Man Without Qualities

Monday, May 31, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XLV: The National Security Plan

John Kerry just gave what his camp called a major national security speech that outlined his four "imperatives" for his new national security policy: 1) build & strengthen our international alliances, 2) "modernize" the military, 3) deploy "all resources" against terrorism (diplomatic, economic, etc), and 4) end dependence on foreign (Middle Eastern) oil. The solemn obfuscation in the Kerry text is so thick it could be cut with a bread knife. But let's have a sandwich:

(1) International Alliances. Senator Kerry exhibits no recognition of a basic economic fact: no European country not already actively cooperating with the US in Iraq is willing (or, in some cases, able) to spend what it takes to maintain a meaningful military. Not Germany, not France, not Russia. That means that if America agrees to the kind of "international cooperation" (that is, French and German approval) to major uses of our military, our "alliances" become a way for these European countries to have access to a first-class military force without having to pay for it: they just use ours. Isn't it nice when you don't have to buy an expensive tool because you have a rich neighbor who will always lend you his?

That free riding would be bad enough, but matters get a whole lot worse when one considers that these "allies" have big economic and political incentives to help themselves to more free rides by cooperating in times of "peace" with US antagonists (nuclear facilities in Iran and Saddam's Iraq, for example, oil contracts everywhere there is oil, the corrupt "Oil-for-Food" program, much else). Indeed, the continuing "relevancy" of France and much of Europe outside of Britain, as intentionally designed by European politicians, is to be had through both forms of such free riding. The Bush Administration called Europe's bluff - and they're mad at that. Bill Clinton went along, and we saw the total disintegration of Yugoslavia, the North Korean mess, the 9-11 disasters, reduced Israeli security, unchallenged spreading Islamic fundamentalism and the rest of the foreign policy mess that now has to be addressed.

The Democrats and Europeans want to obscure matters, but the big picture is not that hard to see: Cooperation with European "free ride" diplomacy and foreign policy will lead to ever greater disasters. But the Europeans are wedded by economic imperatives to those policies. That's not a problem that's going to go away by either cooperating with them (in which case, America pays their way towards more disasters) or not cooperating with them (in which case they continue to complain about American "unilateralism"). Put another way: America making itself a free-of-charge common carrier for European economic and military aspirations is not a viable American policy, and charging tolls is going to make the Europeans complain.

(2) Modernize The Military. There is no reason not to call this point a simple fraud on Senator Kerry's part. "Modernizing" the military in any meaningful way would require a bigger defense budget, especially because much of the military was allowed to age under the Clinton Administration. A President Kerry would not spend the money it would take to effect a meaningful "modernization." At best, "modernization" is being used here by Senator Kerry to mean "downsizing." Downsizing of the military is well within his capabilities.

(3) Deploy "All Resources" Against Terrorism. For example, Senator Kerry mentioned depriving terrorist organizations and their facilitators of the use of the American banking system. Obviously, terrorist organizations are not allowed to use American banks. If a President Kerry extended current policies much further than the policies already in place, he would immediately face questions as to whether the entire Iranian or Saudi Arabian governments, their state-owned and insider-owned companies are to be shut out of the American banking system (in each case, in the braod sense prohibiting acess to those who transact business with any of them, as do international oil companies who buy from Iran). Is that a "diplomatic" crisis? Even meaningful new disclosure requirements for users of the banking system would make US banks less competitive, and their European (and Asian) competitors would be more than happy to pick up the slack. (See point (1) above). More importantly, even draconian economic sanctions have very modest political effects (consider Cuba and Iraq, for example). And, since Senator Kerry's address exhibits his fundamental refusal to face the basic economic factors involved in the current national security situation, any economic efforts he might make would probably have even less positive effects and more negative effects than such efforts would have had if he at least agreed faced up to reality.

What about "diplomacy?" To the extent the US is not receiving diplomatic cooperation from its "allies," there are again the basic economic and political issues and incentives described under (1) above, which Senator Kerry simply ignores. Neither his whining nor ignoring them as he does in this address will not make those issues go away.

(4) End Dependence On Foreign Oil. Senator Kerry again ignores the basic economic reality: fossil fuels are by far the cheapest and most practical form of energy sufficient to service a modern economy - with current technology or any reasonably foreseeable technology. Nuclear power is the only meaningful complement. Could other forms of energy be exploited? Sure they could, if fossil fuel prices go and stay high enough - although high prices tend to lead to more fossil fuel supply as well as other supplies, which tends to bring energy prices down again. That's all good.

The US therefore faces a basic economic decision that Senator Kerry refuses to admit: spend money for national defense in the form of (A) military expenditures or (B) higher energy prices. A President Kerry will not end (or seriously reduce) US dependence on foreign energy supplies for exactly the same reason he would not increase the federal military budget: he and his political supporters want to use the money elsewhere than national security. In any event, achieving significantly increased energy independence would probably cost a lot more than the alternative modernizing of the miliary. But a modernized military can be used to address a wide range of national security threats, where reduced dependency on foreign energy only addresses one narrow range of such threats - a range that does not even include all significant security threats relating to the Middle east. Just by way of example, the United States would not be able to actively defend any ally faced with an invasion (such as Israel) with a reduced US dependency on foreign energy.

That means that a Kerry Administration would probably look like the Clinton Administrations: we would have no upgrade of the military and no reduction in foreign energy dependency, but we would have quieter Europeans free riding on what is left of American past and present military expenditures while the whole world looks the other way and disasters much worse that those of 9-11 fester. And when the inevitable disasters are upon us, the political classes can point fingers, assert that nobody was connecting the dots, and claim that everything has now changed.

But, of course, Senator Kerry's address makes clear that for a lot of the political class and most of the Democratic Party nothing has changed but the fig leaves.

POSTSCRIPT: Senator Kerry includes "oil independence" as a prong of his national security policy, but this prong can also be seen as an environmental measure, in which guise it is if anything more perverse, unweildy and expensive than it is as a national security measure. The US has lots of coal - which is worse on the environment than other fossil fuels - and discouraging use of foreign fuel supplies just encourage use of US coal ... and US oil located in environmentally sensitive areas. Senator Kerry now says he deplores added fuel taxes. If so, what would that leave of this prong as an effective environmental measure? Other legal measures, such as increasing fleet milage requirements, have not worked to reduce US use of foreign fuels in the past, and further such requirements are not likely to work in the future. But, if they did, discouraging US use of foreign fossil fuel will also tend to subsidize its use by China, India and other countries, by reducing US competition for the world's supply (at increased costs to the US). Since those countries have few environmental controls compared to the US (thanks in part to the perverse Kyoto Accord sell-out), the net effect would likely be a lot more worldwide pollution.

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