What bothers most Americans as they check out next year's crop of presidential candidates is their country's involvement in a series of endless wars to promote the Wilsonian ideal of "making the world safe for democracy."
First, there was the Bosnian War during the Clinton administration, in which the U.S. intervened militarily on behalf of a radical Islamic group against the Christian Serbs who had been our allies in World War II. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright was the leading proponent of that Clinton policy, and she famously said to Gen. Colin L. Powell at the time, "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?" And so we used it to bomb Belgrade and other areas of Serbia — which ensured the Islamic takeover of Kosovo.
Now, Mrs. Clinton reportedly is the prime mover in the Obama administration of U.S. military intervention in Libya to oust the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi and replace it with "the forces of democracy," whoever that may turn out to be.
Meanwhile, the George W. Bush and the Obama administrations have supported our continued military involvement in Afghanistan. After the tragedy of 9/11, it made strategic sense to deny Osama bin Laden and his Taliban allies their sanctuaries in Afghanistan, where they were training their radical followers in the techniques of sabotage and terrorism. What is our mission in Afghanistan 10 years later? To keep the regime of President Hamid Karzai in power?
The human and financial costs of these "endless wars" to our nation have been enormous. A policy of using U.S. military force to impose democracy in the Middle East has not worked and will not work. Moreover, how do we ever hope to get federal spending under control if we keep on the current course?
American foreign policy should be guided by what is in our nation's best interest. We need a new strategy to address the threat of radical Islam. Remember: President Reagan put a policy in place to win the Cold War with very little loss of American military lives.
Changing America's foreign policy is just the beginning. We need to pick a new president we can count on for an economic policy that puts Americans back to work, starts helping the private sector grow again and rebuilds our manufacturing base. The best way to do that is to replace our onerous business tax system — which exports prosperity and American jobs overseas — with a revenue-neutral, business consumption tax that will level the playing field with our trading competitors and bring jobs home to America.
Next, we should pick as our new president someone we can count on to replace Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben S. Bernanke with someone like Thomas M. Hoenig, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, who has warned of the risks of loose monetary policy and who understands the importance of a sound-dollar policy.
A new president should be one we can count on to end taxpayer bailouts of the "too big to fail" financial institutions — a policy begun by Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin in the Clinton administration and continued by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson in the Bush administration. If these institutions are too big to fail, they are too big.
We'll want a new president to determine what levels of spending cuts are necessary and feasible. Then, devolve power wherever possible over domestic programs by removing federal mandates and sending control over spending back to the states and local communities. Give Medicaid back to the states in the form of block grants, just like we did with welfare reform in the Reagan administration.
A president committed to getting federal spending under control also has to be willing to make cuts in defense spending (which has nearly doubled over the past decade), foreign aid and entitlements. Mr. Bush's Medicare drug plan alone, pushed through Congress in 2003, constitutes an unfunded liability of $55 billion annually, or $7.2 trillion over the next 75 years. It only speeds up the date when Medicare will be bankrupt. That issue needs to be addressed as part of overall health care reform.
Finally, we cannot ignore the coarsening of our culture and the unraveling of our once strong social fabric, so necessary for the nurturing and preservation of a good society. Bluntly speaking, a free-market system without an ethical compass guiding it will not work. A constitutional republic without the Judeo-Christian ethic as its foundation will not last.
Only if we make the right choice next year will we get a new president who can help America find its way back.
• Tom Pauken is chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission and author of the book "Bringing America Home."
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