William Jefferson Clinton and Tony Blair had invented the politics of The Third Way. It is not as if third way is new to politics. Its other name is sensibility. And great leaders of the past had always executed it to perfection. Some of them are found on Rushmore. It is both routine and tragic that sensibility needs courage, hence Rushmore.
Clinton’s and Blair’s ambitions went farther. They wanted to institute sensibility by using the power of their elective offices to change political culture, which is a more far reaching ambition than simply criticizing politics as usual to get elected. Blair did accomplish a great deal in the United Kingdom for his country. Former President Bill Clinton on the other hand triangulated to implement Third Way: he gave the Republicans what they wanted as long as they did not impinge on the pro-government agenda of the Democrats. The post-Cold War peace dividend had helped him quite a bit to both invent and use financial weapons of mass destruction.
Clinton had given the Republicans free trade and welfare reform in a growing global economy to make the Democrats wealthy as a political party and to balance the Reagan-Bush Cold War budget deficits with the higher taxes from the resulting wealth effect. Both free trade and welfare reform fell on their face once that bubble burst. The political objective of balancing the budget was achieved ephemerally as a matter of budget accounting. The projected surpluses as far as the eye can see have turned into projected deficits as far as the eye can see because of the stubborn economic decline that refuses to be propped up.
The old fashioned way of limited government and a robust private sector were compromised by Third Way politics in the United States that refused to regulate or reform regulations (another compromise at the behest of the Republicans to benefit the Democrats) even as it sold out the soul of the country to transform the country’s politics since 1789: from the right to the left. Bill Clinton had infiltrated the markets to force the government into them. The bailout policies in this crisis are but industrial policy for the financial markets, ironically antithetical to the very essence of open market economics in which the financial markets, especially globalized by Clinton, are expected to smooth out their imbalances without their governments protecting them in every country of the advanced world. Wall Street of today is the Chrysler of Reagan. It can be anybody’s guess what can happen to it 20 years down the road.
Now Obama is finishing that job far better than Bush 43 could finish Reagan’s and his father Bush 41’s unfinished agenda. The President’s nuclear policy is but an extension of this culture of Clinton centrism but one that mixes both nuclear toughness and economic toughness.
It appears that President Obama is first tending to a U.S policy of working with countries around the world to bring the global flows of nuclear materials to better account to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism. He is perhaps following the Richard Lugar-Vladimir Putin approach of a centralized clearinghouse for nuclear fuel to direct it in the future to more civilian use around the world. This is a good thing.
Any connection, however, he may be making between compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and the U.S nuclear posture with the intent of gradually eliminating all nuclear weapons appears to be misplaced because the posture violates the principle that nuclear weapons ought not to be used in warfare, with the United States being the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons in war.
The idea that nuclear weapons can be used as a deterrent among the permanent members of the U.N Security Council and among signatories and non-signatories and violators of the NPT, a cherished bipartisan view of the nuclear hawks in the United States government (the weapon was produced by a Democrat President, FDR, and used by another Democrat, Harry Truman), is old-fashioned Cold War thinking which is contributing significantly to the current threat of nuclear terrorism after the end of the Cold War.
Along these lines, the Indian Embassy in Washington has published a one page history of India’s leadership on the NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, CTBT, since the 1950s. Perhaps, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, reciprocating the ongoing visit of Secretary of State Timothy Geithner, should send India’s ministers of External Affairs and Defense to the Washington nuclear summit to maintain diplomatic equivalence with a Nobel Laureate president of a country that does not deserve the Nobel peace prize on matters nuclear.
Given the existing legal ban on chemical and biological weapons in the world, the President must also logically extend the chemical and biological weapons treaties to a global ban on nuclear weapons with the provision for all nuclear states to commit to a schedule of complete denuclearization by 2020.
The political modus operandi of the President of articulating principle nearly perfectly on every policy decision facing his administration while delegating the details to the appropriate counterparties in government has interestingly disappeared on the nuclear matter. He hewed to the party line of the United States government since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings of August 1945 perhaps principle does not work where it matters most.
That the Perm-5 is political dishonesty in plain sight need not be 20/20 vision after the fact. The United States of America must not be allowed to ride out either 9/11 or this financial crisis without forcing significant change in its geopolitical behavior. It is time to deliver.