TCS Daily


Era of Big Government Has Just Begun

By James Pinkerton - September 23, 2002 12:00 AM

Conservatives who support "regime change" in Iraq might reflect that the forthcoming war for Baghdad is likely to change the government here in the U.S. as well. Indeed, a close look at a new document published on Friday by the White House, "The National Security Strategy of the United States," shows that the despairing wisdom of the early- 20th-century American anti-war radical Randolph Bourne - "war is the health of the state" - has been proven yet again.

Put simply, President Bush, once a small-government governor with a unilateralist bent, is morphing into a big-government presidential multilateralist. Maybe that was a necessary transformation, in the wake of 9/11, but that was Bourne's point: the words "national security" usually kibosh principles about the size and scope of government. Which explains why Uncle Sam always seems to get beefier - and greener - year after year, no matter who's in the White House.

Media headlines focused mostly on the military aspects of the new Bush policy. "Bush to Outline Doctrine of Striking Foes First," read The New York Times, which printed a leaked copy on Friday morning. Later in the day, Reuters headlined, "Bush Outlines Strategy of Preemptive Strikes." CNN described it, simply, as "First Strike Doctrine." Needless to say, many Americans will support the Bush strategy of anti-terror pre-emption, first outlined in a June 1 presidential speech at West Point, which has now been elaborated and turned into a formal politico-military doctrine.

In this paper, the Bush Administration has demonstrated a rushing ambition to occupy new beachheads of respectability and legitimacy. It's an ambition that threatens to spill over traditional policy categories, carrying unfamiliar ideas about everything from foreign aid to global warming. In choosing to define just about every problem the world faces as a potential national security threat, it is unwittingly inviting back the era of big, bigger, biggest government. As so often happens in Washington, once a committee sits down to draft a document, every agency eventually wangles its way into the drafting room, and thus every square inch of bureaucratic "turf" gets some treatment - and the prospect of more funding as fertilizer - in the final text.

So while the first five sections of the nine-section document hew closely to traditional national security topics - that is, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, topics that most Americans could plausibly imagine the White House's National Security Council taking up as an agenda item - some of the later sections go off on their own merry, spendthrifty way. Section VII, for example, is entitled "Expand the Circle of Development by Opening Societies and Building the Infrastructure of Democracy"; it veers off into social-policy platitudes that read as if they were written by the Ford Foundation: "A world where some live in comfort and plenty, while half of the human race lives on less than $2 a day, is neither just nor stable." In that same bleeding-heart vein, the strategy adds, "The United States will deliver greater development assistance through the New Millennium Challenge Account to nations that govern justly, invest in their people, and encourage economic freedom. We will also continue to lead the world in efforts to reduce the terrible toll of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases." If left-leaning philanthrocrats didn't provide the impetus behind that promise, one can nonetheless expect NGOs to sidle up to the trough, offering to help Washington spend the billions that will gush forth from that policy pledge.

To be sure, the Bush people tried hard to keep their ideological vigor, even amidst the occupational hazard of Beltway-itis. Deep in the text, for instance, is a specific endorsement of "tax policies - particularly lower marginal rates - that improve incentives for work and investment." But elsewhere, even when it means well, the document dances atop potential land mines. It declares that American victory in the Cold War left the world with "a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise" - which sounds wonderful to Cato-ite ears at first hearing. But look closer, at the S-word: "sustainable." A whole huge United Nations conference was built upon that word, the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which met in Johannesburg, South Africa, earlier this month. And so every time the Bushies embrace that favored buzzword of the left, they open the door for others - in the media, in Congress, in subsequent presidential administrations - to spin those buzzwords over toward the port side of the ideological aisle.

'Twas ever thus. In the late 1960s, the Nixon Administration left in place such nice-sounding but policy-freighted words as "affirmative action" and "equal opportunity." Soon, those phrases were encased inside ever-burgeoning bureaucracies and enforcement schemes that bear perverse and anti-conservative fruit even to this day.

Moreover, in some places, the text mostly concedes the arguments of the left, especially the green left. One might consider, as a further f'rinstance, the discussion of climate change. The document doesn't mention the Kyoto Treaty by name, but it might just as well:

Economic growth should be accompanied by global efforts to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations associated with this growth, containing them at a level that prevents dangerous human interference with the global climate. Our overall objective is to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions relative to the size of our economy, cutting such emissions per unit of economic activity by 18 percent over the next 10 years, by the year 2012. Our strategies for attaining this goal will be to:

remain committed to the basic U.N. Framework Convention for international cooperation;

obtain agreements with key industries to cut emissions of some of the most potent greenhouse gases and give transferable credits to companies that can show real cuts;

develop improved standards for measuring and registering emission reductions.

Remember when the Bush Administration declared that the science behind the Kyoto Treaty, as well as the politics, was "fatally flawed"? That was just 18 months ago, but it now seems like a different presidency ago. When pressed on this topic by irate 2000-election supporters - the red-state folks who voted Bush-Cheney - the administration will surely insist that it has no intention of revisiting the Kyoto treaty. Yet as Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has pointed out, the administration has never formally retracted Kyoto, leaving the factory-closing treaty with at least some residual legal force. And so from now on, greens and other multilateralists will cite this document as still more proof that the administration has acknowledged the seriousness of the climate change issue, yet still drags it feet on "doing something." And so there could begin a long and painful process in which the administration eventually bows to pressure - pressure that it helped build - losing one factory-worker job at a time.

Will the Bushies really do that? Sure they will, if they conclude that keeping the anti-Iraq alliance together, including Britain's pro-Kyoto Tony Blair, is more important than maintaining every last jot and tittle of American national sovereignty. Also, a legacy-minded 43rd president might eventually figure that the individuals and institutions that can most confer the esteem of the "world community" are strongly on the side of submerging national sovereignty. No wonder the strategy document brims with evidence that Bush is "growing" in office. Here's an excerpt from the cover-letter, signed by the president himself:

We are guided by the conviction that no nation can build a safer, better world alone. Alliances and multilateral institutions can multiply the strength of freedom-loving nations. The United States is committed to lasting institutions like the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of American States, and NATO as well as other long-standing alliances.

One wonders how the folks back in Crawford, Tex., will react when they get wind of the pro-globalocracy sentiments now being evinced by their sometime neighbor at Prairie Chapel.

In issuing this document, in all its expansive, world-girdling policy plenitude, Bush may be thinking he has absorbed the lesson of the last year, which is that the U.S. needs to maintain at least the appearance of international cooperation to be effective in the war on terror. But in fact, he may well have learned the wrong lesson. In thinking he has to surrender to planetary pieties, at least rhetorically, he has neglected the lesson of his own powerful speech to the United Nations on September 12. In that address, the American president proved that his leadership could pull the world his way, by explicit word and implicit deed. Bush may well succeed in his short-term mission of rallying support for war against the Iraqi regime, but in the long term, he has provided the ideopolitical compost for the expansion of government here at home.

 

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