For many Americans, Sept. 11 was a belated wake-up call after years of hitting the snooze. Globalization came vividly and painfully upon us, proving that threats and opportunities could be imported as well as exported.
In the face of evidence that the fate of the United States is inexorably tied to that of the rest of the world, President George W. Bush divided the world into two distinct factions: Those “with us” in the war against terror and those “against us.” This shortsighted and simplistic concept applied equally to his administration’s policies on trade, energy and the environment. By contrast, John Kerry’s philosophy is rooted in his understanding that no country can hope to achieve economic, political or social success by abandoning or misusing its partners.
Kerry understands that the surest route to increased wealth in the United States and more stability abroad is through free trade. Kerry is no protectionist. Rather, he has a long Senate record of voting for trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement and has filled key economic advisory positions with free traders like former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.
By contrast, Bush is no free trader. His four years as President have been marked by onerous and widely criticized steel tariffs and what The New York Times called an “outrageously protectionist” 2002 farm bill. Furthermore, Bush has demurred on challenging China’s market access restrictions, intentionally devalued currency and discriminatory tax policies. Flouting the World Trade Organization when it is politically convenient undermines free trade as a philosophy and indirectly hurts all countries that rely upon U.S. trustworthiness and WTO legitimacy as incentives to trade. Kerry would recommit to funding the WTO and challenging Chinese violations.
When he is not levying massive tariffs, Bush preaches an absolutist form of free trade that often harms developing countries that are not ready to move so quickly into the world market. Two of the most frequent victims of trade are workers and the environment, which Kerry would protect by proposing minimum labor and environmental standards on all trade pacts. As the struggles of Mexican agricultural workers and others under NAFTA have shown, free trade without a safety net can make social conditions worse for the less developed trade partner.
Kerry’s engagement with the world extends to the question of shared physical resources. As Bush alienated allies by dismissively rejecting the Kyoto Protocol in 2001—which even National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice admitted was a tactical mistake—he assured Congress that “we will continue to fully examine global climate change issues.” But the world is still waiting.
Kerry plans to reopen dialogue with the international community on the problem of global warming. When he does, he will be unencumbered by the fact that he is not a former oil executive and possesses far more credibility than the President who is scorned by the international press as “the Toxic Texan.”
Where Bush seeks to poison the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by drilling for oil, Kerry’s agenda for energy independence makes both economic and environmental sense. It follows a two-pronged approach of increasing energy efficiency and promoting the use of alternative fuels, using tax incentives to meet those goals. Business Week calls Kerry’s energy plan “a good starting point and a welcome contrast to the Bush Administration’s focus on drilling for more oil.”
By 2020 Kerry envisions an America that gets 20 percent of its electricity from wind, solar energy, biomass and other renewable sources. Kerry has also focused on alternatives to oil, replacing gasoline with ethanol made from corn and other biofuels made from crop waste. These environmentally friendly alternatives to gasoline will reduce our dependence on oil while helping cash-strapped farmers find a new way to compete without hindering market forces and damaging the world economy.
By reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and leading the way on alternative energy development, Kerry will strengthen the country’s position of leadership in the world. U.S. technologies will benefit its neighbors and will help curb the suffocating pollution that harms population hubs like India and China. And the new U.S.-driven industry spawned by these alternative technologies will boost the economy.
It’s an interconnected world, and in order to thrive the United States will need trade, environmental and energy policies that strengthen our ties to the rest of the world instead of straining them. Bush gets it, Kerry doesn’t—that’s a world of difference.
Andrew Collins a former University Editor of The Chronicle and a current columnist. Kim Roller is a Recess Senior Editor.
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