Thursday, May 31, 2007

Too Little, or Too Much
I'm certain that I'm not the first person to whom this has occurred, but consider how differently the Bush administration and its congressional rubber stamp responded to two major problems of the current period.

When it came to Iraq and the threat of Saddam Hussein acquiring "the world's deadliest weapons," policymakers decided upon a proactive response. Some soundbites are so good you can't forget them even when you desperately want to: such is the case with then-National Security Advisor Condeleezza Rice somberly telling us, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." More broadly, the administration has embraced the so-called "One Percent Doctrine": if there's even a very slight possibility of a terrorist threat, the United States should act as if it's absolutely certain. In the words of the vice-president, "It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response."

Contrast this with the administration's actions, or lack thereof, in the face of a threat that could and, many believe, will do damage on a scale that al Qaeda couldn't imagine: global warming.

Now, six and a half years into his disaster of a presidency, Bush evidently is moving closer to acknowledging the reality of climate change. Maybe the president who insists that history will vindicate his Splendid Little War is thinking uneasily about its verdict on a potentially much bigger question. But there remains a chasm between acknowledging a problem and working toward a solution, and Bush's approach here is still nothing more than wishing, hoping, and punting. And while the now-majority Democrats in Congress talk a better game than did their predecessors--the switch in attitude and aptitude from James Inhofe to Barbara Boxer is pretty dramatic--they can't really do anything substantial without presidential support, and with a very winnable presidential election fast approaching, they're probably too scared to try.

Had the administration taken the One Percenter approach on climate change, we'd presumably be investing countless billions in a Manhattan Project level effort to develop lower-emitting fuels. Had they taken the climate change approach to post-9/11 foreign policy, we would have left Saddam alone and hoped that he'd just die quietly, and maybe reached out to the rest of the Arab world with persuasion rather than coercion. It's hard not to suspect we'd be vastly better off on both counts.

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