Recall Madness-- and Much Ado about Missiles

August 13, 2003 Topic: Security Tags: CaliforniaBusiness

Recall Madness-- and Much Ado about Missiles

It may seem strange for a weekly that focuses on foreign policy to devote attention to what many would consider to be a domestic event--the forthcoming recall election in California.


It may seem strange for a weekly that focuses on foreign policy to devote attention to what many would consider to be a domestic event--the forthcoming recall election in California. 

Of course, when the media spends most of its time focusing on the celebrity-circus aspects of the election--the various actors, pundits and pornographers that have entered the race--the more serious issues are often left by the wayside.


One of the most noticeable results of the recall frenzy is how it is sucking up all of the oxygen in the media universe.  When news channels broadcast Arnold Schwarzenegger's speeches to youth facilities, it creates the impression that all must be well in the world.  The fact that resistance to the coalition is intensifying in Iraq, even after the deaths of Saddam's sons, and the reality that there is still a dangerous and volatile situation on the Korean peninsula is ignored--these things are reduced to small bits of text in the "crawl."

One might also point out that the United States, busily engaged in "nation-building" around the world, presents a spectacle of an election where celebrity and wealth, rather than a true commitment to public service and the common good, define the race.  In such circumstances, why should the United States be as concerned about the tendency in the greater Middle East to create "presidential monarchies" (where sons or sons-in-law succeed presidential fathers).

But the real issue is this:  people "inside the Beltway" sometimes seem to forget that there is no "United States" apart from the fifty states (and associated territories and commonwealths).  A fiscal and economic crisis in California has a direct impact on the power of the United States, since some 13 percent of the total U.S. output is produced by California.  California on its own is the sixth largest economy in the world, worth some $1.309 trillion--yet this represents a decline of approximately 2.3 percent from 2000, when California's economy outperformed that of France.    California represents a significant share of the country's technological base and of its human capital.  The high-tech weaponry which led to a swift initial military victory in Iraq is in part a product of the technology and defense sectors of the California economy.  A state budget crisis that significantly cuts back on everything from education (including higher education, where so many innovative breakthroughs have taken place) to health care has ramifications for how the United States projects its influence throughout the world.  In previous issues of In the National Interest, other authors have pointed out the dangerous implications of continued deficit spending by the federal government to support overseas operations, and this problem can only increase if a continuing crisis in the principal engine of America's economy continues.

And, of course, California is the bellweather for the nation as a whole.  Twenty-nine states have either passed or are considering tax hikes to close budget deficits.  Several states--including Hawaii, Georgia and North Carolina--will call special fall sessions of their legislatures to deal with the fact that collected taxes have fallen short of budget projections. 

Yet the attitude is that the recall in California is amusing political comedy, nothing more.  There seems to be almost no recognition of the fact that whoever sits in the governor's chair after October 7 --whether Grey Davis survives or is "terminated" --must work quickly to solve the problems that have led California into its current quagmire. 

Few other countries in the world would be so blasé if political turmoil and economic collapse threatened the welfare of a key component of its national power.  The California crisis reminds us that there is no neat line dividing "domestic" and "foreign" policy.  Ensuring that California survives its current crisis is no less a priority than stabilizing Iraq or containing North Korea.

On another note: a breaking story indicates that a plot to smuggle Russian hand-held surface-to-air missiles into the United States has been foiled.  This is proof that effective U.S.-UK-Russian partnership to combat international terrorism is possible.  Intelligence sharing and timely notification can prevent plots from maturing into actual incidents.

On February 5, Paul Saunders and I wrote in The Realist that:  "The word 'partnership' is sometimes used cavalierly without real consideration of its implications for the U.S.-Russian relationship.   True partnership, however, arises not from joint declarations and photo opportunities, but from concrete work."  One of those areas that we believe partnership between Moscow and Washington can be deepened and accelerated is intelligence-sharing in the war against terrorism, and we are happy to see yet another concrete example of how declarations made by the two presidents can be turned into practical cooperation that mutually benefits both parties.


Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of In the National Interest.