- Is Russia’s move against Georgia an isolated event or the precursor of similar moves against other former republics of the Soviet Union? (I fear the latter.) Should we conduct a review of our relationship with Russia?
- North Korea has just reversed its agreement to destroy its nuclear weapons facilities. This is at least the third time that it has broken similar agreements. Is it time to end negotiations with North Korea and examine other means available to force the regime to reverse its nuclear ambitions?
- What should we do if Iran continues its nuclear weapons program?
- McCain won election despite or because of his position on the Iraq war. No matter: What now? Do we continue phased troop withdrawals? How rapidly do we shift responsibility for fighting the war to the Iraqi government?
- Earlier success in Afghanistan has been replaced by a resurgence of hostile tribal activity. How should we respond? More troops? More money? Can we fight here and in Iraq as well?
- How should we re-iterate our public commitment to Israel’s security and existence? Should we do it in the President’s first address to Congress? How should we involve ourselves in the search for an agreement between Israel and its various antagonists?
- In addition to the Israeli issues, there are a host of other concerns in the region and beyond: Syria/Lebanon, Russia/Iran, oil pipelines to Europe, and more. All deserve a comprehensive review aimed at developing an integrated strategy for the region.
- Are we properly organized to fight the war on terrorism? More specifically, how do we deal with Pakistan and its perennial instability, given the sanctuary it allows for the Taliban and the remnants of al-Qaeda?
- What are the true parameters of global warming? Are we doing enough and spending enough to meet the real rather than imagined environmental threats?
- McCain’s earlier comments on the People’s Republic of China have been tough. Now that he is President, should policies shift to match his view? Or should there be a review of our relationship to determine our future policy?
The collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 ended five decades of a kind of pernicious stability enforced by the rivalry of the two superpowers. The euphoria that followed the collapse was soon replaced by the chaotic world we have been seeking to understand and to manage ever since. We have had only moderate success in this venture. John McCain and Sarah Palin, in a partnership seldom seen in American history, will likely succeed where others have failed. No one should expect them to bring total order out of the multifarious chaos that plagues the world today. But they will overcome the fractures in our domestic scene and ensure our national security. If they win.What if the Republicans lose the 2008 election? How would the Party react to defeat? An Obama victory would be devastating, given the number of his programs that are anathema to the GOP’s most deeply held beliefs. Republicans will hold sufficient seats in the Senate (41 or more) to sustain a filibuster, so the worst may be prevented, but a filibuster is at best an imperfect instrument. It cannot be used daily or against every piece of odious legislation. Inevitably, then, a goodly portion of Obama’s legislative package will wend its way into law. The Republicans will also have to sort their way through a different kind of crisis. What will be the consequences of defeat on the Party’s psyche? Who will be blamed for the loss, and with what consequences? You can bet your bottom dollar that the far Right will charge Party moderates with responsibility for the loss, no matter how close it may have been. They will move to take over the Party machinery (as they have already done in Virginia), and move the Party’s public face to the right. Moderates, particularly in the House and Senate, will fight to keep the Party from a significant turn rightward, but their opponents will have a significant advantage, one which they have used brilliantly: their access to the press, radio and television (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, the Weekly Standard, National Review, etc.). This struggle for the “soul” of the Republican Party will never be resolved by total victory for either side. Yet a slide to the right would harm the party’s future electoral chances, all else equal. In this case, however, “all else” includes how well, or how poorly, President Obama governs. Obama’s lack of experience, the inevitable increase in taxes to pay for the monstrous costs of his domestic programs, and his amateur views and conduct of foreign affairs—which will, in short order, have the United States embroiled in an international crisis—could lead to serious public concern within the first year or two of his Administration. If so, the Republicans will be presented with an opportunity to repair the damage of their earlier defeat. The incompetence of an Obama Administration could mean a significant congressional midterm election victory in 2010 and the defeat of the President in 2012. That is the most likely scenario for saving the Republican Party from its own ideologues. Newt Gingrich I have a singular view of what John McCain and the Republican Party need to do this fall to win the November election and then govern successfully. That view is based on three premises, the first of which is that the electorate’s repudiation of the Republican Party in the 2006 midterm election and the consistently low approval ratings for President Bush are accurate reflections of the American people’s impatience with the Republican Party’s failure to perform and failure to communicate. The second premise, however, is that the American people have not moved to the left. They do not yearn for higher taxes, bigger government and more bureaucracy. Contrary to the Democrats’ analysis, polling for the Platform of the American People shows conclusively that there is a consistent 65–90 percent center-right majority on a wide range of public policy issues (of which more in a moment). The third and most important premise is that the United States is on the verge of a series of challenges so profound that only substantial change will enable us to succeed as a society and as a state among other states in the world. Our current policies and our current government structure are incapable of effective performance in the world as it is, let alone the highly complex and competitive world that is emerging. If we fail to transform fundamentally our institutions, our children and grandchildren will no longer live in the most successful, prosperous, safest and freest country in the world. The American model of a free and egalitarian society, with a limited and accountable government, could well be eclipsed by Chinese, Indian or other models. The greatest challenges in American government and politics today combine intellectual and emotional elements. Intellectually, meeting the challenge of developing a new generation of solutions is the first step toward developing a new generation of successful politics. Only those with answers that really work will be able to stand before the American people, and only they will deserve to. If Republican candidates want to be successful, they will need to have those answers. Emotionally, the key will be for Republicans to cut themselves free from both the bureaucratized national establishment and from their own consultants. If they don’t, they will not know how to find or communicate new ideas and solutions to the American people. Intellectually, it is impossible to make the old order work. As Alvin Toffler described brilliantly a generation ago in Future Shock, and then a decade later in The Third Wave, vast changes are sweeping through all of society. Ossified government is the lagging indicator of those changes, and lobbyists are usually the last bastion defending the old order. The American people understand this, even if some parts of the GOP establishment do not. For example, I recently taped a tongue-in-cheek YouTube video called “FedEx versus Federal Bureaucracy” in which I outlined the performance gap between the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and FedEx. FedEx can track 23 million moving packages a day virtually in real time; the Federal government cannot find ten million illegal immigrants in an entire year, even if they are sitting still. Audiences still laugh at this video clip, which has been viewed more than 1.5 million times, because they intuitively grasp the analogy and gasp at the passion with which vested interest groups defend government failure at the local, state and Federal levels. A less amusing example of this performance gap is illustrated by comparing the ubiquity of automated teller machines worldwide, which enables anyone with a bank account to get money 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the relative scarcity of electronic health records, despite overwhelming evidence that errors inherent to paper record-keeping kill thousands of patients a year and waste billions of dollars. There is an education performance gap as well. In a remarkable film called Two Million Minutes (2mminutes.com), Bob Compton has brilliantly demonstrated that Chinese and Indian high school students now learn within systems of discipline and effort that the United States is currently incapable of matching. The American people recognize that their government bureaucracies are too slow and too ineffective to keep up with even our own private sector, let alone a dynamic new global system. They are ready for vastly greater changes than their political elites recognize. Indeed, the American people instinctively know that entrepreneurs are more likely to solve problems than bureaucrats.1 They know that rewards create incentives for breakthroughs. They know we have to develop more, and more diverse, energy sources: more drilling for oil and gas, more nuclear, more clean coal and more alternative fuels. Most think government as well as the market should have a role: 81 percent favor a Manhattan Project for energy that would cut through litigation, regulation and bureaucratic timidity to get the job done. That is not all. About 84 percent of the American people want a one-page optional flat tax on income. Nearly 87 percent favor English as the sole official language of government. Indeed, a “tripartisan majority” of Democrats, Republicans and independents support all 91 planks of the Platform of the American People. This center-right majority is begging for an alternative to both Obama leftism and the Republican Party’s failure to perform and to communicate, which is at the heart of the failure to perform in a free society. John McCain can win the election in November by embracing this platform and communicating his support for it to the American people. Regardless of who wins the November election or how he wins it, Republicans will begin 2009 in a confusing and complicated situation. The national establishment, by which I mean elements of the permanent government, will tell us that we cannot break out and advocate a new generation of solutions because it would be ‘irresponsible” or “unrealistic.” Much of this pressure will come from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the most reactionary institution in Washington. Its bureaucrats are dedicated to a static model of the economy, a limited-resources vision of the future, and a deep dedication to formulas that favor bigger government and higher taxes. The CBO is the enforcer of establishment orthodoxy with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), its partner in enforcing pro-bureaucracy, static measures that cripple real reform. Republicans who bow to the current rules will find even their boldest proposals so limited and ineffective that they will be unable to build momentum for real change. This is what happened to President Bush’s social security proposals, for example. It will take real courage to ignore the national establishment’s rules and appeal directly to the American people for support. Republicans will need to create a level of intensity approaching that of Andrew Jackson, where they speak for the people to the bureaucrats (including judges who seek to impose radical values against the will of the American people) and reject those who speak for the bureaucracy to the people. Additional pressure against boldness will come from Republican political consultants, who will advise their clients that they are spending far too much time on policies and issues when they should relax and focus instead on raising money and devising short-term public relations gimmicks. Giving into such pressures is not what produced the Republican majority in 1994, and it will not be the attitude that brings the next Republican majority, either. There are encouraging signs that idea-oriented Republicans like Lamar Alexander, Tom Coburn, Richard Burr and Jon Kyl in the Senate, and Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, Tom Price and Lyn Westmoreland in the House, are beginning to reach beyond short-term tactics to develop new strategies and focus on new solutions. Certainly, House Minority Leader John Boehner’s efforts this past summer to build on the “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” petition drive at American Solutions was a step in the right direction. At the state level, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue’s health reform proposals increased the power of the private market in such a way as to offer a third of the currently uninsured the opportunity to buy insurance at affordable rates. In Texas, Governor Rick Perry has led the way toward transparency and accountability by putting all state spending on the Internet, so citizens can monitor their own government. In Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal is creating a generation of new solutions in education and health while passing tough new ethics and transparency laws, cutting taxes, and attracting new jobs to Louisiana. He is the model of a new, solutions-oriented Republicanism that could create a long-term governing majority. Of course, this kind of solutions-oriented Republicanism is precisely what Ronald Reagan and the conservative movement epitomized in the 1970s. In the shadow of Watergate, détente, higher taxes, bigger government and more inflation, they developed a strategy that broke fundamentally with the American establishment on three fronts. Reaganism represented a decisive shift from détente to victory in foreign policy, from a Keynesian, high-tax, big-government model of the economy to a Hayek-Friedman, lower-tax, small-government model, and from “malaise” to a renewed, optimistic spirit of pride in being an American. These three changes appear less profound and decisive today than they were in their time simply because we are now used to them. But times have moved on, new challenges confront us, and we now need change on a similar or greater scale again. Whether the American political elite will rise to the occasion depends very much on the leadership qualities of the next president. If a newly elected President McCain fully embraces a program for comprehensive renewal, all Republicans and all Americans should support him. Were he to try governing within the framework of the past (seeking, for example, grand compromises with Teddy Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and others), the job of congressional Republicans would be to oppose these compromises and stand instead for a fundamentally new approach to solving America’s problems and defining America’s future. What will John McCain do if he wins, and what will the Republicans in opposition do if he does not win? Barry Goldwater rose in rejection of Eisenhower’s acceptance of the New Deal. Ronald Reagan rose in rejection of the Ford foreign policy and the timidity of the traditional Republican establishment. A newly elected President McCain would have an opportunity to rise against inertia to forge a new and bold governing coalition by focusing on issue after issue for which huge political majorities already exist. This would infuriate the New York Times but it would please and excite the American people. Imagine a McCain Administration that launched a Manhattan Project in energy supported by four out of five Americans. Imagine a McCain Administration that called for a profound series of education reforms measured by a core principle: How can young Americans learn enough to compete in the world market? Imagine a McCain Administration that sided with the 84 percent of the American people who say they would like the option of a one-page flat tax. Imagine a new McCain cabinet that included leading entrepreneurs committed to transforming American bureaucracies into systems capable of the agility, speed and accuracy now common in much of the private sector. Imagine a McCain Administration that announced a Federal program that would give every American an electronic health record by December 2012, and that paid for the investment through a dramatic reduction in fraud made possible by the new paperless system. Imagine a McCain Administration that revolutionized the health care debate by insisting on “health-based health policies.” Such policies would apply the best models from the private sector, which are delivering better health care at lower cost. Government would engage private-sector professionals to align incentives and design policies to drive all American health care toward best practices and best outcomes. There is a dynamic, prosperous and creative America eager to be led, but its elected officials must break loose from the bureaucracies, the interest groups and the establishment rules that are currently trapping America in decline and decay. A President McCain could lead that movement with enormous opportunities for success, for there is already a large tripartisan majority in favor of a bold program of American renewal. It is only a matter of time and persistent leadership. That, at least, is this elephant’s view. Charles Hill As disbelieving anchorpersons recite the results on the evening of November 4, sounds of rending garments and gnashing teeth will o’erspread the precincts of the American cultural elite. If the Democrats could not win this one, many will mutter, then when, if ever? If the political scientists’ certainty that only the economy matters in presidential politics proved false, then in whom can we believe? Recriminations will swirl. Celebrities will theatrically proclaim their goings into exile. “Impeach McCain!” bumper stickers will be readied for display at noon on January 20, 2009. The Clintons will inwardly smile. Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich will take comfort in realizing that their columnular styles will not, after all, need to shift from sneering to doting. The Democratic-chaired committees of Congress will fill their calendars with hearings in search of scandals. John McCain may be the first President forced to declare the nation’s cultural elite a natural disaster area, making the New York Times editorial board eligible for federally funded psychiatric counseling. If the Democrats are proved wrong in their anticipations, it does not mean the Republicans knew exactly what they were doing, either. Looking back on the longest presidential campaign in American history, President-elect McCain might conclude that the Republican effort resembled the story of the blind men and the elephant: Many a candidate and advocate touched a part, but no one sensed the whole. They came away convinced that the theme of a Republican presidency should be a wall, snake, spear, tree, fan or rope. True enough, the mind of the Republican elephant itself is capacious. It can contain multitudes, but multitudes cannot set priorities and rule. What will President McCain’s priorities be? As John McCain turns toward his several weeks of transition to Inauguration Day, it is good to recall that he has claimed Theodore Roosevelt as his presidential model. We can be pretty clear about what that means: a strong international role both military and diplomatic. “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” The Great White Fleet. Nobel-Prize peacemaking. Environmental stewardship. Energetic governmental reform. Rugged individualism and “the strenuous life.” If President McCain will take all these on board as themes, we’ll excuse him from big-game hunting. But TR isn’t the only guiding light to whom McCain might turn for inspiration and counsel. A few other authors at least, can provide useful organizing concepts for handling some disturbing and increasingly deep-seated trends in contemporary American life. One of these trends is disaggregation. Disaggregation has become a basic feature of our public discourse. The Iraq war has been argued over as though it were a stand-alone issue, unconnected to regional or international security except as a distraction from Afghanistan. In all fields, problems are first framed, then policy suggestions endorsed or knocked down, one by one. So we have a credit crunch. We have a weak dollar. We have high energy prices. We have trade and budget deficits. We are prosecuting expensive though necessary wars. To how many members of the American political class does it occur that these phenomena might bear some relation to each other? Policymakers and politicians may imagine themselves engaged in serious detailed work over one challenge or another, but all they are really doing is playing public policy whack-a-mole. We need to see the grand strategic picture, to relate small things to large ones, ends to means. To understand better how this ought to be done, President McCain should return to a book he no doubt encountered back in his Annapolis days: Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History (1890). Mahan’s classic demands the most expansive view of geopolitical reality while at the same time attending to the practical details on which high policy rested at the time: a global chain of coaling stations for the fleet. Mahan’s treatise was published at a time when technology and changing great power relations meant that the United States had to transform its approach to international security. A similar transformative vision is needed now to ensure that the United States retains a policy of global access. For the Navy, the task of guaranteeing the freedom of the seas never ceases: The Persian Gulf, newly reachable Arctic waters, and the maritime waters of Asia—especially the Taiwan Strait—all need close attention within a comprehensive plan. Similar considerations hold for the Air Force. Every dimension of defense policy demands interlinked improvements: conventional, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, cyberwarfare, stability operations (nation-building), and space. The young Teddy Roosevelt was a lecturer at the Newport Naval War College when that institution was still young and Mahan was a senior faculty member there. The president-to-be’s broad field of vision may have begun with sea power, but TR soon understood Mahan’s vision as a general principle for any field. Mahan knew that military commanders and statesmen must not occupy separated jurisdictions; he treated diplomatic factors as carefully as military and naval matters. President McCain must do the same. So no less important than continuing and sharpening innovation in defense policy, he will face the huge task of renovating the Foreign Service. He must restore it to a right-sized, serious diplomatic force after forty-some years of misuse by the Executive Branch, depredations by Congress, and endless cultural, managerial and political waywardness from within the Service itself. Mahan’s potential uses go on and on, but above all, John McCain should focus on his politically unfashionable concern for the condition of the American “national character”, which has coarsened, weakened and entertained itself nearly into late Roman forms. Mahan also focused on a closely related concern, “the character of the government.” Every American presidency in recent decades, it seems, has been brought low by scandal, pride or internal weakness. President McCain needs to keep this in mind from his first moment of electoral victory to ensure that his Administration is the exception that steers a better course for his successors to follow. Mahan himself was influenced by Carl von Clausewitz, the early-19th-century strategic thinker most famous for the proposition that “war is the continuation of policy through the advent of other means.” But it is another Clausewitzean principle that President McCain should internalize, particularly in pursuing economic and social objectives: the principle of friction. Every movement, project or undertaking he fixes upon will generate counter-forces that will seek to deter, divert or even disable it. To understand friction, Clausewitz said, try walking through water. Every society over time grows sclerotic as bureaucracies proliferate and regulations thicken. Even deregulation can cause friction if its result is to occlude the transparency so essential to keep sufficient information flowing to the market, as we have seen with the subprime mortgage debacle. President McCain will take office at a time when it is widely assumed that the United States must turn away from decades of excessive deregulation. Some of that will be necessary, but the Clausewitzean motto of the McCain White House should be: Reducing Friction is the Genius of Statecraft. This principle would lead the President to consider, for example, that any cap-and-trade policy to address global warming will require a friction-producing bureaucracy of gargantuan proportions. A comprehensively simplified tax code is a friction-reducing imperative. So are easing the barriers to entry for small businesses and entrepreneurs, streamlining the patent process for innovators, and reining in phony lawsuit “frictioneers.” The friction principle also illuminates our health care syndrome: President McCain should open a copy of George Shultz’s and John Shoven’s new book Putting Our House in Order (2008) to learn about the simplest ways to grease the wheels of our nation’s health care and social security machinery. On the largest scale, reducing friction calls for a huge investment in refurbishing and enhancing our national infrastructure. Excluding wartime mobilization or space exploration, the United States has taken on precisely these kinds of monumental projects for largely domestic reasons at critical moments in history. This impulse for national progress was the origin of the great roads and canals projects of the Madison and Monroe Administrations. The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 was essential to complete the American people’s Manifest Destiny. President Eisenhower’s massive interstate highway project was explained in terms of what we might call “homeland security” today. The Americans with Disabilities Act, simply through the changes in physical access it brought, was imperative to moral progress. President McCain’s infrastructure initiative would grease the wheels on many levels, and his energy efficiency initiative would have a friction-reducing effect that would go a long way toward liberating us from our dependency on foreign-origin fossil fuels. President McCain would be uniquely suited to launch and oversee such a project in ways to guard against corruption and excessive friction. Conceived and carried out as an energy policy effort that depends in the main on the market and the private sector, such a project could succeed in ways a “Manhattan Project” for energy breakthroughs probably would not. Government, the record shows, might well pick the wrong schemes to back, while the American private sector is now self-mobilized to pursue every commercially feasible avenue. In this context, Candidate McCain’s idea of a $300 million prize for a battery to “leapfrog” automotive technology simply isn’t needed. Along with Mahan and Clausewitz, McCain should peruse the White House library’s shelves for the essays (and poetry) of Ralph Waldo Emerson. John McCain delivered his most powerful statement of why he is running for president after he won the New Hampshire primary, when he said he wanted to inspire Americans to serve a cause greater than self-interest. His own personal imperfections aside, Emerson had a lot to say about noble causes (“hitch your wagon to a star”) and the self (especially in his great essay “Self-Reliance”, which, it must be noted, is not titled “self-interest” or “self-indulgence”). Self-interest is fundamentally good, as Adam Smith convinced us, but it needs to be accompanied by self-discipline and a commitment, Emerson concludes, to “the triumph of principles.” Looked at this way, a higher cause and self-interest need to merge in a re-awakening of the American national character, which has everything to do with a revolution in education through choice. The hallmark of Anglo-American political genius is its insistence upon and nurturing of individual agency. So engrained is this aspect of American political culture that it takes a conscious effort to make most of us aware that this way of valuing public life is not universal. Case in point: the opening extravaganza of the Beijing Olympics, a demonstration of interchangeable individuals subordinated to a higher collective cause. PRC officials claimed the Chinese people would understand why it was in the national interest for a telegenic 9-year-old to lip-synch for a 7-year-old who flunked the cuteness test. Unfortunately, they are probably right. The “authoritarian capitalism” of the Chinese model is now touted as a new and magnetic feature for Russia and other heavy-handed regimes around the world. The simple recipe—allow individual economic freedoms (skimming plenty off the top) while curtailing all serious political expression—is worse than a Faustian bargain. If we are to face another Brave New World challenge, another ideological packaging of the collectivist mindset, the integrity of American individualism in the next presidency will be vastly important. Every presidential election in recent decades has in large part been about this: Will the United States remain an exceptional force in world politics through its commitment to individual liberty, or will it follow the lead of the American cultural elite and intelligentsia, who increasingly prefer a European-style economy and polity? Senator Obama is an outstanding representative of the lineage favoring this latter course of change. American support for democratization as a main plank of its foreign policy, which has slackened in the last few years under the pressure of events and a string of critical books by public intellectuals, will rise or fall according to which party wins the White House. Democracy has one very powerful, practical thing going for it, however. President Bush has justified democratic government as “every human being’s God-given right”, but as thinkers from Kant to Hayek have explained, it is also methodologically the most effective way to run a society. Only democratic processes provide the transparency and free flow of information needed to clean up corruption, nepotism and other forms of disguised venality, whether public or private. Regimes enamored of “authoritarian capitalism” won’t be able to produce the economic successes they need over the long haul to justify their political oppression and protect what is, at base, a naked will to power. Mahan’s global vision, Clausewitz’s friction and Emerson’s self-reliance come together to help us understand the international state system—the way the world over the past 200–300 years has designed itself to work, and the challenges it faces today. The system is in a dangerously deteriorated condition, which President McCain will be forced to address. From the outside, radical Islamists propagate a revolutionary ideology to assault and replace it with a religion-based global order rejecting every element of the Westphalian system: the state, international law and norms, professional military and diplomatic services, and more. From inside, the Western intelligentsia has for some time been striving to create transnational political forms that would discard the established system in favor of some chimerical pastiche of “global governance”—an order which by definition, and by recent European example, would be decreasingly democratic. Democracy lies at the heart of it all. It has been targeted by Islamists as a religion itself, putting law in the hands of the people rather than divinely decreed sharia. The way the existing international system tries to operationalize the doctrine of collective security for maintaining international peace and security fails because it, too, is undemocratic: The system stalls out on the truly hard cases, as expressed through the veto in the United Nations Security Council. Its unit-veto system is a sensible circuit-breaker for preventing great power confrontations from overheating, but the world needs alternative mechanisms of collective action for the vast majority of cases. President McCain’s call for a League of Democracies that might collaborate when traditional mechanisms fail is worthy of serious examination. But even here the problem of friction must be borne in mind: Any good idea in world affairs will, as soon as it is proposed, generate abrasive resistance. So the President, if he wants to succeed, had better go about it with a low profile. Efforts to reduce friction and increase democracy don’t need pomp and bombast. They need prudence and eternal vigilance.
1. See the Platform of the American People at AmericanSolutions.com for data.