A time for national unity

Dec. 1, 2004
The stakes are too high for the United States to revert to a politics-as-usual position.

The stakes are too high for the United States to revert to a politics-as-usual position.

WASHINGTON - The overwhelming reelection of President Bush last month bodes well for the defense ­industry, but caution is still the watchword.

Perhaps the best news of all is that the issue was quickly resolved and the nation was spared the agony of endless recounts and litigation that might have left the issue in doubt even at this late date.

Even more encouraging, in my view, is the President’s offer of an olive branch to the supporters of U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in Mr. Bush’s victory remarks the day after the election: “I will need your support and I will work to earn it.”

The net result should be a diminution of the bitter political division that has paralyzed public policy during the president’s first term.

On the assumption (perhaps questionable} that everybody eventually acts in his or her best interests, it logically follows that the Republicans, who have increased their domination of the House and Senate in addition to their clear victory in the contest for the White House, can now take a more moderate approach and try to build bridges with a demoralized Democratic minority.

In fact, the Republican strategist Karl Rove, whom Mr. Bush praised as the “architect” of his victory, was already planning to broaden the party’s base beyond its traditional social conservative constituency before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As the trauma of those events fades from public awareness, it makes even more sense to chip away at the political polarity that has been so burdensome.

By the same token, the Democrats also have to step up to the plate. A certain amount of finger-pointing ­between the followers of Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s “Democratic wing of the Democratic party” and the more moderate Bill Clinton-Al Gore-Joe Lieberman wing is ­inevitable after such a devastating loss. Nonetheless, I believe the Democrats’ long-term interests would be better served by participating in the emerging consensus than by throwing rocks at it.

President Bush, as a constitutionally mandated lame duck, has already sent out signals that he is anticipating a comfortable retirement in Texas and that he intends to devote his second term to accomplishments that will earn the praise of future historians. After running up record federal budget deficits and getting the nation ­embroiled in a questionable war in Iraq during his first term, this is a reasonable hope.

What does this mean for the defense industry? For openers, don’t look for any radical changes like former Secretary of Defense William Perry’s acquisition reform. That’s a done deal and part of mainstream Pentagon thinking. A little backsliding is possible, but the days of $500 toilet seats are over.

What is likely to continue is the transformation process, which preceded Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and is likely to continue long after his departure.

The process is simple: using superior technology as the force multiplier. The names for this process have changed over the years, but the rationale remains the same.

This, of course, is where the electronics and other advanced technology industries have the greatest vested interest. Incidentally, it is also the favored alternative to a resumption of the draft to assure adequate military manpower, an issue that erupted late in the presidential campaign and was quickly quashed.

In that regard, I find it encouraging that the Bush Administration moved to phase out overseas bases in Korea, Germany, and elsewhere on the sensible grounds that current technology permits timely and credible deployments of forces from the continental United States. I think that decision, which should yield significant savings and free up the money for more pressing needs, is long overdue.

What disturbs me about that decision is its timing. I don’t see an end to the war in Iraq any time soon. When a President says we have to “stay the course,” as President Johnson did regarding Vietnam and President Bush has been doing lately, my interpretation is that we’re looking at a long, tough road ahead and a destination that we might not have preferred.

That logically raises the question of what we’re going to have to do about such other potentially troublesome hot spots as North ­Korea and Iran and such nonissues (at least, for now} as balancing our diplomatic and trade relations with China and our military ­relations with Taiwan.

The Pentagon planners - and the defense industry - are going to have to be flexible enough to build a military force that can effectively deal with a spectrum of challenges ranging from stateless ­terrorists to nuclear-capable rogue states.

In their televised debates, President Bush and Senator Kerry agreed that curbing weapons of mass destruction will have to be at the top of the priority list for the coming years. Nuclear proliferation is at the heart of this issue, and I would have preferred the senator’s plan to deal with the issue of Russian nuclear warheads in four years rather than Mr. Bush’s 13 years. Nonetheless, something has to be done, and it has to be done now.

Despite the public distrust of the inside-the-Beltway mentality that has led both parties to focus on political tactics at the expense of long-term solutions, I remain optimistic that a genuine unity will emerge from this election. As the world’s sole remaining superpower, the stakes are too high for the United States to revert to a politics-as-usual position.

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