Presidential candidates mining the upper Midwest are apt to lose sight of a local tradition that may prove extremely important. Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen got it just right. He noted that, “Our ancestors brought both isolationism and pacifism to the prairie, and those strains have dominated the state's political gene pool today, unless it's akin to the Civil War or the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.”
Charles Lindbergh chose Des Moines to deliver a speech on September 11, 1941 warning against rushing to war without a plan. “We are on the verge of a war,” said Lindbergh, “for which we are still unprepared and for which no one has offered a feasible plan for victory.” Senator Kerry talks like that too, now that it’s too late. Yet Kerry’s plans for the future seem every bit as warlike as President Bush, if not more so.
I feel entitled to say that because I wrote several columns before the war trying to prevent it. On December 4, 2002, I predicted “war and its aftermath would be more costly and difficult than the optimists admit.” On March 13, 2003, I warned the Iraqis “may violently resist occupation . . . Just keeping the place from coming unglued could be a chore.” My critique of the CIA report on WMD, “Intelligence Without Brains,” was reprinted at antiwar.com.
Because of my credentials as an antiwar zealot, I now get angry e-mails from fellow zealots asking why I have been so critical of Senator Kerry’s economic schemes. For one thing, I am an economist; so I hate watching economic facts and figures so amateurishly tortured. But my isolationist side also sees no reason to prefer Kerry to Bush.
It is Senator Kerry, not President Bush, who keeps saying we need more troops in Iraq. He pretends the extras soldiers will be French or German, but nobody believes that. He says he’d train the Iraqis “faster,” which is blatantly meaningless.
The U.S. military had more than 1.4 million young men and women on active duty, yet only a tenth of them are in Iraq. We still have 75,000 in Germany, 40,000 in Japan. President Bush plans to reduce forces in Europe and Asia. It’s about time. Senator Kerry prefers to add yet another 40,000 to the armed forces. But he has no way to pay them and no place to put them. Maybe France?
A larger standing army does not bode well for those of us who believe the reason for a Defense Department is to defend the U.S. homeland rather than to fix-up foreign roads and schools. Regardless who got us into the Iraq War (including a fantasy-prone CIA), I cannot see any difference between President Bush and Senator Kerry on how they would get us out, except that Kerry is more inclined to add troops.
So the main difference between Bush and Kerry lies in their grasp of economics. I am as certain as the new Nobel Laureate Ed Prescott, who spent much of his career at the Minneapolis Fed, that President Bush is far more likely than Senator Kerry to help preserve and extend the budding economic expansion. When the economy performs well, that lifts the nation’s confidence and resources needed to accomplish many other tasks – including a graceful exit from this divisive war.