A bold president, indeed

Posted: Feb 12, 2003 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON--For America's enemies, and for some semi-allies, a just-published U.S. document should be mandatory reading. President Bush's fiscal 2004 budget has little foreign policy content but, properly understood, has immense foreign policy implications. If Baghdad, Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Seoul understand this administration's comprehensive boldness, they will understand not only that regime change is coming to Iraq, but also that the end of NATO as we have known it, and the removal of U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula, are not unthinkable. The budget evokes 1862. In that (BEG ITAL)annus mirabilis, with the national government's writ severely restricted and the entire American project in doubt, Lincoln and Congress nevertheless enacted the Homestead Act, which sped the settlement of the Great Plains, the Morrill Act that begot the land grant college system, and the law that ignited construction of the transcontinental railroad. Today, with the nation in a war on terrorism and on the brink of a related war against Iraq, the president's budget calls for: A dash for economic growth through another round of tax cuts, a tax-cutting pace President Reagan did not attempt; a prescription drug entitlement linked to reform of Medicare; reform of the way Americans save. And in a budget-related document, the administration floats the idea of scrapping individual and corporate income taxes in favor of a consumption tax. The lesson is that America has a president unusually comfortable contemplating, and pushing, change. Perhaps the foreign and defense policy improvisations that 9/11 forced him to embrace whetted his appetite for domestic boldness, too. In any case, his administration may be casting an increasingly jaundiced eye on international arrangements long taken for granted, such as NATO. In the famous formulation of one of NATO's founders, the alliance's purpose was to keep the Germans down, the Russians out and the Americans in. Well. The Germans are firmly held down by their own enervating attitudes and welfare state policies (unemployment is 10.3 percent and rising). Which is to say, Germany has its boot on its own neck, for a change. The Russians are out of the great power business. And Americans are increasingly wondering why they are in Europe. Last week in Munich, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke of NATO being ``stronger'' because ``the center of Europe has indeed shifted eastward.'' He also said: ``NATO member nations have an Article 5 commitment to defend Turkey, should it come under attack by Iraq. Those preventing the alliance from taking even minimum measures to prepare to do so, risk undermining the credibility'' of NATO. Those threatening to prevent it include Belgium, France and Germany. The last two are continually called ``key allies.'' But ``key'' to what? Nothing military. And NATO is a military organization. With France fomenting worldwide opposition to a U.S. military action deemed by the U.S. government vital to national security, and with Germany drawing France into embrace of semi-pacifism, NATO is becoming what Donald Rumsfeld warns the U.N. is becoming--a thing of ridicule. In Munich last week, Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, impertinently lectured Rumsfeld that America might have to stay in postwar Iraq for several years, and wondered whether America has the staying power. Someone should tell Fischer that U.S. troops have been in Fischer's country 58 years--not quite as long as Rome's legions were, but long enough to prove staying power. However many U.S. troops should stay in Europe--surely fewer than are there now--the Bush administration may be in a mood to wonder why any should be in an unsympathetic country such as Germany. Support for U.S aims, like the center of Europe, has shifted eastward. So, perhaps, should the U.S. presence. Elsewhere, the U.S. presence might be better on aircraft carriers, built with money saved by reducing some permanent overseas deployments. Such as in South Korea. Increasingly virulent anti-Americanism there--in a nation which would not exist had not 33,667 Americans died to preserve it--raises this question: Why are 37,000 American military personnel still stationed there? They are far too few if North Korea's army, the world's third largest, attacks, and they are far more than necessary to serve as a ``trip wire.'' Actually, (BEG ITAL)no U.S. boots need be on the peninsula to guarantee a U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. But the anti-Americanism, and South Korea's prosperity and North Korea's penury, may cause reconsideration of that commitment. Anyone who believes all this is unthinkable should read the administration's budget to see how boldly it thinks.