Common Thread Runs Through America's Crises

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Americans appear to have a limited ability to process major crises. More than one at a time can be overwhelming.


NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel says, sometimes there's too much trouble to keep track of - high oil prices, terrorist attacks and warnings of faltering economy. But he says, take a step back and a pattern begins to emerge.

TED KOPPEL: It's either the war or the economy. And why are we outsourcing all those jobs to China when what they're sending us in return is toxic toys and poisoned pet food? Let's end the war, bring the jobs back to Michigan, get tough with the Chinese. And while we're at it, let's tell those Canadians that they need to renegotiate NAFTA. Well, you get the point. It's all much too confusing.

It doesn't need to be. Many of our crises are interrelated, have common themes - oil, for example. Once you appreciate who's got it, who needs it, and what causes the price of oil to rise, a lot of our crises fall into a fairly logical relationship to one another. And a lot of what our political candidates are saying is revealed as little more than campaign blather.

Point one: Neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama actually has committed to a withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from Iraq. Why? Because if the United States pulls all of its troops out anytime soon, there's a real chance of regional chaos, and no U.S. president can tolerate chaos in the Persian Gulf. If that would have happened, oil at $100 a barrel would look cheap.

Point two: Paying for the war. Some estimates put the cost to $2 to $3 trillion. Unlike any other war in American history, though, no additional taxes have been raised. This will be our first war waged entirely on credit. And where does that money come from? Loans to the U.S. government in the form of treasury bills. And who owns something approaching $1 trillion worth of those loans? The Chinese do. Maybe, we have been a little hysterical about the toys and the toothpaste. It is after all just the tiniest smidge of a fraction of our overall trade with China.

Point three, still on the Chinese: In another decade or so, they will have more cars than we do. They will need more gasoline than we do. Competition for oil will become even fiercer than it is right now. Where does the United States buy most of its imported oil? If you said Saudi Arabia, you're wrong. Our biggest supplier is Canada. Maybe we should moderate our tone on renegotiating NAFTA.

For more than seven years now, the Bush administration has blamed much of what ails us on global terrorism. That's clearly an over simplification, but it may be a step in the right direction, something akin to consolidating all of our credit card debt into one humongous bill. It doesn't mean that we owe less money, but there is less paperwork.

In the meantime, it may be worth remembering that more of our crises these days are interconnected than not. It would be nice if foreign policy could be implemented as simply as campaign speeches are drafted, but that's rarely the case. It's something Senators Clinton and Obama might want to keep in mind the next time they talk about getting tough on China, or Canada for that matter.

This is Ted Koppel.

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