Change is inevitable, but can America survive as a 'peaceful power'
By the time you're reading this, the next president of the United States will have been swept into office by the largest American voter turnout in history. Right now, the future of the country is more on the minds of the American people than ever before. As good an indicator of the excitement as any is the 300-plus point surge the Dow underwent during trading yesterday. Watching the MSNBC pre-game show, there is unanimous agreement on at least one point: This is the most important election in U.S. history. Ask yourself why that is? What is at stake? Increasingly, we as a people are realizing that the time-honored tradition of American global supremacy is in danger. From a historical perspective, we see this as a critical moment in time where our actions and the actions of our leaders will come to define our continued prosperity or eventual decline. With that in mind, we propose to consider the coming challenges facing the American people, and of course, our new president, whomever he may be. What are the dangers we face, and how should they be addressed?
If this election has made anything clear, it is that voters are most concerned with two primary issues: war and the economy. Looking back, we can trace how our military presence in the Middle East — particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq — has strongly defined U.S. policy in the new millennium. Looking forward, the economic downturn is only just getting started. In truth, these two issues are inherently intertwined. Certainly the next president's military policy will have profound implications for the future of the American economy, and further, on how we as American's live our lives.
First, America must seriously reflect on her role as the world's preeminent military superpower. The strategy adopted by the second Bush administration operates via the logic of preemptive strikes and international conflict as a means to the procurement of national security, resources and foreign support. With this, we have seen our military and economic status erode over the past several years, and yet the real long-term consequences of our recent past remain to be seen. The question now is whether conflict is the best long-term means of national prosperity. Neo-cons will cite the very clear answer provided by history: war is the health of a nation. Consider simply how American involvement in World War II pulled the states out of the Great Depression. And yet, in an increasingly globalized world, the potential for a new, non-confrontational policy arises. Such a policy would, at least for the United States, be a wholly novel approach to foreign policy in the context of economic crisis. And without historical precedent, the risks of such a policy are obviously vast.
What would such a policy look like? Certainly, if a policy of peace were to be adopted, one foreseeable result would be a drastically reduced federal budget. But by implementing such a policy the country risks vulnerability to national security threats and international resistance to American economic hegemony. In other words, war is good for American business. A peaceful America would have to make up for the economic benefits of war by drastically increasing American production, which has steadily declined over the past 50 years. This, we feel, can only be achieved by the extensive and rapid cultivation of our technological and intellectual production, to place ourselves on the forefront of the global marketplace.
But in this we must confront the recent threats to Wall Street. The economy is threatening to spiral downwards despite repeated efforts by central banks worldwide to stabilize financial markets. We have provided liquidity to the capital markets and yet credit lines still remain tight. Washington needs to take bold steps to restore voter confidence and purchasing power to those who need it the most. A modern incarnation of Theodore Delano Roosevelt's New Deal era Works Progress Administration is perhaps the best solution to our problem. We can tackle our deteriorating infrastructure such as bridges, interstate highways, and light-rail lines. At the same time, we will provide much needed income and employment to those who are most likely to spend their money. But we should also be sure not to box ourselves into a corner by not accounting for the long-term upkeep and sustainability of these necessary upgrades.
Our nation's energy policy is also in need of a serious reworking. A deep-rooted commitment to expendable fossil fuels threatens the long-term future and security of this country. While we certainly can, and should, exploit the natural resources that are available to us, they will not rescue us from our behavior. There is simply not enough oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve or on the outer-continental shelf to make an appreciable difference. Any viable energy plan should include research funding and possible subsidies for solar, wave and nuclear energies. This money would provide new jobs in high-tech sectors. New factories, power plants and technologies will be produced and developed, each spurring their own wave of economic growth and prosperity.
This election has been a long one, but with its fruition we can begin to turn our attention back to the real issues. Be jubilant if your candidate won, but remember that time is short. Don't let the end of election media coverage quiet your interest in politics. If we stay focused on the issues we face and hold our elected leaders accountable for their promises, then our nation can thrive and prosper for years to come. We must look forward and the time is now.
Alexander Draine is a Rutgers College senior majoring in economics. His column, "Draine on Society," runs on alternate Tuesdays.
Alex Giannattasio is a Rutgers College senior majoring in philosophy and history.