Remember those old photographs taken during World War II, with Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt, plus selected others, posing as masters of the universe? The victors were meeting to carve up Europe, divide the spoils, plan the future, map out a plan for our lives.
Of course they created a political and economic disaster, which is what happens when mere mortals come to believe themselves to be gods.
But there is something about those photographs that continues to inspire political leaders all over the world. They are forever cobbling together grand summits to negotiate important things on a global scale. If there are no issues, they invent them. The supreme goal: to appear in the history books. And the power and money that come in the meantime isn’t a bad thing either.
And so we are represented at the G-8 meeting by Bush the Great, who this time decided two things, both of which are going to cost you plenty.
First, America has decided, meaning Bush on your behalf, to forge ahead with a twenty-five-year-old idea of a missile defense system to protect against incoming nukes. In the talks on this issue, Bush assured us that "there will be a serious set of strategic decisions" to make, and surely he is the right one to make them!
But wait a minute. Wasn’t that idea a Cold War relic that never really went anywhere? The original plan was to move away from the "mutually assured destruction" of the US-Russian nuclear stand-off. Memory jog: our governments had originally planned to "protect" us by promising to retaliate against an oncoming nuclear bomb by launching a bomb against the other guys. That way if tens of millions of people died, at least the survivors would have the consolation of knowing that tens of millions of people in another country had died too.
To end such a ghastly policy was a good idea. But to replace it with a defensive strategy had its own problems. For one thing, it is enormously provocative for a nuclear power to build a defense against nuclear weapons. Consider which is more alarming: a guy pointing an assault weapon at you or a guy in bullet-proof armor pointing an assault weapon at you. The Russians in the 1980s were precisely right to be frightened by the idea of a US missile defense system. It suggested that the US believed it could survive an attack and might be more tempted to launch one.
Whether any of these high-flying gadgets would actually work is another question. A look at the record of government technology in light of Nasa does not inspire confidence. But the key thing was the price tag of tens of billions. Truly the military-industrial machine is a harsh mistress, and demands a constant flow of cash.
What does any of this have to do with now? Bush is open to reviving the idea of a missile defense but get this: in cooperation with Russia! Putin was the first to suggest it. He wants the two governments to get together and put a nuclear defense system in Kazakhstan. But wait a minute. If the two great enemies are linking up to build a defense, don’t they need an enemy? Yes, they do and one can always be conjured up. So why not make it Iran? And so they did. And surely in the days ahead we will be reminded of how Russia, after all, was our heroic ally in World War Two.
But the idea that Iran, which has no nuclear bombs at all, is a threat on the scale to challenge both the US and Russia is utterly implausible on its face. It is a case of a lion vs. a flea. What’s more, if there is a drive in Iran to get nuclear weapons, there is no doubt that the push is not offensive but defensive. After the US exterminated Iraqi civilization, does anyone doubt that Iran has good reason to worry, and a national interest in protecting itself?
Now we move on to the next great idea that Bush had at the G-8 summit. He agreed in principle to discuss reducing US CO2 emissions in the spirit of Kyoto. The whole world cheered. And the left wing in the US was gratified, even if its spokesmen said that Bush didn’t go far enough.
The trouble with all this talk of emissions reduction is that it takes place at too many levels of abstraction. A century ago, the great economic challenge was industrialization, since everyone understood that industry was the future. Governments took the idea too far, and forced industrialization prevailed from the US to Russia.
And today? The elites desire exactly the opposite: deindustrialization of the most prosperous place on the planet. And of course they want to do this by force.
And let no one doubt that this is precisely what they have in mind for us. They want to take away our cars, barbecue grills, and leaf blowers, and curb the ability of producers to develop and transport their products. Lower emissions means nothing less than a lower standard of living for you and me — and this despite any proof that doing so would make the slightest bit of difference in global temperature trends.
On the margin, more regulations on the use of fossil fuels would also cartelize industry, making it more difficult for smaller players to compete, and raising the price of fuel ever higher. There are some people who might win from the deal: the largest companies and the government. But for the rest of us, this is nothing short of disaster.
What can we say about the left that has made this its cause clbre? American leftism once claimed to favor liberty, power to the people, and the disempowerment of elites. Today, they stand and cheer as a horde of power-mongering phonies gather in far-flung estates and plot the future of the world economy. So this is what leftism has come down to: the hope that world dictators will successfully conspire to wreck our standard of living.
Between the right’s love for military socialism and the left’s love of forced de-industrialization, together with the perpetual menace of politicians’ clamor to make history, the cause of liberty needs even more ardent defenders.