful work enhancer” as well as “a man enhancer.” (Last December, the Nelk Boys podcasters gifted Carlson the world’s largest Zyn, delivered via helicopter.) But it isn’t neccessarily just right-wingers who use Zyn: a recent picture of Squad member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed a Zyn pack-shaped bulge in her white jeans. 

Tucker Carl-zyn with the world’s largest Zyn, and a regular-sized packet for scale. (Image via X)

In January, Chuck Schumer called for a crackdown on Zyns. “Amid federal action against e-cigs and their grip on young people, a quiet and dangerous alternative has emerged and it is called Zyn,” Schumer said, warning that Zyns “lock their sights on teens and use social media to hook them.”

As part of his crackdown, Schumer wants to investigate how Phillip Morris has marketed Zyn, and whether the firm has targeted minors. In 2023, Juul agreed to pay $462 million to settle lawsuits into the marketing of vaping products to children. But, rather than investing in social media influencers or extensive advertising campaigns, Zyn has relied on organic viral traction in the U.S. 

A spokesman for Zyn says the company’s marketing practices “are focused on preventing underage access and set the benchmark for the industry.” 

But even Nesbit says Schumer is right to worry about young people getting hooked on the pouch. “It’s an easy introduction for youths that haven’t used nicotine,” he told me over the phone from Zynwood. “Mitigating youth usage should be a top priority, but finding the right approach is another story.” 

Others see ingesting Zyns as a constitutional right, and Schumer as an enemy of freedom. As Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene recently exclaimed on X about his crackdown : “This calls for a Zynsurrection!”

Kiran Sampath is a researcher and reporter. Read her last piece about the temple in New Jersey that took 12 years and $96 million to build.

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South Korea Is Running Out of Kids. Is This America’s Future? Anna Louie Sussman

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In January, more than 150 schools in South Korea had no new first graders. (Photo by Busà Photography via Getty Images)

If you’ve been on TikTok in the last few weeks, you might have seen that American women are talking about 4B. The South Korean feminist movement gets its name from the “Four Nos” its adherents commit to: no dating, no sex, no marriage, no childbirth. In short, 4B, which began around 2019, encourages women to actively avoid men as much as possible. That it’s now trending in the U.S. raises an uncomfortable question: Are our gender politics starting to look like Korea’s? And if so, will the demographic consequences be as extreme?

Right now, South Korea is running out of kids. Last week, it was reported that the Education Ministry plans to reduce the number of teacher training places, citing the precipitous decline in students, which is so extreme that in January of this year more than 150 schools across the nation had no new first graders. Six years ago, the average number of children a South Korean woman had in her lifetime was 0.92, a figure rarely seen outside wartime; since then, it’s fallen all the way to 0.78, with a projection of 0.65 in 2025. In Seoul, the capital, it’s already at 0.59

When I visited Seoul in 2022 to report on why Koreans aren’t having babies, I often found myself wondering: Could this happen in America? Our nation’s fertility, though significantly below the replacement rate of 2.1, is currently higher, at 1.8. But, in the course of dozens of conversations with Koreans of reproductive age, I heard more extreme versions of sentiments I’d started to observe at home. 

Today, Americans who want a good old-fashioned heterosexual relationship struggle to find someone who shares their values. Analysis has shown a gigantic mismatch in the nation’s dating pool: for each single liberal woman, there exist 0.6 single liberal young men. Conservative young men have it even worse, with just 0.5 single conservative young women available to choose from. At the end of last year, the pollster Dan Cox found that this divide is particularly intense among American members of Gen Z, whose oldest members are now 27, the average age of a first-time mother in 2022. 

In Gen Z, Cox showed, women and men are much further apart on fundamental questions of gender equality than the generation before them: whereas 52 percent of millennial men say they’re feminists, compared to 54 percent of women, the equivalent figures for Gen Z are 43 percent and 61 percent. In 2019, a third of adult men under 30 said they face discrimination based on their sex; only five years later, that number has increased to almost half.

Recent data suggest this gender divide is global—and growing. In January, a Financial Times report showed the wide, and widening, divergence in political values between young women and men. This is true in South Korea and the U.S. but also in China, Germany, and the UK.

Americans haven’t given up on having a family to the extent that South Koreans have. In 2023, about 35 percent of Koreans said they don’t think having children after marriage is necessary, a figure that rose to more than 57 percent among 19- to 24-year-olds. By contrast, a recent Gallup poll found that the vast majority of Americans under 30 “either already have children (21 percent) or hope to someday (63 percent).” 

But young American women haven’t just been making TikToks about 4B out of curiosity—an increasing number are genuinely swearing off male partners, with the hashtag #celibacyjourney racking up tens of millions of views. A New York Times op-ed published in February described going “boysober” as “this year’s hottest mental health craze.” Meanwhile, men who identify as “involuntarily celibate” are retreating to online echo chambers that, one 2022 study suggested, now harbor eight times as many instances of degrading language toward women than they did in 2016. In the twelve months after December 2022, self-described misogynist Andrew Tate’s following on X increased from 3 million to 8.5 million.

Conservative politicians across the globe are capitalizing on these divides. Not long before I arrived in Korea, the president Yoon Suk-yeol had coasted into office in May 2022 on a wave of anti-feminist campaign promises, in what multiple observers described as an “incel election.” For the first time, young men describing themselves as anti-feminist were seen as an influential voting bloc, with Yoon promising to abolish the nation’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. (He has not yet succeeded.)

In the U.S., the Republicans also appear to be aggressively courting the male vote. Since the fall of Roe, the Republican Party has become actively hostile to women’s reproductive rights, pushing female voters left. And some of the party’s most influential members are now stoking a war between men and women.

In a breathtakingly offensive comment last January, Florida congressman Matt Gaetz called for the Republican Party to all but forget about female voters, saying that “For every Karen we lose, there’s a Julio and a Jamal ready to sign up for the MAGA movement.” Fox News host Jesse Watters has been even more explicit in singling out liberal single women as the GOP’s nemesis, alighting, somehow, on matrimony as an electoral strategy. 

“Single women are breaking for Democrats by 30 points,” he said after the 2022 midterms. “We need these ladies to get married,” he warned, following up with an order: “Guys, go put a ring on it.” 

And yet a recent poll found that 40 percent of Republicans said they don’t believe marital rape should definitely or probably be prosecuted, suggesting the party’s not overflowing with eligible bachelors. 

All signs point to an ever-widening rift between the sexes. And if women and men become sworn enemies, America is going to start running out of kids, too.

Anna Louie Sussman is a journalist covering gender, economics, and reproduction. She is a 2024 Alicia Patterson Fellow

For more on America’s gender divide, read Rikki Schlott’s piece, “When It Comes to Sex, My Generation Is Screwed,” and become a Free Press subscriber today:

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April 15, 2024 Garamond

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