- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

It was business as usual on National Public Radio the other afternoon. A lady expert complained that, in his State of the Union address, President Bush did not mention “climate change.” This is true in the narrow sense that, if you were hoping for some meaningless bit of Clintonesque hot-air micropolitics, the president didn’t boldly pledge to join our European allies in pretending to abide by the Kyoto Treaty.

But, in the broader sense, Mr. Bush doesn’t need to talk about climate change, because he is doing it: He is changing the climate at home and abroad.

Social Security is the so-called third rail of American politics, but Mr. Bush has seized it and right now it’s the comatose Democrats who look like they could use a jolt or two. As for the wider world, if one had to nominate a third rail of global politics, attempting to democratize the Middle East would be pretty much a shoo-in. But Mr. Bush has made it an explicit and urgent goal of U.S. foreign policy. This is a president who wants to leave his mark on more than a cocktail dress.

Go back to the 2002 State of the Union that inaugurated the “axis of evil.” I loved the expression mainly because all the sophisticates loathed it. Such rhetoric “gets us nowhere,” complained German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. It was unhelpfully “absolutist” and “in unilateralist overdrive,” sneered Chris Patten, the European Union’s external affairs commissioner. Why, it was “absurd,” scoffed French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine.

So much for the axis of ennui. Three years on, one-third of the evildoers is in jail, Iraq’s people have been liberated, and their country has just held the most free and fair election in modern Middle Eastern history. That last wasn’t supposed to happen, either. “They can’t have an election right now,” declared John Kerry, Senator Nuance himself, in the presidential debates. “I personally do not believe they’re going to be ready for the election in January,” said Jimmy Carter, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peanuts. “There’s no security there.”

But Mr. Carter and Mr. Kerry and Old Europe were wrong, and the absurd absolutist simpleton was right. Iraq is free not just because of the military skill of America and her allies but because of the political will of one man, who stuck to his guns against the opposition of the Eurocynics, the U.N. do-nothings, the Democratic Party weathervanes, the media doom-mongers, and the unreal realpolitik grandees of his own party — the Scowcrofts and Eagleburgers.

Three years on, Mr. Bush has not only not abandoned his axis of evil, he has sportingly offered to promote Syria to the vacant slot, made a pretty specific pledge of solidarity to the Iranian people, and served notice on the House of Saud and the Egyptian thug Hosni Mubarak that they better get with the program. No doubt Monsieur Vedrine would denounce these vulgarities as equally “absurd.”

But what’s the betting on the lie of the land three years hence? Moving in the Bush direction? Or more in line with the Kerry-Carter-Vedrine-Fischer-Patten view of things? Democrat Senate colossus Harry Reid — who makes Tom Daschle look like Reese Witherspoon — said in his first major speech of the week, “With yesterday’s elections in Iraq, President Bush has a golden opportunity to change course,” which means … well, to be honest, I haven’t a clue what it means. But it sounds a lot like Mr. Reid’s terrific speech from June 1944: “With yesterday’s successful D-Day landings, Gen. Eisenhower now has a golden opportunity to change course and surrender.”

Anyway, in his second major speech of the week, Harry Reid said we need a “Marshall Plan for America.” Apparently, the United States of the 2005 is in as dire condition as the Europe of 1945 — its great cities reduced to rubble, and its people starving and desperate for work. Maybe it just seems that way from the ruins of Democratic Party headquarters.

In his third major speech of the week, Harry Reid said … . Well, at the time of writing, he hasn’t given a third major speech, but I do hope he does. Every year this guy’s on TV as the official face of the party, you can kiss three Democratic Senate seats goodbye. Right now, the Dems are all exit and no strategy.

In Margaret Thatcher’s heyday, she would tell the naysayers, “There is no alternative” — a phrase she used so often British Tories abbreviated it to “Tina.” In fairness to her opponents, they did have alternatives: it was just that Mrs. T thought they were hopeless and unworkable. But Mr. Bush’s detractors are literal Tinas — they have no alternatives at all.

This week’s U.N. report on Sudan nicely captures the alternative to Bush-style climate change. After months of expressing deep concern, grave concern, deep concern over the graves and deep grave concern over whether the graves were deep enough, Kofi Annan managed to persuade the U.N. to set up a committee to look into what’s going on in Darfur. They’ve just reported back that it’s not genocide. Phew, thank goodness for that. It turns out it’s just 70,000 corpses who all happen to be from the same ethnic group; could happen anywhere. But it’s not genocide, so don’t worry about it.

That’s the transnational establishment’s alternative to Bush dynamism: appoint a committee that agrees on the need to do nothing. By happy coincidence, that’s also the Democrats’ line on Social Security. In a sense, these two issues are opposite sides of the same coin. It was noted in the chancelleries of certain capitals that, in a speech aimed in large part at a global audience, the president didn’t even mention Europe. Why would he? One reason the Continent is in no position to make any kind of useful contribution to the war on terror or reform of the Middle East is because of its inability to get to grips with the looming disaster of its own state pensions liabilities.

For purposes of comparison, by 2050 public pensions expenditures are expected to be 6 percent of gross domestic product in the United States, 16.9 percent in Germany, 17.3 percent in Spain, and 24.8 percent in Greece.

In Europe, we’re talking not about the prospect of reduced benefits but of total societal collapse. With a death-spiral fertility rate of 1.46 children per couple, the EU will have to increase mainly Muslim immigration to a rate that will transform those societies out of all recognition. American reformers like to say Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. The EU has a vastly greater problem: The entire modern European welfare state is a Ponzi scheme. And the political establishments in Paris, Berlin, Brussels et al show no sign of producing their own plain-spoken EuroBush to confront it.

Unlike Eurocomplacency or Democratic reactionary torpor, Mr. Bush’s boldness has the measure of the times. In this climate, you have to push your own changes.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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