Monday, March 13, 2006

Our critical infrastructure

Even as we labor to build a workable national legislature in Iraq, perhaps we should pay attention to the mess we have made of things here in the Homeland.

With the abomination of the Dubai World Ports episode behind us, 160 members of the House of Representatives have jumped on to sponsor legislation that would curtail foreign investment in United States airlines. Our airlines––which drift with the price of diesel fuel between various stages of bankruptcy and insolvency––have been designated by the legislation as part of our “critical infrastructure.”

For many years, the Senate and the House were also part of our critical infrastructure, but that time appears to be passing. Three years ago, few members of the Senate demurred at voting for the Iraq war resolution in the face of threats to their patriotism. Few members––six to be exact––even visited the room set aside for members to view the classified intelligence material that purported to justify our “little bit of unilateralism.”

Over the past few weeks, the Senate and the House proved to have learned nothing from the Iraq war vote as members fell over each other––and trampled the sober few who objected––as they ran to the front of the train that would railroad in one moment the Dubai port deal, America’s leadership position in the international economy, the dignity of Arab and Muslim populations, common sense and national dignity.

Now, just as Duncan Hunter and Hillary Clinton, Chuck Shumer and Dennis Hastert are dusting themselves off from their thrilling experience of bi-partisanship, a new train is building up steam and soon will be taking on new members. The buzzword of this new movement is critical infrastructure, and we should all be afraid, we should be very afraid.

The bleating of our national leaders aside, our critical infrastructure is not our ports and airports––little of whose security it should be noted lies in the hands of the private companies that operation ships, terminals, airlines or airport gates––but rather our intellectual property, our legal system and our network of relationships in the world. This reality has been slow to dawn upon the Bush Administration, but they are coming around. Gone are the full-throated cowboy cries for unilateralism as senior Administration figures from the Pentagon to Langley to Foggy Bottom have begun to embrace a new doctrine that suggests that our success in the world rests in the quality of our partnerships in the world––with other nations, with intelligence services and with trading partners––and that these relationships are rooted in the goodwill of the people of those nations toward America.

To be leaders in the new world order, it appears that we must, in fact, lead. And one measure of leadership seems to be whether anyone is following. Now, as the Administration has begun to herald the relationships that only a few short wars ago it encouraged us to deride, only the Vice President clings to the notion of Battleship America.

But the fear the Administration helped foment has become entrenched in the American psyche. As Osama retreated into his cave, we retreated into ours, and as the Dubai travesty showed the climate of fear is with us. Now, however, the leadership mantle has passed from the President to the Congress, and sensing opportunities for political advantage in the fear game, Hunter and Clinton, Shumer and Hastert are leading their minions forward.

However, for the American public the true source of fear has changed. Terrorism is a threat, but it is one that must be combated through intelligence networks and dedicated efforts with our partners away from the front pages of the daily newspapers. But the fear now felt among the electorate does not arise from Osama’s visage, but stems from deeper uncertainties about the future that we face. The future of our families and of our children. And against this threat, Congress is not rushing forward with solutions.

In the world today, Americans have cause for concern. For 80% of the population or so, real incomes are stagnating. For those who lose their jobs, the next career offers lower pay and fewer benefits. For working and middle class parents, two incomes must replace one for living standards to be maintained––taking time away from children and each other––and for visions of the American dream of living better than one’s parents to be achieved. For 80% of the population, the world that we have created in the wake of our victory in the Cold War is a forbidding place.

The critical infrastructure of our nation has been weakened significantly, and Congressional leaders are doing nothing. The critical infrastructure for Americans––those real Americans that matter in Washington every four years or so––are pensions and healthcare and higher education. With pension security, healthcare and access to higher education, American families can tackle the future. Without these three in place, fear can overwhelm families, forcing longer hours, greater stress and deepened anxiety.

Fear has captured the national psyche, and the fear has deep roots. But it is the fear of what the future holds at most personal level that should be the center of national attention. The critical infrastructure is closer to home than the nearest port or airport, it is the safety net. And the holes in the net can be seen from the kitchen table.

But where are Hunter and Clinton, Shumer and Hastert on these matters? One party holds all of the power and yet does nothing. The other party holds no power yet offers nothing as an alternative. In the current climate is Muslim-baiting and fear mongering the best we can do? Has the pursuit of political advantage sapped Congress of any larger vision of what ails the people it serves?

Just not like them, the Iraqi people must think. Please, not like them.