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“Obama’s Cluelessness in Our Time of Surprises” by Clark Judge

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The Monday morning guest column from Clark Judge:

Obama’s Cluelessness in Our Time of Surprises
By Clark S. Judge

With the MSM turning a blind eye to his every policy gaffe, Barack Obama has made more than his share of commitments that-if he acts on them-could shatter a fragile economy and undermine US security.

From raising taxes on entrepreneurs (in an economy in which entrepreneurship is among the few remaining drivers of growth) to retreat from victory in Iraq (an act that would make the success of Obama’s pledge to then seek in Afghanistan all but impossible to achieve), one clueless commitment has followed another all year. But the worst may turn out to be one most Americans have all but ignored-his vow to renegotiate NAFTA.[# More #]

As were the last eight years, the next eight are likely to be a time of surprises. Eight years ago Islamicism was all but unknown to Americans and the terrorism perpetrated in its name considered a remote nuisance. The US’s neighbors may be about to make their own move from the periphery to the center of our concerns, just as we (if the polling numbers hold up) elect a president committed to the single policy that would most effectively undermine relations with them.

Why the growing importance?

For Canada, it is a matter of fire and ice. Energy is the fire. The emerging strategic importance of the Arctic is the ice.

Both presidential campaigns have adopted the mantra of “energy independence.” We all know that if this long-discussed goal is to become more than talk, we will need vastly increased domestic oil production and many more nuclear generating plants.

Now consider the political barriers to drilling in the US-not to mention to nuclear power plant development. According to one senior government official in a recent not-for-attribution briefing, more than 400 leases to drill for oil off the Alaska coast were let in recent years. As of today, no site has been exploited. Environmentalists have tied up every single permit in court challenges.

The point here is that achieving independence from “foreign” oil inevitably will require expanding what we mean by “domestic” oil. Our problem is not that most of our petroleum comes from outside our borders but that it comes from politically unfriendly countries, where much of the money is used to undermine US national security.

Obviously Canada is a different story-stable, friendly as few countries are, particularly in the past two decades, since the ratification of the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement in the late 80s and of NAFTA in the mid-90s. If we start thinking of “independence” as referring not just to the US but to North America, “energy independence” starts to become plausible. As Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said, with its vast reserves and openness to the exploiting of them, Canada is an emerging “energy superpower.”

That is the fire. As to the ice, in its recently released global “Strategic Survey 2008,” the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies listed control of Arctic resources and shipping routes as a major emerging global issue.

The IISS noted that the Arctic basin “could be home to up to a quarter of the world’s unexplored oil and gas reserves.” Russia has been making a major play for control over these resources, including planting its national flag on the seabed under the North Pole and applying for international recognition of its sovereignty there.

Meanwhile, according to European Space Agency measurements, the waters along the top of North America were navigable for the first time during the summer thaw of 2007, potentially cutting thousands of miles off shipping from Europe to Asia. Sovereignty over these waters is in dispute.

As one prominent British security expert explained to me recently, the Arctic is among the least demarked regions of the world. Given Russia’s assertiveness and the resources and trade routes potentially at stake, the US has a huge interest in a solid relationship with Canada. And, as this expert warned, the Obama campaign is headed in exactly the wrong direction-for US interests, a very dangerous and isolating direction.

Mexico is a different but-given the Obama policies — at least as ominous a matter. The challenge there is stability.

In the last year, the Mexican government has sent troops into a number of northern states trying to wrest control back from drug cartels. To date, they have met with mixed success, calling into question the security of national sovereignty. A senior US official described those parts of Mexico to me recently as “Somalia on our border.” They are politically volatile regions not under firm control of the national government.

The US has an incalculable economic and national interest in the Mexican government’s success in Northern Mexico. But again, the Obama commitment to abrogating NAFTA runs exactly opposite to and is destructive of those interests.

NAFTA may not currently figure large in the campaign, but among the few certainties in this time of surprises is that Obama’s commitment to undermine the agreement will figure large in the nation’s fate in the years ahead.

As John McCain prepares for Wednesday’s debate, he should consider how to make the Illinois Democrat’s continental cluelessness part of his brief for the final weeks of the campaign.

Clark S. Judge is managing director of the White House Writers Group and was special assistant and speechwriter to President Reagan.


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