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Vision in Unexpected Places

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Vision in Unexpected Places"

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I think Barack Obama’s Iraq policy was perfectly clear as of last week—war kinda sorta ending on August 31, 2010 and more honest-to-god ending in December 2011—so I wasn’t exactly glued to the set to watch his speech last night. But reading it this morning it was interesting to see some of the kind of thematic big picture stuff that I’ve gotten used to not hearing from the President since his first few months in office:

Our nation’s strength and influence abroad must be firmly anchored in our prosperity at home. And the bedrock of that prosperity must be a growing middle class.

Unfortunately, over the last decade, we have not done what is necessary to shore up the foundation of our own prosperity. We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation’s long-term competitiveness is put at risk.

And so at this moment, as we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy, and grit, and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad.

Obviously, that’s not an actual policy agenda. And equally obviously, it’s not literally the case that we should approach K-12 education with the precisely mentality of an armed soldier going to war. But the point is correct and welcome. Winning the second world war entailed building a lot of tanks and ships and warplanes and nuclear bombs. But the reason we won the war is that in the 150 years before the war, we’d gone about building the most prosperous society in human history. Similarly, during the Cold War it was absolutely necessary to maintain a defensive deterrent against the Soviet Union, but ultimately the superiority of liberal democracy and the mixed economy was proven through the prosperity of liberal democracies with mixed economies, not through force of arms. We do best for ourselves and for the world by focusing on commerce, education, science, and the other drivers of prosperity and ultimately America’s interactions with the world beyond our borders should be defined by culture, trade, tourism, and migration rather than invasion and occupation.

‹ Manhattan and Bedrock

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