Unintended Consequence No. 1— ABC: Turkish troops gathering along border, preparing to stream into Iraqi Kurdistan. In order to squelch a potentially mortal threat that could possibly develop five years down the road, of course.
At the time Gore made his statement, it received no attention whatever. [Wolf] Blitzer didn’t ask Gore to explain his remark; he showed no surprise at what Gore had said. And in its on-air promotions for the taped interview, CNN showed no sign of thinking that Gore had “made news” with his comment. Meanwhile, major papers which covered Gore’s interview completely ignored the comment. On March 10, for example, the Washington Post ran a full report about the Gore-Blitzer session. But the paper only discussed Gore’s remarks on U.S. relations with China. On March 11, the Washington Times’ Greg Pierce reviewed the interview in his “Inside Politics” column. But Pierce only mentioned what Gore had said about early campaign polling. Similarly, the AP’s dispatches about Gore’s interview completely ignored his Internet comment. And another major organ passed over Gore’s statement. On March 10, the Hotline — the widely-read, on-line digest of the day’s political news — ran extensive excerpts from the Late Edition Q-and-A’s, but omitted the Internet remark altogether. In fact, in the first two days after Gore’s appearance, no press entity remarked, in any way, on what Gore said about the Net. Gore’s comment would be critiqued, attacked, burlesqued and spun over the course of the next twenty months. But it evoked no reaction from the press — none at all — at the time Gore made it. . . .
Why did Gore’s comment provoke no reaction? Perhaps because Blitzer and others knew that Gore had taken the leadership, within the Congress, in developing what we now call the Internet. Gore was explicitly discussing his achievements in Congress, and if “I took the initiative” meant “I took the leadership,” his statement was perfectly accurate. (Extemporaneous speech doesn’t always parse perfectly. Everyone in Washington knows this.) Indeed, as Gore’s remark began attracting wide scrutiny, some journalists reviewed his congressional record — and a wide array of Internet pioneers described his key role, within the Congress, in creating what we now call the Net. In the March 21 Washington Post, for example, Jason Schwartz quoted several Internet pioneers, including Vinton Cerf, the man often called “the father of the Internet.” Cerf praised Gore’s role in the Net’s development. “I think it is very fair to say that the Internet would not be where it is in the United States without the strong support given to it and related research areas by the vice president,” he said. Meanwhile, Katie Hafner, author of a book on the Internet’s origins, penned a short piece in the New York Times, quoting experts who said that Gore “helped lift the Internet from relative obscurity and turn it into a widely accessible, commercial network.” On March 18, Gore tried to clarify his remark in an interview with USA Today. “I did take the lead in the Congress,” he told Chuck Raasch; he described his Internet work in detail. Raasch quoted Gore’s explanation — but it was mentioned in no other paper.
How well-known was Gore’s leadership role? The press corps was full of experienced scribes who knew all about his work in this area. We’ll let the Nexis archives guide us as we review this familiar old tale. According to Nexis, the Washington Post’s first reference to the Internet occurred in November 1988; a “virus” had attacked the little-known network, which connected some 50,000 computers, the Post said. But as journalists began to report on the Net, Gore’s key role in its development was clear. One month later, for example, Martin Walker wrote this in The Guardian:
WALKER (12/30/88): American computing scientists are campaigning for the creation of a “superhighway” which would revolutionise data transmission.
Legislation has already been laid before Congress by Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee, calling for government funds to help establish the new network, which scientists say they can have working within five years, at a cost of Dollars 400 million.
Nine months later, the Post reported that the Bush administration “plans to unveil tomorrow an ambitious plan to spend nearly $2 billion enhancing the nation’s technological know-how, including the creation of a high-speed data ‘superhighway’ that would link more than 1,000 research sites around the country.” This network was “comparable to an interstate highway system for electronic data,” the paper said — and it noted that “a similar plan has been proposed by Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.), whose legislation also proposes creating a vast electronic library that could be accessed by users seeking federally gathered information.” Simply put, Gore’s leadership role had been widely reported — and was thoroughly understood in the press. How well known was Gore’s work in this area? Five years later, the Internet was becoming well known, and the Washingtonian’s Alison Schneider looked back on its years of development:
SCHNEIDER (12/94): Internet. There’s no escaping it. It seems like only yesterday that Al Gore was preaching the merits of the I-way to a nation that still thought the Net was something used only for catching butterflies.
Duh! Within the press corps, everyone knew that Gore was the leader, within the Congress, in creating what we now call the Net. Indeed, by the time of the 2000 election, even one of Gore’s long-standing foes was praising his work in this area. On September 1, 2000, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich addressed the American Political Science Association. His remarks were broadcast on C-SPAN:
GINGRICH: In all fairness, it’s something Gore had worked on a long time. Gore is not the Father of the Internet, but in all fairness, Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet, and the truth is — and I worked with him starting in 1978 when I got [to Congress], we were both part of a “futures group” — the fact is, in the Clinton administration, the world we had talked about in the ’80s began to actually happen.
It's like Churchill once said: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."
After our quick victory, and after the "Arab street" fails to rise, you're going to hear a lot of self-congratulation from the hawks. But the fallout from this war is likely to be long-term, in the form of a protracted and messy occupation, and an enhanced terrorist recruitment base. (The hawks were equally self-congratulatory after Gulf War I. The blowback from that splendid little war came 10 years later on a horrible fall day that none of us will ever forget. Funny, though, it hasn't given the hawks a moment's pause.) . . . The truth, of course, is no one knows what's going to happen, least of all the commander-in-chief, who plunges ahead with fatuous certainty.
Plus Ça Change . . . Time to welcome yet another newcomer to Charlottesville's eternal hotbed of apathy:
I head out at noon to give a speech to a poli sci class at the University of Virginia. . . This doesn't feel like a college campus on the eve of a war, though. Maybe it's just me, or maybe it's that clean-scrubbed, Abercrombie & Fitch horsy feeling that always radiates from this school. But, expecting protests and hunger strikes and shanties, I'm surprised to find it's mostly midterms and lattes. But it just confirms the sense that this war is happening in some parallel universe.
She probably should have mentioned the flags in front of the frat— er, fraternity houses on Rugby Road — but otherwise, that could have summed up the student response to any controversy since Vietnam. It's almost as though the character of the place has been hardwired since the days of Jefferson himself.
Put Your Biscuit in the Basket Up for some amateur bracketology? Head over to ESPN.com; I've set up a page where Green[e]house readers can go head-to-head with their picks for the NCAA men's tourney. Follow the link, sign up, then make your best guesses — and remember, the group password is 'trogdor'.
Dean on the War Courtesy of Stonefishspine, yet again: an official statement — and a stunningly well-put one, at that — from Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean on the pending hostilities in Iraq. The full text:
Tonight, for better or worse, America is at war. Tonight, every American, regardless of party, devoutly supports the safety and success of our men and women in the field. Those of us who, over the past 6 months, have expressed deep concerns about this President's management of the crisis, mistreatment of our allies and misconstruction of international law, have never been in doubt about the evil of Saddam Hussein or the necessity of removing his weapons of mass destruction.
Those Americans who opposed our going to war with Iraq, who wanted the United Nations to remove those weapons without war, need not apologize for giving voice to their conscience, last year, this year or next year. In a country devoted to the freedom of debate and dissent, it is every citizen's patriotic duty to speak out, even as we wish our troops well and pray for their safe return. Congressman Abraham Lincoln did this in criticizing the Mexican War of 1846, as did Senator Robert F. Kennedy in calling the war in Vietnam "unsuitable, immoral and intolerable."
This is not Iraq, where doubters and dissenters are punished or silenced — this is the United States of America. We need to support our young people as they are sent to war by the President, and I have no doubt that American military power will prevail. But to ensure that our post-war policies are constructive and humane, based on enduring principles of peace and justice, concerned Americans should continue to speak out; and I intend to do so.
In my left hand is a fava bean; far away, beyond an ocean and half a continent, is Mount Everest, towering into the clouds. David Hasselhoff is, as this album evinces, that mighty peak, and all other musicians — alive or dead and stacked into a pile and rolled into a sphere — are that fava bean. A fava bean, or a favored being, one who has been to the Olympian heights of musical transcendence, and has returned, Moses-like, to Earth to share his melodius bounty — which would you choose: the bean or the being, the fava or the favored?
Fava-licious. But wait — even if that didn't push you over the edge, who could stay unconvinced after this?
Just as frogs use their eyeballs to help them swallow — just as rabbits turn around and ingest their excreta for one last trip through the gullet — just as a mother earwig cares for her young as tenderly as a hen her chicks — so it is with the call of Hassenfeffer and my heart. It's an urge as strong and natural as a baboon's perineal tumefaction that draws me to his croon.
Ladies and gentlemen, I've been to the mountaintop, and I've brought David Hasselhoff back with me. Claim your slice of valhalla and order today.
What Homeland Security? Gosh, I sure feel better now that the White House has set the terror alert level to code orange — after all, since Sept. 11, President Bush has done a bang-up job of beefing up our domestic defenses, right?
More dangerous even than the prospect of a chemical attack is the potential for terrorists to capture, or set off, a nuclear weapon. The risk sufficiently alarmed Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham — a conservative Bush appointee — that he requested $379.7 million to protect various Energy Department facilities where nuclear weapons are designed, manufactured, and stockpiled. On March 14, 2002, Abraham wrote to Daniels pleading his case. "[W]e are storing vast amounts of materials that remain highly volatile and subject to unthinkable consequences if placed in the wrong hands," Abraham implored. "[T]he Department now is unable to meet the next round of critical security mission requirements. ... Failure to support these urgent security requirements is a risk that would be unwise."
Apparently this warning failed to move the White House, which approved just $26.4 million for Energy Department security — 7 percent of Abraham's request. The list of improvements Bush declined to fund included more secure barriers and fences, computer improvements to defend against hackers, equipment to detect explosives in packages and vehicles entering department sites, and a reduction in the overall number of sites that store bomb-grade plutonium and uranium. The department's chief financial officer, also a Bush appointee, wrote to budget officials in March, "We are disconcerted that OMB refused our security supplemental request. I would have much preferred to have heard this from you personally, and been given an opportunity to discuss, not to mention appeal, your decision." (Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss defended Bush's position by arguing, "If we are talking about protecting the entire nuclear world, where does it end? I know we need some measure of security, but is the taxpayer willing to say we gotta have one hundred percent security at every single facility in America?" Chambliss subsequently won a Senate seat by portraying his opponent, triple-amputee, Vietnam veteran Max Cleland, as insufficiently committed to homeland security.)
Nor is the administration's disregard for safety against nuclear terrorism limited to our own shores. The disintegration of the former Soviet Union left behind a landscape littered with unemployed nuclear scientists and poorly guarded weapons facilities. Because of this, the $1 billion the United States devotes to locking down unsecured nuclear material and scientists in Russia and elsewhere is perhaps the most cost-effective money in the entire federal budget. But it is still not nearly enough. In order to airlift enriched uranium out of Serbia last summe — a needed safety measure by any reasonable calculation — the administration was forced to rely upon private donations (see "Old Guard," by Michael Crowley, September 9 & 16, 2002). A bipartisan Energy Department study in January 2001 urged raising the budget for such programs to $3 billion — still less than 0.15 percent of the federal budget. Bush, by contrast, last year proposed to cut overseas nuclear security funding by 5 percent and this year proposes less than $100 million of additional funds.
Bush's stinginess extends even to his own signature initiatives. Last December, the White House unveiled plans to vaccinate 500,000 health care workers against smallpox so they could safely treat a terrorist-induced outbreak. The administration set a 30-day deadline to complete the job, but, after a month, only 4,200 — less than 1 percent — have taken the vaccine. One reason for the low take-up rate is potential side effects: For every one million people inoculated, an estimated 15 or more will suffer blindness, swelling of the brain, or other severe reactions. This has made health care workers particularly reluctant because most of them lack proper insurance to cover the risk of disability or lost wages from such side effects. Hospitals, doctors, and unions have asked the administration to create a compensation fund to cover such contingencies — a notion members of Congress in both parties support. But the administration has refused, with the result that few health care workers have been inoculated. This means that, in the event of a terrorist smallpox attack, many may have second thoughts about treating the victims. Imagine you're an uninoculated nurse, and there's a smallpox attack causing hundreds of patients to be rushed to your hospital. Do you care for them — or flee to your home and get out the duct tape?
. . . . Or consider port security. Ninety-five percent of America's imports get here via sea. Of the containers that make their way through our ports, though, only one in 50 is ever searched. As Stephen Flynn, a former Coast Guard commander who directed the Council on Foreign Relations' homeland security report, told a TV interviewer last month, "We have virtually no security there." The Coast Guard has estimated it would cost $1 billion immediately and another $4.5 billion over the next nine years to make domestic ports sufficiently secure. But, since September 11, they've received just $318 million. One program, the Container Security Initiative, which would screen cargo at foreign ports, was specifically endorsed by Bush last June. "The Customs Service," he told an audience in Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, "is working with overseas ports and shippers to improve its knowledge of container shipments, assessing risk so that we have a better feel of who we ought to look at, what we ought to worry about." And yet Bush's budget provides not one new penny of funding for the program.
Indeed, you could tell a story such as the ones above for any of a dozen homeland security improvements shot down or dramatically underfunded by the Bush administration. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), to cite one more example, has just 14 agents to track down 1,200 illegal immigrants from countries where Al Qaeda has been active. "They just have nowhere near enough people," James Kallstrom, a former assistant director for the FBI and current security adviser to New York Governor George Pataki, told The New York Times last May. "They need a geometric increase." INS requested $52 million to hire more agents but was turned down by Bush. Obey's bill — the one Bush lobbied congressional Republicans to kill — would have boosted funding for all these things, along with FBI computer upgrades, grants to airport security, state health departments, more customs agents, vaccine research, and so on.
The president never wanted a homeland security department anyway — at least at first — but still, the sheer magnitude of the president's bullheadedness about shoring up our security efforts comes as a shock. To the extent that Bush even has a policy on homeland security, it appears to come down to this: in duct tape we trust.
Cheap WineWhine How do you take a relentlessly mediocre group of restaurants and make it even more so? Simple: by ordering your sommelier to serve your French wines to the fishes.
Putting patriotism ahead of profits, the owners of three Atlanta-area restaurants will pour a selection of French wines and liquors into local waterways Monday afternoon.
"As of today, Ray's on the River Seafood House, Killer Creek and Siesta Grill have stopped serving French wines and liquors," said Raymond Schoenbaum, one of the owners of the Killer Restaurants group. "We are proud to support America. The government of France continues to thwart our efforts to keep peace in the world. We will not support France until they support America. Doing the right thing is more important than money."
Customers accustomed to wine with their meal won't have to do without. "There are many great wines from other parts of the world at affordable prices," said John Ellis, another of the owners. "Our customers may discover wines they enjoy even better."
Well, there are many great restaurants in all parts of Atlanta at affordable prices — and y'all aren't among them. I'll take my business someplace where the owners behave like grown-ups and the bartender serves Pernod, thanks.
A Contest, a Gesture Courtesy of Stonefishspine: Melanie Goux of Brushstroke.tv has decided to do her bit for peace — such as she can — by prompting us to do our bit through her peace poster competition. It comes complete with prizes — but the greatest prize in all this is the satisfaction that comes from doing a little bit of good. Hats off to her for thinking it up.
Slate house comedienne Dahlia Lithwick lives in Charlottesville? Sweet! Some babysitter down there is about to get the privilege of meeting two funny-as-hell kids.
Courtesy of Idle Words, a timely celebration: that's right, it's France Week [or la semaine de France, to put a fine point on it]. It makes a great antidote to the cant coursing through the body politic — and I have to agree when he says that the TGVrocks.
What, you're making a big deal about a talking carp? Happens all the time. Mmmm, this is great gefiltefish . . .
Welcome to Iraq™: a Wholly Owned Subsidiary of the G.O.P. The Bush administration has a crash reconstruction program in store for the Fertile Crescent — inquire within. Nonprofits and U.N.-affiliated institutions need not apply.
The Bush administration's audacious plan to rebuild Iraq envisions a sweeping overhaul of Iraqi society within a year of a war's end, but leaves much of the work to private U.S. companies.
The Bush plan, as detailed in more than 100 pages of confidential contract documents, would sideline United Nations development agencies and other multilateral organizations that have long directed reconstruction efforts in places such as Afghanistan and Kosovo. The plan also would leave big nongovernmental organizations largely in the lurch: With more than $1.5 billion in Iraq work being offered to private U.S. companies under the plan, just $50 million is so far earmarked for a small number of groups such as CARE and Save the Children. . . .
Much of the heaviest work will fall to U.S. companies through a growing web of contracts with the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID is expected this week to pick the prime contractor for a $900 million job rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, including highways, bridges, airports and government buildings. The agency is also contracting for five other large jobs, worth a total of between $300 million and $500 million, administering Iraq's seaport and international airports, revamping its schools and health-care system, and handling large scale logistics such as water transport. The Army Corps of Engineers is also taking bids for work worth up to $500 million for building projects such as roadways and military barracks. Additional contracts to refurbish Iraq's neglected oil industry would likely be handled through the U.N., which currently administers Iraq's oil exports.
Four groups of U.S. companies are competing for the $900 million contract, which was put out for bids in secret last month. The companies were picked under rules that allow U.S. agencies to skirt open and competitive bidding procedures to meet emergency needs. All have done government work for years and have deep political ties to Washington. Vice President Dick Cheney once served as head of Halliburton Co., whose subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root is part of one bidding consortium.
Other big bidders are Bechtel Group Inc.; Parsons Corp., which has allied with Brown & Root; and Louis Berger Group and Fluor Corp., which are bidding as a team. These companies made political contributions of a combined $2.8 million between 1999 and 2002, more than two-thirds of which went to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group. Bechtel was the largest single donor, having given $1.3 million in political contributions. . . .
The U.S. postwar plans for Iraq, being directed by the new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in the Pentagon, are striking in their scope and intended speed. The administration's plan to rehabilitate the Iraqi school system, for example, envisions the chosen contractor sending in teams to obtain payroll lists and assess teacher salaries just as U.S. military forces secure parts of Iraq, according to a 10-page USAID contract proposal that went out to companies last month. The contract, officials say, could total $100 million, and will cover five pilot programs for "accelerated learning" to be launched within three months, and then rolled out nationwide within 10 months. Only a third of Iraqi children now enroll in secondary school, but within a year the contractor will have "all children back in school."
I want to be an optimist here, but this beggars belief — after all, we would never have needed a 'No Child Left Behind' act if not for the abundance of school systems in the United States that haven't managed to pull themselves together in spite of efforts that have taken years. And the Bush wants to transform the schools of a country half a world away in a clean ten months? Best of luck.
He was asked what were the three top issues, and, almost bored with the question, he rattled of the two top issues that his advisors had fed him (no doubt as fed to them by the polls). But much more interesting were the themes that seemed to move his passion. Top among these was the “think about all we have have lost” theme. Again and again he came back to this idea, each time more moving. He described the battle over federal judges; the battle over the Clean Air Act; the budget and tax cuts; the loss of respect and authority in the world. This was a group primed to believe that the Bush administration had been a disaster. But Edwards did something in that small group I can’t yet understand. He made that group feel what we had before simply believed.
Say what you will about the rest of the field — and I can think of a couple of others who might yet knock my socks off — but this man bears watching. If he ends up taking up the Democratic standard against Bush in 2004, I wouldn't be the least bit displeased.
To support America today in much of the world is politically dangerous. Over the past year the United States became a campaign issue in elections in Germany, South Korea and Pakistan. Being anti-American was a vote-getter in all three places.
Look at the few countries that do publicly support us. Tony Blair bravely has forged ahead even though the vast majority of the British people disagree with him and deride him as “America’s poodle.” The leaders of Spain and Italy face equally strong public opposition to their stands. Donald Rumsfeld has proclaimed, with his characteristic tactlessness, that while “old Europe” — France and Germany — might oppose U.S. policy, “new Europe” embraces them. This is not exactly right. The governments of Central Europe support Washington, but the people oppose it in almost the same numbers as in old Europe. Between 70 and 80 percent of Hungarians, Czechs and Poles are against an American war in Iraq, with or without U.N. sanction. (The Poles are more supportive in some surveys.) The administration has made much of the support of Vaclav Havel, the departing Czech president. But the incoming president, Vaclav Klaus — a pro-American, Thatcherite free-marketer — said last week that on Iraq his position is aligned with that of his people.
Some make the argument that Europeans are now pacifists, living in a “postmodern paradise,” shielded from threats and unable to imagine the need for military action. But then how to explain the sentiment in Turkey, a country that sits on the Iraqi border? A longtime ally, Turkey has fought with America in conflicts as distant as the Korean War, and supported every American military action since then. But opposition to the war now runs more than 90 percent there. Despite Washington’s offers of billions of dollars in new assistance, the government cannot get parliamentary support to allow American troops to move into Iraq from Turkish bases. Or consider Australia, another crucial ally, and another country where a majority now opposes American policy. Or Ireland. Or India. In fact, while the United States has the backing of a dozen or so governments, it has the support of a majority of the people in only one country in the world, Israel. If that is not isolation, then the word has no meaning.
Brace yourself for a very un-fairy-tale ending to this story. Millions of American workers are sure to see a large slice of their retirement income go up in smoke. It may not happen right away, but the groundwork is being laid right now. Of course, people have been saying for years (including people at this magazine) that economic necessity — the chasm between the cost of promises made and companies' ability to keep them — leaves management no choice but to reformulate, rethink, and in some cases renege on post-employment benefits for their workers. What's new in the past few months is that they're quietly taking action. The profoundest benefit cuts will happen perhaps a decade or more from now — but you may as well add them to your retirement worry list, alongside those limp 401(k)s, rocketing health-care costs, and underwater stock options (see Is Your Retirement at Risk?).
To some, especially those brought up in the new economy, pensions may seem like a holdover from the days when people envisioned retirement security as a three-legged stool, in which the first two legs are Social Security and household savings. And to be sure, the share of American workers with company pension plans has progressively slipped in each decade — from almost 40% at the beginning of 1980 to about 20% now.
Still, for those in many giant companies — more than 70% of the FORTUNE 500 — pensions remain a very big deal. From the oil-futures trader at Exxon Mobil to the drug researcher at Eli Lilly, the plans cover 23 million active workers and pay more than $111 billion each year to another 21 million who are already retired. One way or another, those benefits are going to be sharply curtailed — whether through a cash-balance conversion or other changes we'll discuss in a bit. Warns Dave Hilko, a principal and benefits consultant at Deloitte & Touche: "There's no guarantee on these pension plans any more."
As painful as February's big job cuts were, what's even more painful is that many of those jobs are never coming back, as U.S. employers in a wide range of industries move more and more jobs overseas.
That's old news for manufacturers, who have been cutting jobs and moving them offshore for decades, but it's a trend that's also starting to gather steam in a number of service industries, especially information technology, formerly one of America's best-paying industries.
[Indian technology industry association] NASSCOM predicts that the Indian "business process outsourcing" industry — a narrow category that includes customer-support call centers — will export $21 billion to $24 billion worth of services by 2008 and employ more than 1.1 million Indian workers.
Those workers — in one narrow segment of the outsourcing industry in just one country — would replace about 1 million U.S. workers, according to consulting firm Gartner.
"This is not counting the offshore services provided by other countries such as the Philippines, Ireland and Jamaica, or the other IT services that are likely to [use] offshore resources," a Gartner study said. "The scale of job migration potential is quite significant."
. . . The Contact Center Association of the Philippines, an industry group for suppliers of customer support call centers, boasts that Filipino workers' salaries are just a quarter to a fifth of those in the United States, with programmers earning $250 to $700 a month, compared with $1,600 to $3,600 in the U.S., and project managers making $700 to $1,150 a month, compared with $3,600 to $7,100.
Irresistibly lured by such rock-bottom costs, a wide array of companies — including Microsoft, Intel, Citigroup (C: Research, Estimates), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ: Research, Estimates), Procter & Gamble (PG: Research, Estimates), AT&T (T: Research, Estimates) and AIG (AIG: Research, Estimates) — all have turned to Filipino companies for call center and other IT services.
Even if it wins a fig-leaf majority vote in the Security Council, America will be entering its first preemptive war faced with opposition from nearly all of its allies and much of the rest of the planet. A world that rallied to America's side in unprecedented demonstrations of support after September 11 increasingly perceives the U.S. itself as a great danger to peace. How did things come to this? The failure of the Bush Administration to manage its diplomacy is staggering, and the price paid, even if the war ends quickly, could be higher than anyone now anticipates.
The political effect of this foreign policy imbroglio is already obvious. It can be measured in tattered alliances and global tensions, eroding support for President George W. Bush, and big changes throughout the Middle East. What remains unclear are the economic consequences. In the end, they may be far more significant.
Uncertainty is anathema to investment and growth. Much of the current weakness in the U.S. and the global economy is due to the immediate questions surrounding an Iraq war. Yet the Bush foreign policy of unilateral preemption is so ill-defined and open-ended that it could weigh heavily on the global economy well after the bombing stops. Look at the Administration's agenda. The war in Iraq will be followed by an occupation that could last years, cost many billions of dollars, and involve tens of thousands of occupying troops. That's a big price to pay if bungled diplomacy means that the U.S. bears most of the financial burden. Then there's dealing with North Korea's rush to build nuclear bombs. And Iran's play for nukes.
The prospect of America taking on this long list of crises — and perhaps others — with little international support is making people everywhere jittery. They fear that, beyond the war in Iraq, the global economy may be continuously threatened by political and military unrest. It is not a picture conducive to worldwide economic growth and prosperity. The first decade of the new century is beginning to feel like the 1970s, when the turmoil of the Vietnam War cast a long shadow over the U.S. economy.
It may even get worse than that. Chief executives are beginning to worry that globalization may not be compatible with a foreign policy of unilateral preemption. Can capital, trade, and labor flow smoothly when the world's only superpower maintains such a confusing and threatening stance? U.S. corporations may soon find it more difficult to function in a multilateral economic arena when their overseas business partners and governments perceive America to be acting outside the bounds of international law and institutions.
I still, mind you, believe in a place called hope. But I'm hardly alone when I state that this president sure as hell doesn't inspire much of it.