Maybe it is selfish of me to ask, but does anyone remember the concept of domestic policy?
Strange how this period in America is completely defined by its foreign policy travails. The spotlight is set on the Middle East. The fate of America appears to be directly connected to the level of violence in Iraq or the body count in Lebanon. Even our chief domestic concern, gas prices, is closely related to happenings in the region.
And yet, as we wring our hands over violence in the Middle East, we seem to forget the problems we face within our own borders–problems that have a tangible effect on Americans. Or has it come the point that we are satisfied with domestic conditions? I think the majority of the citizenry would say we have not. Our nation faces numerous problems at home, many of which have plagued us for long time–poverty, lack of education, a failing social security system, drugs, crime, et cetera. However, arguably more important are the newer issues, issues that will have a very noticeable impact on Americans in the long run. Immigration and oil supply come to mind as such issues.
This is to take nothing away from the gravity of America’s activities on the international stage. I have long maintained that the war on terror is our new Cold War. In the Cold War, America was able to multitask as it were, unlike in the World Wars where the nation was a collective war machine. And if we accept the the war on terror is akin to the Cold War, it stands to reason that we should be able to tackle domestic problems as well. Perhaps the media is to blame for setting the tone for national debate, which at this point is wholly focused on the war in Lebanon. If the Connecticut Democratic primary featuring incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman vs. upstart Ned Lamont is any indication, this fall’s congressional races will be essentially a referendum on the war in Iraq. That is unfortunate, because to neglect the big domestic issues is very short-sighted.
The perennial problems–education, poverty, social security, et cetera–should be dealt with certainly. But I think we are selling ourselves short by not taking more seriously the other issues I mentioned earlier. First of these is immigration. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants enter the southern border of the US every year, mostly illegally. The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) puts the number of immigrants by the end of the 1990s as over 1.5 million a year. It is best left for another time to discuss the impacts of illegal immigration; but one can imagine though the consequences of the fact that the US hosted over 18 million illegal immigrants in 2003 and that number has continued to grow dramatically since then.
The other key issue that demands more attention is oil. I maintain that relative to the rest of the world, what Americans pay at the pump is a bargain. But there is a point at which the economy will begin to suffer the effects of high gas prices. Take for instance the announcement today that British Petroleum has shut down its Prudhoe Bay operations in Alaska to repair corroded and leaking pipelines. Aside from the stupidity of fact that it took a few leaks to convince BP to check the condition of its chief conduit for oil, the real story here is the effect on US oil sources. BP’s Alaska operation provided 8% of US oil production. The news of the shutdown coupled with uncertainty about the Middle East sent oil prices to around $77 per barrel today. One can only expect the oil companies to pass this along to consumers soon. What worse than this, though, is how tenuous even our current less-than-optimum situation is. The Middle East supplies a third of the world’s oil, so clearly and interruption in that supply would be catastrophic for the US economy. With Iran controlling a sizeable portion of that supply, and threatening to cut off supplies if the US offends it too badly, one can see just how precarious our situation is. Further reason for concern is Venezuela, source of 15% of American oil supplies. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez’ deep hatred for the US gives reason to suspect that this source may be in jeopardy at some point. Few will disagree that the loss of any of these sources would be devastating to the American economy.
So here’s to a little selfishness on the part of Americans, and a call for putting more emphasis on the issues at home that are of equal or perhaps more significance to Americans. We may be the world’s police and defenender of democracy, but it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we remain what we think we are–the most powerful and independent and free country in the world. We cannot be the “shining city on a hill” if we neglect to take care of our problems at home. Problems we have, and they are exigent.