I give President Bush full credit for a bold and sweeping attempt to solve a genuine national problem. I also believe the President’s overall approach was the correct one. And it’s important to emphasize that the President showed a genuine willingness to compromise. The problem was not President Bush, but the obstructionism of his critics. And so, unfortunately, we lost the chance for social security reform early in the President’s second term.
The immigration battle was different. There President Bush was also trying to solve a genuine national problem. Yet I believe his fundamental approach was wrong-headed, and the compromise flawed, superficial, and deeply misleading. And so, unfortunately, we lost the chance for immigration reform late in the President’s second term.
Having focused overwhelming attention on the Iraq war, the country lost site of the deeper threat posed by a nuclear Iran: the collapse of the world’s non-proliferation regime, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, a greatly heightened chance of nuclear terror, and nuclear blackmail in the Persian Gulf. And so, unfortunately, we lost the chance to stop a nuclear Iran by the end of President Bush’s final term.
Believing that the Middle East was the fundamental danger, and that China’s rise would draw its most significant strategic consequences only decades down the road, the country scarcely noticed the rise of an absolutist Russia, willing to use oil as a weapon, and able to coordinate an emerging de facto alliance between itself, several states of its former empire, China, and a newly nuclear Iran. And so, unfortunately, we found ourselves divided and paralyzed by internal squabbles at very the moment when our position in the world was being eroded by a growing alliance of the world’s absolutist powers.
All eras are not alike. I remember scanning the New York Times during the Clinton era (yes, the Times was my bible back then), and many a time being unable to find a single story that might count as actual news. The relative pace of events was slow. History seemed, at minimum, to be taking a break.
It’s different now–very different–and getting “differenter” all the time. The next president of the United States is going to have to face an immense heap of unsolved problems. We keep putting them off because they’re too painful to easily solve, and because we’re too divided to figure out what we want anyway. Yet sooner or later the piper is going to be paid.
The oldest baby boomers begin collecting their social security checks right around 2008. Every new year will bring our entitlement crisis nearer. Iran is close to the point of no return right now, and will likely be a de facto nuclear power by the end of the new president’s first year in office, if not sooner. Will this presidential race be the “immigration campaign?” Probably not. But the next term just might be “the immigration presidency.”
Will an alliance of absolutist powers really emerge? Slowly but surely it may. The best way to stop it would be to overcome our current weakness and solidify our international position. In the face of America’s internal divisions, will the next president be able to do that? Maybe so, but it certainly won’t be easy. And we haven’t even gotten to “surprises” like, say, and end to Musharraf and domestic instability in a nuclear Pakistan.
Hillary and Bill, I’m glad two heads are better than one, because you’re going to need both. Good luck on that “healing divisions” part, though. Barack, we’ve never needed experience and a running start more than we do now. I hope you’re a quick study. Rudy, I sure wish you’d ease my mind by saying more of what I want to hear about your Supreme Court appointments and your immigration stance. Still, you strike me as about as ready for the challenges we face as any of the candidates could possibly be. Fred, you’re a bit experience short yourself. Even so, I like your style and your substance. You also strike me as the fellow who just might be able to cobble this country back together again. Mitt, you’re especially good at turning messes around. Well, I’ve got a special present for you: an Olympic-sized pool of troubles we’ll all be plowing through ‘round about 2009.