HOW DID GEORGE W. BUSH manage to transform himself from leader of the free world into the world's most determined suicide bomber? Of all the remarkable transformations since 9/11, this is the most dangerous.
It's all there in black and white. Late last week, The New York Times published the full text of the president's new "National Security Strategy," which the administration is submitting to Congress. It is a shocking document. It outlines policies that would put the United States on the same collision course that empires follow when they take a nosedive. It is a document wherein Bush essentially proposes to do Osama bin Laden's work for him. Bush plans to turn America from a well-meaning-but-flawed superpower into public enemy No. 1.
The plan is very simple. First, it says that we are for freedom, democracy, free markets, and free trade. Second, it says that we will use our national might to make sure that everyone else on the planet embraces these things. Third, it promises that no one else on Earth may ever aspire to have what we have. If any nation seeks equal or greater power, we will act against them. The president also says that the United States is free to attack anyone anywhere at anytime, even if they just look at us funny. One doesn't have to commit an act of war to start a war anymore.
The Bush plan amounts to a suicide note for this country.
FIRST, EVEN THOUGH they are alliterative, freedom, free markets, and free trade are not on the same footing. Freedom is a fundamental right. But free markets and free trade are merely economic policies. "We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development of free markets, and free trade to every corner of the globe," says the Bush imperial plan. But there are plenty of countries—including our own and our closest allies—that do not adhere to all of these principles. There are democratic socialist countries, many in Europe, that offer great freedoms, but little free trade or belief in truly free markets. And there are prosperous capitalist countries that don't have much freedom. (Remember Singapore?) In America, and even within Bush's own party, there are legions of red-blooded Americans who do not believe in free trade.
I'd like someone to explain to me when it became unpatriotic to oppose the shipping of American jobs overseas. And why is it wrong to assert national sovereignty or protect American culture with our laws if they are the will of the people? Free markets and free trade are policies we vote on, not something guaranteed in the Constitution, let alone a global value.
Sometimes, the Bush strategic plan sounds like the GOP domestic agenda. It promises to fight for "pro-growth legal and regulatory policies" across the globe, including "tax policies—particularly lower marginal tax rates—that improve incentives for work and investment." What Bush dangerously does is take an agenda that benefits the most powerful, stateless corporate elements on the planet and wraps it in the American flag, then backs it with American firepower. Are you prepared to send your children to die for lower marginal tax rates?
Second, the Bush plan says that the "United States welcomes our responsibility to lead in this great mission." But who asked us to lead the world anywhere? Was there a vote I missed? In the Bush world, America is a democratic leader as unelected as the president is.
Third, despite encouraging entrepreneurship everywhere, the Bush policy imposes a cap on expectations. On the one hand, it says that trade in technology is good; but it also asserts that "The gravest danger our nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology." In short, high tech is good unless the bad guys get hold of it. (Isn't that what gun-control advocates have argued forever?) Well, OK, it's bad for terrorists to have weapons of mass destruction, but the Bush policy goes beyond chasing outlaws. The unlimited upside promised by the free-market ideal is quickly discarded: America will now look unkindly on anyone who wants anything close to the power we have: "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States." (Emphasis mine.) Since every nation on Earth is a potential adversary, and many of them aspire to attain our level of success, we're going to have to do a lot of work to maintain order. Bush says it's not enough to be a global policeman; we're now the global strongman, free to swing the big American stick pre-emptively. If we think you're up to something, Mr. Foreigner, whap.
WE CANNOT SPEND this nation's resources trying to control, let alone strong-arm, everyone: We don't have enough sticks, or legions, to fight on so many fronts. Nor can we squander our wealth trying to buy everyone off with incentives or aid. Asserting and maintaining global dominance—rather than global balance—is a loser's game. By declaring a power monopoly, Bush is turning us into an international Enron: inflated, overreaching, arrogant, selfish, and doomed.