Frederick Kagan has it exactly right in today’s Wall Street Journal: "Security Should Be the Deciding Issue." An excerpt:
As the scale of the economic crisis becomes clear and comparisons to the Great Depression of the 1930s are tossed around, there is a very real danger that America could succumb to the feeling that we no longer have the luxury of worrying about distant lands, now that we are confronted with a "real" problem that actually affects the lives of all Americans. As we consider whether various bailout plans help Main Street as well as Wall Street, the subtext is that both are much more important to Americans than Haifa Street.
One problem with this emotion is that it ignores the sequel to the Great Depression — the rise of militaristic Japan marked by the 1931 invasion of Manchuria, and Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933, both of which resulted in part from economic dislocations spreading outward from the U.S. The inward-focus of the U.S. and the leading Western powers (Great Britain and France) throughout the 1930s allowed these problems to metastasize, ultimately leading to World War II.
Is it possible that American inattention to the world in the coming years could lead to a similarly devastating result? You betcha.
A couple of things to note: Mr. Kagan doesn’t express a preference for either Obama or McCain. Of course, folks likely to vote for McCain are more likely to agree with him that security overrides such considerations as the economy. Democrats love it when the economy is the one thing on the table; just ask James Carville. And of course, I’ve had arguments with bud here about the relative importance of foreign affairs vs. the domestic economy. He thinks the economy is everything, and to me it’s less important (not to mention simply being something I hate to spend time talking or thinking about, because it has to do with money).
And, yeah — I trust McCain more on national security. At the same time, I don’t think Obama would be all that bad. Yes, he continues to insist upon being wrong about Iraq. But I think he has calculated that he has to be consistent there; his views on the rest of the world aren’t nearly as MoveOn.orgish.
But set all that aside, and the main thing I’m saying here is that I agree with Mr. Kagan: For us we turn inward fretting over our pocketbooks at the expense of ignoring our proper role in the world would be extraordinarily dangerous. Yeah, we can do both. But not the economy at the expense of international security.