We Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet
If you think things have been rough so far, hang on.
By Victor Davis Hanson
High unemployment, the recession, and a terrorist resurgence in Afghanistan are bad enough. But there are a number of problems on the horizon that could dwarf President Obama’s first-year trials.
Why the pessimism? In short, we are doing nothing to prepare for the crises to come.
A global recession has led to low oil prices. Yet in this window of opportunity, America has not decreased its foreign-oil dependence. We are not encouraging domestic exploration. And we are still ambivalent on nuclear power.
But as the world economy recovers, oil will probably surge back over $100 a barrel, increasing our oil-import tab by 25 percent or more. The Obama administration, though, mostly is obsessed with subsidizing relatively small amounts of wind and solar power. It likely won’t be long before angry motorists at the pump are demanding to know why we have not pushed for more development at home of still-plentiful natural-gas and oil fields.
Meanwhile, other economic bad news may be just around the corner. Today, interest rates on short-term Treasury bills still are less than 1 percent. But they, too, will climb as business picks up and worries over American inflation spread.
If we have to pay foreign lenders 5 percent to 7 percent interest on our debt, as in the past, the increased costs will gobble up additional billions from our annual budget. Yet sadly again, we are missing this rare opportunity of low interest to pay off cheaply the trillions that we already owe. Instead, we are borrowing even more!
The War on Terror is also heating up again. Fairly or not, the Fort Hood massacre sent the message that the United States is more worried about appearing politically correct in matters of diversity than about hunting down radical Islamists on its home soil. Those who seek to copy what happened at Fort Hood will be encouraged. And those charged with stopping them will be discouraged and confused.
Such uncertainty was reinforced by the attorney general’s decision to try the architects of 9/11 in federal courts in New York City. At best, the confessed mass-murderer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will lecture the United States. At worst, one sympathetic juror could find the monster only 99 percent guilty, and therefore the court might fail to convict him of planning the murders of 3,000 innocent people.
After announcing a new strategy of counterinsurgency in March, and appointing Gen. Stanley McChrystal the new supreme commander in Afghanistan, it looks like Obama only now will commit more troops to Afghanistan. That will be a wise decision — but one coming three months after the generals’ request.
We were given an unexpected reprieve through the defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. We can now build on that victory by routing the Taliban in the way the Iraq surge stabilized democracy there.
Finally, there is an array of taxes on the horizon — increased federal income-tax rates; promised hikes in health-care surcharge taxes; and even rumors of value-added federal sales taxes. These increases are said to be aimed at the proverbial wealthy. But that could change — given that the top 5 percent of households already provide 60 percent of the nation’s income-tax revenue. And many are already paying 50 percent to 60 percent of their incomes in combined local, state, federal, and payroll taxes.
Just consider. The price of gas will soon likely increase. The cost of servicing our profligate borrowing will, too. One more terrorist attack like at Fort Hood, or nightly sermons from a grandstanding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or a new Taliban offensive, and the momentum could shift to radical Islam in its decades-long war against the United States. Next year’s tax hikes will be real and large — and no longer just this year’s idle talk.
As these storm clouds gather, Congress bickers on Saturday nights about borrowing even more money for health-care reform, yet another federal entitlement.
If you think things have been rough so far, hang on, ’cause you ain’t seen nothing yet.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal. © 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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