It’s great to be here in Fairfax County, and I appreciate the invitation to speak to your organization. I thought I would take a quick look at the contemporary policy and political scene, and share some observations with you that might be useful.
The port of New Orleans has reopened, as has her airport. People are starting to move back into the city, and the Gulf region is rebuilding. Once again the resilience and generosity of the American people and American civil society has kicked in, and a huge challenge and tragedy is being handled with remarkable power and dispatch. Voluntary donations for the shattered and scattered have already passed the one billion dollar mark.
Another round of elections has passed in Afghanistan and are upon us in Iraq. Brave American soldiers kill jihadists everyday, while the American homeland remains unattacked for 4 years and 10 days. Broad areas of both countries are stable and free, while the troubles in Iraq are concentrated around Baghdad and the area stretching northwest to the Syrian border.
The American economy keeps growing and output expanding. Our economy has not had a negative quarter since 2001, and has been growing at about a 4% pace since the invasion of Iraq. America and the world are getting richer by the day. The IMF is clocking the fastest world growth in 20 years…and 20 years ago they couldn’t even clock the Soviet empire. A million plus people risk all to come to the United States every year; most legally, many illegally. The U.S. economy passed the $12 trillion mark on an annual basis this Spring, and household net worth – that’s assets minus liabilities – is now just shy of $50 trillion. America has 30% of the world’s GDP, with only 5% of the world’s population. The American economy is approximately three times the size of Japan’s and six times the size of China’s.
Former Soviet Russia, a vicious communist dictatorship only 20 years ago, and a garrison state for 400 years before that, has one of the fastest growing private economies in the world, and its stock market is rising. The government there isn’t killing anyone, nor its Army marching anywhere outside a tiny corner of the Caucuses. Its attack submarines are tied up at the pier, rusting. 10% of America’s domestic electricity is generated by decommissioned Russian nuclear missiles.
The erstwhile Warsaw Pact nations of East Europe are thriving. NATO’s borders are so far to the east the world has lost track. I doubt anyone in this room could name all the NATO members east of the Elbe. The economies of Estonia, Lithuania and Hungary are among the freest in the world. The Ukraine and Georgia have dramatic democratic experiments underway, right under the nose of Russia, which itself is groping towards the democratic sunlight. All of Europe is democratic, and the Balkans are quiet. Germany has refused to participate in a war.
Terror attacks in Israel have all but stopped, and the stock market and economy there are booming. Israel’s neighbors continue their march to self-government. Lots of elections are taking place in the Islamic world, some perfect, some not so perfect. Women have the vote in Lebanon, Iraq, Indonesia, Algeria and Afghanistan. The Kuwaiti Parliament is a handful of votes away from giving women the vote. The world’s largest Islamic nation, Indonesia, now has its first directly-elected president. Middle East stock markets are through the roof, including non-oil exchanges in Turkey, Israel and Egypt. If you had bought an index of Middle East stock markets on the eve of our invasion of Iraq, you would be a very happy person today.
East Asia is on fire with growth with no end in sight. The region is consumed with trade. No one is attacking anyone there. Vietnam is in the midst of a capitalist boom and experimenting with local elections. They are begging Americans to come to their country, and are flirting with the U.S. military. American companies are the largest exporters from “communist” China, which is surrounded by democracies. Democratic Japan has the second largest economy in the world, is fully integrated with the American economy, and pays for the forward deployed U.S. military stationed on her islands.
Global trade is at all time highs as the world economy integrates and unimaginable wealth is created. Today’s global trading empire revolves around the stability and availability of the U.S. dollar, which lubricates international trade and finance like no other currency has ever done. America is both the largest importer and largest exporter in the world, and has the highest per capita income outside a handful of European city-states.
I used to remind my wife and kids in the 1990s to always keep in mind that these may be the Good Old Days. And when you stop and catch your breath and look around, this decade may not be so bad, either.
I am not here to simply sandblast the problems and challenges we have. But when you evaluate the progress of a wagon train, you don’t just look down at the wheels or at the side of the trail. If you do you will see nothing but filth and maggots, maybe some dead bodies, and occasionally get kicked in the head by a horse.
The real way to look at a wagon train is backwards, where it has come from, and in front on the horizon, where it has the potential to go. If you do that, your breath is taken away by the remarkable shape our country and the world are in today.
If that is true, if I am even half right, why is the press so negative, and why do so many people feel so downright crummy? I think there are three reasons.
By its nature the press is negative. Reporters feed on controversy and bad news, both because it sells and it’s hard to write about peace and quiet and prosperity. So no matter what is going on, or who is in power, the press will likely be negative. I’m still waiting for the headlines “Average Size of a House doubles in America in 25 Years” or “America added 25% to its GDP during the Reagan Years.”
A second reason is major corners of the mainstream media are dominated by old line liberals. As the conservative ascendancy has gathered speed in America their attacks have become more shrill, and their coverage more desperate. With the White House, House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, a majority of state houses, and soon the Supreme Court all under the sway of conservative Republicans, you cannot really blame the liberals for going wild, and wondering if they have lost everything. Even today, when the GOP is taking a pounding over gas prices, Iraq and Katrina, John McCain has an eight point lead, and Rudy Guiliani a four point lead, over Hillary Clinton in a recent national opinion poll.
And finally, even though it has been 4 years, I think most Americans still feel awful about 9-11, not only that it happened, but that it could happen again. And many of us wonder if Iraq is the right war to be fighting, and if our brothers and sisters there are dying in vain.
On this latter, most important point, I like to remind people that terrorism is a desperate act. It means all your other options have run out. The Japanese kamikazes appeared at the end of World War Two when that Empire was on its last legs. The suicidal jihadists have appeared just as self-government and markets and American-backed democratic power have come to dominate the globe over the past 30 years. The jihadists have little political power, no conventional military power, and no economic power. They have had to resort to killing innocent civilians, and often Islamic civilians, and blowing themselves up in the process. That is not a great option for worldly, political success.
That being said, the terrorist threat is an existential threat. In other words, they have so many options and so many targets that our ability to stop them every time severely tests the Las Vegas odds. More importantly, if they get their hands on the wrong technology, they can wipe out a city, or worse.
With regards to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as to the widely stretched American military offensive against the jihadists across the globe, it is hard to prove a negative. Historians and experts can debate this, but why have there been no new attacks on the U.S. in four years, and very limited attacks on our allies? I don’t know. Maybe Al Qaeda is weaker than we thought. Maybe the big boom will go off tomorrow. Maybe we have them tied down overseas and are intercepting their operations. Maybe Iraq is a honey-trap drawing in the haters from all over the region, where our military can kill them.
But it is the president’s job to protect the homeland, the national security, and any President who did not take an aggressive stance towards both terrorism and WMD proliferation after 9-11 would have been ridden out of town on a rail. And based on the election results in 2002 and 2004, it seems a majority of Americans would rather have the risks of an aggressive overseas war than take our chances playing rope-a-dope here at home.
We can all have a great debate about this, but I think right now it makes sense that a bigger war overseas results in a smaller war here and for our allies. Maybe, just maybe, the strategy is working, and all those soldiers and sailors, airmen and marines, American and Allied, willing to leave their families and sacrifice all are making us safer here at home, and extending our democratic empire another day, another month, another year.
So if you are feeling a little down, take a step back, catch your breath, and take a good look at where that wagon train has come from, where it is, and where it has the potential to go. We Americans are running the greatest political experiment in the long annals of recorded history, and every once in a while we ought lift our shoulders from the wheel, pat ourselves on the back, and simply say, “Job well done.”
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