Lever­aged to the max: Su­per­power on the brink

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Pat Buchanan

There was a time when events like the col­lapse of that bridge over the Mis­sis­sippi would have been taken in stride. Yes, it was a tragedy, a ma­ture na­tion would have said, but like earth­quakes, hur­ri­canes, tor­na­does and bolts of light­ing hit­ting folks on pic­nic grounds, th­ese are "acts of God." Even in a good life and a great coun­try, bad things hap­pen.

But to­day, there has be some­one to blame, some­one to be held ac­count­able, some­one who could have pre­vented it, some­one whose head must go on a pike. And it is the job of the jour­nal­ist to give us the guilty. And the mod­ern jour­nal­ist rel­ishes noth­ing more than stand­ing be­fore a TV cam­era pass­ing moral judg­ment on failed mor­tals.

Af­ter Ka­t­rina, it was Pres­i­dent Bush, who ne­glected to send in the 82nd Air­borne at once, and "Brownie," the FEMA chief. Yet, all con­cede Brownie had done "a heck­uva job" in the Florida hur­ri­cane.

We are now told there are 70,000 bridges in this coun­try that are "struc­turally de­fi­cient," what­ever that means, since col­laps­ing bridges are a rar­ity. One re­calls the crum­pling of a slab of the Bay Bridge in San Fran­cisco a few years back, but few oth­ers. Yet, a clamor has arisen for hun­dreds of bil­lions of tax dol­lars to re­pair our crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture of roads, sew­ers, bridges and elec­tri­cal grids.

Fine, but where are we go­ing to get the money?

We are bust. We con­sume all we earn. We save noth­ing. We bor­row $2 bil­lion a day to fi­nance our trade deficit and buy all those goods and gad­gets at the mall. The Chi­nese save be­tween 35 per­cent and 50 per­cent of all they earn.

Though de­pen­dent on OPEC for 60 per­cent of our oil, we haven't built a re­fin­ery or a nu­clear power plant in more than 25 years, and we are not per­mit­ted to drill in much of Alaska or off Cal­i­for­nia or Florida. We don't build dams any­more, like Hoover and Grand Coulee, we tear them down. We were once the great­est road-builders since Rome, as Ike's In­ter­state High­way Sys­tem was built in two decades, not two cen­turies.

Barack Obama wins stand­ing ova­tions from lib­eral Democrats by pledg­ing to dou­ble for­eign aid. Thus, un­der Pres­i­dent Obama, the U.S. gov­ern­ment will bor­row from China and Ja­pan $50 bil­lion each year to sub­si­dize regimes in Africa, putting our kids in hock for­ever, so we can feel good about our­selves.

Wake-up call: This is not the 1950s. We are not the world's great­est cred­i­tor na­tion any­more, but the world's great­est debtor.

Credit card debt, mort­gage debt and cor­po­rate debt have never been higher. The fall of 800 points in the Dow the last two weeks re­sulted from de­faults on home mort­gages, bun­dled up and traded like stocks in the Grand Casino of Wall Street by the boys at Bear Stearns.

Abroad, the United States fights two guer­rilla wars that have not yet taken the lives of as many sol­diers as we lost putting down a Philip­pine in­sur­rec­tion a cen­tury ago. Yet, an ex-chief of staff says the U.S. Army is "break­ing."

Query: If those "sav­age wars of peace," in Ki­pling's phrase, can break our army of 500,000, how in heaven's name can this lit­tle army ful­fill war guar­an­tees and treaty com­mit­ments to fight for 25 NATO na­tions, Is­rael, the Arab Gulf, Tai­wan, South Korea and Ja­pan?

We are com­mit­ted to po­lice the world. Yet, we have an Army that is "break­ing," as pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates bray about at­tack­ing Iran, a na­tion three times as large and pop­u­lous as Iraq, and in­vad­ing Pak­istan, a Mus­lim na­tion of 170 mil­lion with atom bombs. Whom are we kid­ding? U.S. for­eign pol­icy is bank­rupt. We can't cover our com­mit­ments with the ground forces we have. And a world watch­ing Amer­ica thrash about in Me­sopotamia is be­gin­ning to rec­og­nize it and act upon it.

While the fed­eral deficit is only 2 per­cent of GDP, the sur­pluses of the 1990s are his­tory, and we are steer­ing to­ward an en­ti­tle­ment ice­berg.

"So­cial Se­cu­rity, Medi­care and Med­i­caid . . . al­ready ex­ceed 40 per­cent of the $2.7 tril­lion fed­eral bud­get. By 2030, their share could hit 75 per­cent of the present bud­get," writes colum­nist Robert Sa­muel­son. "To keep fed­eral spend­ing stable as a share of the econ­omy would mean elim­i­nat­ing all de­fense spend­ing and most other do­mes­tic pro­grams. . . . To bal­ance the bud­get with ex­ist­ing pro­grams at their present eco­nomic shares would re­quire . . . tax in­creases of 30 per­cent to 50 per­cent -- or bud­get deficits could quadru­ple."

We do not have the forces to fight and win our wars, or de­fend present al­lies. We do not col­lect enough in taxes to fund the com­ing deficits in Medi­care and So­cial Se­cu­rity. High-wage jobs, tech­nol­ogy and fac­to­ries are pour­ing out of Amer­ica into China. We hail the Global Econ­omy, as they toast a Chi­nese econ­omy that is grow­ing at 12 per­cent, six times the rate of the U.S. econ­omy in the first half of 2007.

A day of reck­on­ing for the boomers will ar­rive in the first term of the new pres­i­dent.

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