National Security Network

International Implications of a Domestic Progressive Agenda

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Report 24 February 2009

International Economy International Economy energy security financial crisis global warming health care national security President Obama


Tonight President Obama will deliver an address to Congress, where he is expected to highlight his domestic agenda. For more than two centuries, much of America's power and influence abroad has come from its domestic strength, specifically the vibrancy of its economy and the respect other countries had for its values. Over the last eight years the Bush administration greatly weakened US economic competitiveness and moral authority abroad and failed to address healthcare reform, global warming, and energy security, which has done grave damage to America’s competitiveness.  Specific steps to improve Americans’ lives will also rebuild our global power – on energy security and global warming, health care reform, and tackling the global financial crisis. The world is watching this speech every bit as much as one on national security.

The financial crisis has badly diluted both US power and prestige; the world is waiting to see whether we can lead the global economy out of the crisis that eight years of mismanagement sparked. According to Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair, “[t]he widely held perception that excesses in US financial markets and inadequate regulation were responsible has increased criticism about free market policies, which may make it difficult to achieve long-time US objectives, such as the opening of national capital markets and increasing domestic demand in Asia. It already has increased questioning of US stewardship of the global economy and the international financial structure.” Blair also spoke to the urgency of the issue, saying that “time is probably our greatest threat,” and the “the longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to US strategic interests,” and that “roughly a quarter of the countries in the world have already experienced low-level instability such as government changes because of the current slowdown.” [IHT, 9/20/08. Cincinnati Enquirer, 10/18/08. AP via FOX News, 12/01/08. DNI Annual Threat Assessment, 2/12/09. NY Times, 11/17/08]

Lack of health care reform affects the U.S. economy and hurts our global competitiveness.  Obama is expected to announce a new focus on health care reform, which has unexpected global impacts. A report by James Kvaal at the Center for American Progress assesses that America’s “far and away the most expensive health care system in the world” has consumed “an increasing share of our nation’s resources,” a share that is expected to grow larger in years to come.  The report also finds that “rising health care costs put a particular burden on U.S. businesses, which have been the primary source of health coverage for nearly 75 years. Today, the majority of Americans—158 million people—receive health coverage from their job or a family member’s job.  Higher health insurance premiums translate directly into higher labor costs, forcing employers to cut back their workforces. A 20 percent increase in health insurance premiums would cost 3.5 million workers their jobs.”  Additionally, “[r]ising health care costs will drive up taxes and premiums, eating up 95 percent of the growth in per capita gross domestic product between 2005 and 2050.”  These findings have clear and troubling implications for the U.S.’ global economic position, when our industrial competitors in Europe, Japan and Canada don’t carry a similar burden, making the need for reform all the more important. [Center for American Progress, 12/09/08]

Lack of action to strengthen America’s energy security and combat climate change has harmed our national security.  America’s dependence on oil has empowered oil-rich states like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela at the expense of the United States.  A Council on Foreign relations task force headed by John Deutch, Former Director of Central Intelligence, and James R. Schlesinger, Former Defense and Energy Secretary, came to the following conclusion: “The lack of sustained attention to energy issues is undercutting U.S. foreign policy and national security.” “The Task Force goes on to argue that U.S. energy policy has been plagued by myths, such as the feasibility of achieving ‘energy independence’ through increased drilling or anything else... The issues at stake intimately affect U.S. foreign policy, as well as the strength of the American economy and the state of the global environment. But most of the leverage potentially available to the United States is through domestic policy.”  Due to concerns over “climate refugees,” unilateral resource wars, and an increase in destructive weather events the National Intelligence Council (NIC) warns America and the new President about the impact climate change can have on national security.  Despite these warnings, the Bush administration obstructed efforts to address the effects of climate change, including staging a walk-out at the Montreal UN Climate Change Conference and making the U.S. the only industrialized nation not to sign the Kyoto Protocol.  As former Vice President Al Gore said before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “If Congress acts right away to pass President Obama's Recovery package and then takes decisive action this year to institute a cap-and-trade system for CO 2 emissions - as many of our states and many other countries have already done - the United States will regain its credibility and enter the Copenhagen treaty talks with a renewed authority to lead the world in shaping a fair and effective treaty. And this treaty must be negotiated this year.” [CFR, 10/06. Global Trends 2025, 11/08. NY Times, 12/9/05. TIME, 7/21/01. BBC, 4/6/01. NSN, 5/08. Al Gore, 1/28/09]

What We’re Reading

Taliban insurgents accept the Swat truce with Pakistan, announcing an indefinite ceasefire.

A NASA CO2 satellite could not make orbit and crashed just after launch.

Ehud Barack declined Binyamin Netanyahu’s offer to form a coalition government.  Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert removed his envoy to Gaza for criticizing Olmert’s emphasis on the return of Gilad Shalit.

North Korea plans a “satellite launch,” thought to be a missile test.

Twelve Iraqi police officers were charged in a string of killings.

The United States will give more than $900 million in aid to Gaza.  

Freed Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohammed describes torture orchestrated by the U.S.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s efforts to have a special military unit report directly to him raises questions about the chain of command in Iraq.

A wave of drug violence from Mexico hits Arizona.  The State Department and universities warn students not to visit Mexico for spring break.

Commentary of the Day

Strobe Talbot examines the U.S-Russia relationship.

Ahmed Rashid takes a closer look at Pakistan’s motivation for the Swat valley truce.

Trita Parsi and Stanley Weiss write that with Iran, negotiations must “begin with the end in mind.”

Jane Mayer looks at the case of the last enemy combatant remaining in the United States and the Obama administration’s detainee policy.