Thursday, April 10, 2008

U. S. Foreign Policy - Rest of 2008 and Beyond

Foreign policy is always very important for us, but it is especially so at the current time and the foreseeable future. It's important because indirectly or directly it affects our national security, relationships with other countries, our economy, our financial markets, the country's treasury and our national debt, the taxes we pay, and even our standards of living. It's also important because as the world's largest economy and, for the time being at least, the only real superpower, what we do affects virtually every other country in one way or another.

Given events over the last several years and where we are today, it's extremely clear that both President Bush, and the nominee who wins the presidential election in November, have and will have their hands full of critical foreign policy issues to manage. How well these are managed will have a great impact on the nation and our citizens. Voters and taxpayers better pay attention! But, based on past performance, we know that a sizable and embarrassing minority of Americans will probably not pay much attention and they will likely not even vote. They will simply pay their taxes and complain that our government is not doing the right thing, not providing enough services for them, and/or that their taxes are too high.

Most Americans over the age of 15 or 16 probably know that our biggest foreign policy issue over the shorter term directly or indirectly involves national security, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the global war on terrorists, our concerns with Iran, North Korea, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and our relationships with the two emerging superpowers, Russia and China. Over the longer term, aside from overall national security, major foreign policy issues for us, in my view, include international trade cooperation, the roles of the United Nations and NATO, energy independence, and policies to deal effectively with global warming on a world-wide scale.

President Bush, with only about seven more months in office, and despite low public opinion polls, can be expected to continue his current policies, trying to do what he believes is best for the country, and best for his presidential legacy. Foremost for him is probably achieving favorable results in stabilizing Iraq as much as possible and not having us experience any more terrorist attacks in this country. Our three major presidential candidates, Senators McCain, Clinton and Obama, are, understandably, primarily trying to get nominated at their respective conventions and winning the election in November.

How the majority of Americans feel about continuing the Bush Administration's policies and strategies with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan will definitely be a key factor in the outcome of the November election. My strong guess is that this will favor the Democratic nominee. It is also certain that, more so than in most previous presidential elections in recent years, the selection of the best running mate to serve as Vice President and the selection of their choice to serve as Secretary of State, managing foreign policies, will be of critical importance to each of the three candidates. The candidates' choice of their Vice President running mate will be known before the election. It is unfortunate that the name of their choice for Secretary of State is typically not known at that time.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

U. S. Mexico Border Fence

As a key tool to contain illegal immigration, drug trafficking and also to reduce risks of prospective terrorists arriving in this country, a reinforced fence along our 1,952 mile southern border has been proposed for several years. A specific plan was formally proposed by its principal backer, U. S. Representative Duncan Hunter from San Diego, then Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, in November 2005. Eventually Congress passed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 which was signed into law by President Bush in October 2006.

Despite strong opposition from environmentalists and three Native American tribes whose lands would be divided by the fence, among others, construction of the fence is continuing and recent waivers of various federal environmental laws and regulations have put construction relatively back on track. The Department of Homeland Security under Secretary Michael Chertoff now expects to complete construction of a total of 670 miles by the end of this year.

A public opinion poll by widely respected Rasmussen Reports released in August 2007 indicated that 56% of Americans favored the fence and 31% did not. The remaining 13% apparently were neutral on the subject. Not surprisingly, 75% of Republicans reportedly supported the fence. I didn't see a figure for Democrats, but presumably they were more evenly divided.

As I indicated in a previous posting on illegal immigration, I have long opposed the fence plan, principally because to a great degree it's a waste of the taxpayers' money that can be better spent on other needs. I think the ultimate costs will far outweigh the benefits, though I also have some lesser concerns with the environmental and Native American issues.

Not long ago Secretary Chertoff estimated the construction cost at $4 -8 billion. However, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, whose study was made public in December 2006, the estimated cost of the expected 25 year life of the fence would be as much as $49 billion, and that excludes the cost of acquiring the necessary land from private landowners! Supporting my concerns with the costs, actual per mile construction costs have uniformly far exceeded pre-construction estimates, as is very common with most government projects and programs.

Aside from the substantial costs involved, there is a serious issue with how effective a fence, even a high reinforced fence, will be. Think of all the tunnels dug across the border over the past many years, through which thousands of illegals and drug traffickers have come.

Illegals will find a way to come across the border, no matter the risks and obstacles, as long as they can't find any decent jobs in Mexico and they can earn many times more with low level jobs here. Prospective terrorists will not be materially impeded by a southern border fence either. They will try to enter the country from Canada or through our airports and ports, especially the latter because of much greater controls and vigilance at our airports.

That said, it is unrealistic that the fence construction project at this point will be either reversed or stopped, at least through the rest of this year. All opponents of the project can realistically hope for is that, following our November election, the new Administration will revisit the project and minimize marginally needed new construction for the rest of the unbuilt miles, be prudent in further spending, and implement new strategies and practices to deal more effectively with our legitimate national security and priority immigration issues.

In terms of national security, this includes strategies to improve cooperative relationships with Russia, China and India, as well as our traditional European and other Asian allies. Russia and China are especially important because of their significant political and commercial influence in Africa, the Middle East and other parts of southern Asia where al Qaeda and many other terrorists are based, operate and are funded. This influence importantly includes Iran, which has the potential to be very important in helping us stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan.

In terms of illegal immigration, this includes, as recommended in the earlier posting, a new serious and frank dialogue involving carrots and sticks with the Mexican government on how to work together to greatly curtail the flow of illegals. It also includes, among others, more effective steps to finally secure our border, a viable, well-controlled guest worker program, and stronger enforcement measures against U. S. employers knowingly hiring illegals.