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Paul Bremer’s past life came back to haunt him last Sunday. On February 26, 2001, after chairing the Clinton-appointed National Commission on Terrorism, Bremer remarked in a speech, “The new administration seems to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism. What they will do is stagger along until there’s a major incident and then suddenly say, ‘Oh, my God, shouldn’t we be organized to deal with this?’” When the quote resurfaced last weekend, the prescient proconsul hastily apologized for his earlier foresight, saying his criticism of Bush had been “unfair.” (Read: “inopportune in light of the impending election.”)
That same day, The New York Times ran a story headlined “Kerry Struggling to Find a Theme,” the latest of many such stories floating around the media. Here’s a theme Kerry could try: “John Kerry: He Doesn’t Have His Head in the Sand.” After all, the Bush administration’s failure to respond to the mounting evidence of an imminent al Qaeda attack in 2001 is only one example of a pattern of chronic negligence towards foreseeable disasters.
I’m not just talking about the lack of planning for post-war Iraq (although the administration can boast of such boneheaded decisions as disbanding the Iraqi security forces immediately after the invasion). Bush is also turning a blind eye to the huge deficits projected over the rest of the decade and the danger of a fiscal crunch when America’s credit lines dry up. Instead of facing up to the rising tide of red ink, Bush is pressing for his tax cuts to be made permanent, while congressional Republicans have killed attempts to revive the “pay as you go” budget rules of the Clinton era. And that’s not the only rising tide Bush has ignored. The president’s alternative to the Kyoto protocol consists of voluntary emission standards for industry, no caps on carbon dioxide emissions and more research on whether this whole global warmification thing that the International Panel on Climate Change and the National Academy of Sciences keep goin’ on about really exists.
The administration has also underestimated (or “misunderestimated”) the long-run security risk posed by the AIDS crisis. The $15 billion AIDS initiative is a step in the right direction, but its implementation was delayed for a year through bureaucratic bungling, and now the administration is wasting funds on overpriced vaccines from U.S. companies when cheaper generic substitutes are available for a fraction of the price. The United Nations AIDS program, UNAIDS, predicts that by 2010, the AIDS epidemic will have left 20 million African children orphaned. If rebel groups or terrorist organizations manage to recruit even a small percentage of these desperate and exploitable youths, we’ll have a regional and international security fiasco on our hands.
So back to our original question, how can Kerry get his groove back? (Because let’s face it, the Kerry campaign is still in its larval stage.) The senator from Massachusetts should offer a positive alternative to Bush’s-head-up-his-arsenal obliviousness with an agenda that faces our responsibility to future generations. The best place to start would be to launch a Global War on Poverty to preempt the security threats of the 21st century.
The United States is dead last among industrialized nations in foreign aid expenditure as a percentage of GNP (0.14 percent). By committing to a serious development assistance program, we could substantially undercut the wellsprings of terrorism. Economic growth would help more of the world’s poor afford AIDS vaccines (even the generic ones cost over $100 a year) and could prevent the nightmare scenario of millions of orphans ripe for recruitment by militants. Development would also enable weak states—debilitated by meager tax revenues, a dearth of human capital and rampant corruption—to improve their domestic security. Unable to uphold basic law and order throughout much of their territory, weak states can become safe havens for terrorists. Those with materials useful for making WMD—such as the nuclear stockpiles in the ex-Soviet states—often lack the resources to secure those materials (and to pay guards enough to keep them from supplementing their income by selling a little plutonium or anthrax on the side). Such “loose nukes” and other deadly materials are at risk of falling into terrorist hands. Over many decades, a substantial investment in the economic development of the world’s poorest countries would yield dividends in the form of a safer world.
With this kind of forward-looking initiative, Kerry could draw a sharp contrast between himself and his short-sighted rival, and begin to define his campaign. While Kerry has been soul searching, Dubya has tried to brand him as a “flip-flopper.” (This from the man who told us four years ago, “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called ‘nation-building’.”) Kerry ought to fight back with a moniker fit for Bush. “Asleep at the wheel,” a phrase we have heard many times during these past few weeks of Senate hearings, is actually a fair description of Bush’s record on everything from global terrorism to global warming. If Kerry dares to call the president on his somnambulant stewardship, Bush may be in for a rude awakening come November.
Eoghan W. Stafford ’06 is a social studies concentrator in Leverett House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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