Security’s many sides

Two articles this week underline the Bush administration’s ridiculous (but relentless) focus on one kind of security.

Salon has run a lovely essay by John Brady Kiesling, appealing to the “security mom’s” sense of civic duty. The daily security threat to average Americans is vastly overrated, but the scary world that the Homeland Security Department hypes up is nearer at hand every day because we Americans are neglecting our own homeland. Some excerpts:

Keeping a country or a community going is hard work, just as the president said. You knew without question why that work was necessary. There is nothing on earth more precious than our children and their future. Children do not raise themselves. They need a family and a community, they need values, and they need protection from the dangers of a dangerous world.

Because of you, the city council built sidewalks and fixed the playground and hired the crossing guard. Because of you the school didn’t lay off teachers or close down the library when the budget crunch hit. You raised money, reached out to your friends to help you, fought when you needed to fight. You complained about the dangerous potholes and the drug dealers. And you found the time and money needed to give your kids the chance to succeed: Sunday school, music lessons, soccer practice, the sacrifices required to put kids on the track to happiness as good citizens…

America used to be the biggest, bravest, most responsible kid on the international playground, the natural leader. But nothing we diplomats said or did could stop the erosion of that leadership after 2001. We were still the biggest, but suddenly also the meanest. We tell our kids they have to stand up to schoolyard bullies. That’s what our foreign friends tell their kids too, and currently they’re talking about standing up to us. This is not good for us, and it’s not good for the world.

President Bush is strong, his speechwriters maintain, because he does not shrink from sending American soldiers to die. It may seem strange to you, but it takes little political courage to send American soldiers to war. Americans have never turned down a president who invited them to battle.

True moral courage recognizes that there is no automatic connection between killing foreigners and defeating America’s enemies… What moral courage has President Bush shown? He never vetoed a single piece of legislation, never said no to a spending bill, never fired anyone…

Deficits don’t matter, Vice President Cheney said. But your kids are going to spend the rest of their lives paying back, with interest, the money we are borrowing from our Chinese friends to make up for this government’s extravagance. President Bush says he won’t give foreigners a veto over U.S. security. But he already has. All they have to do is stop buying our Treasury bills.

Oil has hit more than $50 a barrel. Two billion Chinese and Indians intend to drive cars the way we do, and it isn’t going to get better. The rest of the world saw this coming and is investing in renewable energy and conservation. I can’t figure out what the president has in mind besides praying that our buddies in Venezuela and Nigeria and Saudi Arabia keep pumping. We can get only six months’ worth of oil by opening up Alaska’s remaining wilderness to Exxon. Better than nothing, I suppose, but six months isn’t a long time in your kids’ life.

Sorry, Soccer, oops, Security Mom. I’ve spent a career agonizing about America’s security and I can’t keep quiet when danger looms. Be an economic security mom. Be an energy security mom. Be an environmental security mom. Fight for better schools, for child care and healthcare and jobs. Those are the threats facing your children, and those are threats we can do something about.

Meanwhile, Thomas Friedman points out in the Times that the administration has made a tremendous opportunity cost: allowing gas prices to spiral up without demanding that Washington get a share. A truly forward thinking president would have demanded (and won) a major gas tax (“oil independence”) increase in 2001, preparing the US for an era of $50/barrel oil while raising incredible revenues in the meantime. Major investments in infrastructure — or even reduced deficits — would leave our nation more resilient to energy and monetary crises in the years ahead. (Indeed, US economic growth is slowing as interest rates and oil prices rise. An economy less dependent on oil prices could have saved or invested more, thus lessening the impact of both on the larger economic picture.)

Of all the shortsighted policies of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, none have been worse than their opposition to energy conservation and a gasoline tax. If we had imposed a new gasoline tax after 9/11, demand would have been dampened and gas today would probably still be $2 a gallon. But instead of the extra dollar going to Saudi Arabia — where it ends up with mullahs who build madrasas that preach intolerance — that dollar would have gone to our own Treasury to pay down our own deficit and finance our own schools. In fact, the Bush energy policy should be called No Mullah Left Behind.

Our own No Child Left Behind program has not been fully financed because the tax revenue is not there. But thanks to the Bush-Cheney energy policy, No Mullah Left Behind has been fully financed and is now the gift that keeps on giving: terrorism…

Building a decent Iraq is necessary to help reverse such trends, but it is not sufficient. We need a much more comprehensive approach, particularly if we fail in Iraq. The Bush team does not offer one. It has treated the Arab-Israeli issue with benign neglect, failed to find any way to communicate with the Arab world and adopted an energy policy that is supporting the worst Arab oil regimes and the worst trends. Phil Verleger, one of the nation’s top energy consultants and a longtime advocate of a gas tax, puts it succinctly: “U.S. energy policy today is in support of terrorism — not the war on terrorism.”

The Arab-Muslim world is in a must-change human development crisis, “but oil is like a narcotic that kills a lot of the pain for them and prevents real change,” says David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Where is all the innovation in the Arab world today? In the places with little or no oil: Bahrain is working on labor reform, just signed a free-trade agreement with the U.S. and held the first elections in the Arab gulf, allowing women to run and vote. Dubai has made itself into a regional service center. And Jordan has a free-trade agreement with the U.S. and is trying to transform itself into a knowledge economy. Who is paralyzed or rolling back reforms? Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran, all now awash in oil money.

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