There is little for the United States to do in the world. Things are going our way so splendidly abroad that wisely we dare not interfere. Accordingly, a great hue and cry has arisen over the Potomac demanding a Grand Strategy of the future. Richard Gephardt and other strategic thinkers are deeply dismayed that such a vision is not forthcoming from the White House.
Great strategic visions, however, require some clear idea of what the future is going to look like. We have no idea what the world is going to look like next year, let alone next decade. How many states will inhabit the Soviet Union in the year 2000, for example? Sober Soviet-ologists have offered estimates ranging from eight to 14.And we know from history what happens when you devise grand strategy on a misapprehension of the future. Toward the end of World War II, the Roosevelt administration thought that in the postwar world the United Nations would play a central if not decisive role in international relations.
Accordingly, at Yalta, Roosevelt bargained away Poland in return for Stalin acceding to American demands regarding . . . voting procedures in the United Nations!
There are, however, some very real tactical items that ought to be on the American agenda and that have been getting lost in the cries for grand strategy. Our immediate tasks are three:
1. Stay in Europe. That means resisting domestic isolationists and European, especially German, neutralists, who would have us out. There is no need to stay in Europe at current force levels, but leaving it entirely would be disastrous.
The reunification of Germany is a seismic threat to European stability. The United States is the one Atlantic power not viscerally afraid of Germany. It is also the only one that all of Europe trusts. The best insurance against an outbreak of European instability is a continued American presence on the continent.
2. Keep trade open. The difference in prosperity between the post-World War II and the post-World War I era is due in large part to the openness of the world's trading system. The immediate task for the United States is to avoid a trade war with Japan, regardless of how attractive that prospect is to American politicians hungry for a new - preferably non-white - enemy now that the Soviets have retired from the scene.
3. Bankroll democracy. It is absurd for a country with a $5 trillion economy to plead poverty when asked for $1 billion or less from countries as important as Panama, Nicaragua and Poland. President Bush's proposal of a "Fund for Democracy" - $300 million for Nicaragua, $500 million for Panama drawn from the defense budget - is the right idea but still too miserly.
With the Soviets in eclipse and with new democracies on the financial brink, our best foreign-policy investment is to bail out the potential allies that have fallen into our lap in Central America and Central Europe.
We have correctly invested $300 billion a year in defense as a way of securing our position in the world. Why not redirect 5 percent of defense dollars into a $15 billion democracy fund that could be moved around to shore up friends in distress?
Where to take the money from? Here is where one has to make some strategic guesses about the future.
Because we don't know where future threats will come from, we might begin to reshape our defenses to conform with our geography. We are an island continent. Our commercial republic requires free passage for its success. That means control of the seas, skies and space.
Congress, however, would prefer to cut such essential things as overseas bases, naval deployments and research on space defenses and keep afloat politically popular military bases in the American interior that have absolutely no military utility.
At a time when the country is starved for new airports and prisons, maintaining make-work domestic military bases that could otherwise be usefully employed is a particularly stupid idea.
True, there is no need for immediate deployment of a space defense against the possibility of Soviet attack. But now that even Iraq has launched a three-stage intercontinental rocket (and shown adeptness at chemical warfare), it would be folly to slacken the pace of research for some future space defense.
The very worst thing we could do would be to fund the past, represented by redundant military bases at home, by robbing our space and naval forces of the future.