Gregg Easterbrook

Waste Land

This year, the United States will spend at least $700 billion on defense and security. Adjusting for inflation, that’s more than America has spent on defense in any year since World War II—more than during the Korean war, the Vietnam war, or the Reagan military buildup. Much of that enormous sum results from spending increases under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Since 2001, military and security expenditures have soared by 119 percent. For most of that time, of course, the United States has been fighting two wars. Yet that’s not the cause of the defense-spending explosion.

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Turn On

George W. Bush and John Kerry probably differ more on energy policy than on any major issue except abortion, yet news organizations have said barely a word about their positions. Energy policy ought to be a limelight issue this election year. Congress has not passed an energy bill in more than a decade. Oil consumption and oil imports continue to rise. Natural gas prices are high and supplies are tight. Average fuel efficiency of new cars is the lowest in 15 years. The United States continues to supplicate to Persian Gulf dictators for petroleum.

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In 1993, CBS aired a miniseries of preposterous exaggeration about global warming, The Fire Next Time. A smart writer--okay, me--wrote of the show: The CBS miniseries depicted a man and boy attempting to travel the Mississippi River in an ecologically ruined United States of the year 2007, a world of searing warmth, sustained droughts, hyper-storms and dangerous exposure to bad dialogue. Conservative critics were aghast, saying the film indoctrinated audiences with greenhouse scenarios far worse than any projected by the most pessimistic computer model. My reaction was the opposite.

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Oil Price

Remember in the winter of 2001, just after George W. Bush took office, when the United States was said to face an energy crisis? Remember the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, when it dawned on us that Osama bin Laden is a Saudi and that most of the hijackers were Saudis, and yet the United States buys nearly one-quarter of its imported petroleum from the Persian Gulf--transferring at least $20 billion annually to the Saudi princes who encourage Islamic fanaticism?

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Smart Bomb

Because the Bush administration is fighting Al Qaeda and threatening Iraq simultaneously, it's easy to lump both together: Indeed, George W. Bush's State of the Union address managed to confuse on just that point. But the Iraq problem exists independent of September 11: It is that Saddam Hussein is acquiring atomic, chemical, and biological weapons. Baghdad has now had several years, without inspection or bombardment--but with hard cash from the relaxation of the U.N. oil embargo--in which to manufacture the means of mass murder.

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Force of Habit

Ever since the Berlin Wall fell, editorialists, politicians, and policy analysts have been pronouncing the United States military bloated, overpriced, mired in antiquated cold war assumptions, and unready for a "small wars" world. The exact critique varies according to its source--reformers on the left tend to focus on getting rid of large, expensive weapons systems as a way to reduce costs; those on the right see cutting overall troop numbers and deployments as part of a "transformational" commitment to high-tech weapons.

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The Big One

RUNS ON GAS masks in major cities. Arguments about the relative efficacy of Cipro versus doxycycline. The House of Representatives temporarily relocating. As the war on terrorism enters its second month, fear of flying is giving way to fear of opening the mail. Psychologically, it may be that society can only concentrate on one threat at a time. But if that's the case—anthrax letters notwithstanding—the focus is in the wrong place. Biological weapons are bad, but so far none has ever caused an epidemic or worked in war. And it is possible that none ever will: Biological agents are notoriously

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Pumped Up

Though we still lack many details of the September 11 attacks, it's a good guess that oil money was involved. Osama bin Laden's inherited wealth comes from a Saudi construction family that made its fortune in the Arabian oil boom. He is also believed to receive donations from Saudis who grew rich from petroleum leases. If Saddam Hussein assisted in the attack, then oil money may have flowed to the butchers through Iraq, too. And if the terrorists got money from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, then Saudi Arabia and Iraq got money from us--because Americans bought their oil.

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Boarding Pass

A thousand horrible questions present themselves, but one is how, as appears to have happened, four teams of terrorists could have hijacked four airliners simultaneously. How did they get their weapons through security? How did they take over aircraft so rapidly that, apparently, no distress calls were sent by pilots? This article was written within hours of the attack and, therefore, the possible answers it offers are highly speculative.

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Warming Up

Gregg Easterbrook: The real way we know the earth is warming.

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