Being a little behind on my reading, I’m just getting around to former Bush speechwriter and current Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson’s Friday column weighing in on Hillary Clinton’s claim that “the world was with us after 9/11. We have so squandered that goodwill and we’ve got to rebuild it.” Along the way, he lends some unjustified support to it.
Yes, this has been a standard Clinton talking point since, oh, 2002. It’s Bush’s fault, not Congress’s fault. In this regard, recall the late Tom Lantos’ observation on how relations between the U.S. and its two greatest European antagonists, France and Germany, improved remarkably not with any change in our leadership, but changes in theirs.
Typically associated with this cooling of the relations are two complaints specifically echoed by Gerson, Guantanamo and global warming. The relevant tensions will be remedied because “the next president, Republican of Democrat, is likely to close Guantanamo and sign legislation to restrict American carbon emissions, mollifying two justified European criticisms” (emphasis added).
Leaving the Gitmo issue to Andrew McCarthy and the gang over on the Corner, let’s examine Gerson’s implication that part of the Bush-driven rift with Europe (which he, too, admits has lessened appreciably) arises from a lack of CO2 legislation.
Question: How does legislation come to be signed by presidents? If you guessed “Congress must pass it first,” you are correct. So once Bush is gone, Congress will pass such a law, which to date they have chosen not to do. Since this point goes without elaboration, Gerson’s readers are left to assume that Congressional inaction is driven by fear of a Bush veto.
Question: Has this Congress shown a reluctance to pass bills that they fear Bush will veto? Far from it: in fact, they’ve passed bills that Bush has expressly promised to veto.
So the subtext of Gerson’s piece is that, when Congress finally acts — by doing something that they are already free to do — Bush’s rift will be healed.
Also left unmentioned in Gerson’s column is the Kyoto Protocol, which hangs over the piece like those smokestack plumes the media use as B-roll whenever they do a story about emissions of CO2 (which is an invisible gas, by the way).
To repeat: Bush articulated his Kyoto policy on March 17, 2001 — six months before 9/11 — and very poorly timed to deserve blame for “squandering post-9/11 goodwill.”
And as a substantive matter, Bush’s policy was no different from the Clinton-Gore policy. Bush articulated that he had no interest in seeking Senate ratification of Kyoto (not exactly identical with “refused to sign,” as so many media reports cast it). After Gore originally agreed to the pact for the U.S. on December 11, 1997, Clinton did precisely the same thing. So for over three years, the Clinton-Gore administration’s policy on Kyoto was identical to the Bush administration’s policy. Shame on you, George.
Finally, why should Gerson say that Europe might “justifiably criticize” us for not passing a law to cap CO2 emissions? Presumably because they are doing that themselves — capping emissions, I mean, not passing unenforceable laws at the EU level. But see below (and be aware that when this chart is updated in late June or so, after a drop of about 0.8 percent in 2005, emissions in 2006 will rise by about a percent and a half over 2005, according to member-state data already in the public domain.
Everyone’s emissions are increasing; everyone’s. Of course, not everyone’s are increasing as fast as Europe’s. U.S. emissions went down the last year on record, 2006; over the period since 1997, when Europe began its grandiose promises, U.S. CO2 emissions increased at an annual rate that is half of Europe’s, even while our economy and population grew faster than theirs. Since 2000, the gap widens significantly. Europe’s criticisms are not justified.
In short, neither CO2 nor Kyoto are grounds for Europe’s anti-American snit in the years after September 11. Period.
In a normal election year, this would be an issue, and these facts would become more widely known. This clearly, however, is not a normal election year.