In advance of last Saturday's GOP foreign-policy debate, sponsors CBS and National Journal asked me to suggest questions for the moderators.
Unaccountably, they did not make use of my suggestions. Still, I had posted the list on my blog, and soon got a query from an international friend: Okay, wise guy — how would you answer them?
1. Mexico is being torn apart by a civil war to control the drug routes to the United States. Many Mexican leaders urge drug legalization in the U.S. in order to move the drug trade away from violent criminals to legitimate business. If a Mexican president asked you to consider such a step, what would you answer and why?
I would answer No. The drugs driving the violence in Mexico are heroin and cocaine, not marijuana. These are severely dangerous drugs, and to make them more available in the U.S. — especially at a time of economic distress — would also be severely dangerous. The most useful thing we could do to help Mexico defeat the violence of the drug cartels would be to curtail the flow of guns across the border. About 70 percent of weapons seized in Mexico come from the United States. The weapons flowing out of the U.S. are not shotguns or hunting pieces. They are military-style semi-automatic weapons. They were lawfully suppressed in the U.S. between 1994 and 2004, and reimposing such a ban would do more for Mexico at less cost to the United States than relaxing laws against heroin and cocaine.
2. Canada is our largest trading partner and most important energy supplier. What do you see as the major issues between the U.S. and Canada, and what would you do to strengthen this supremely important relationship?
The costs to the U.S. of invading Iraq were too high, and the benefits to the U.S. too few.
Since the question was written, the Obama administration has jolted the U.S.-Canada relationship by postponing until after the 2012 election a decision on a second pipeline from the Canadian oil sands to the United States. This half-measure threatens to bankrupt the company sponsoring the pipeline, and for minimal environmental benefit. The U.S. will still use and import oil, the oil sands will still be developed. The right policy to discourage the use of oil is to use taxes to accelerate conservation and substitution. During the transition, it's best to rely on the most secure suppliers — and Canada heads that list.
3. If asked, would you support a U.S. contribution to the fund to stabilize the euro currency? Why or why not?
I would not, but not because I disclaim a U.S. interest in the stability of the euro. The bailout fund is an attempt to avoid a real solution — a solution that must be undertaken by Europeans themselves. That means a more accommodating policy by the European Central Bank, the issuance of eurobonds to replace bonds floated by weakened southern European governments, stricter controls on member state borrowing, and internal economic reforms within the EU.
4. Taiwan is China's largest foreign investor. Taiwan and China have an intensifying economic relationship. Taiwan has refused to make the military investments that our military considers necessary to Taiwan's security. Is the U.S. security guarantee to Taiwan obsolete?
Not yet, but Taiwan's actions are awfully discouraging. If they want a security guarantee, they should be contributing more to their own defense. Besides, I think the risk of a Chinese attack on Taiwan is greatly overstated. The real risk is systematic Chinese corruption and perversion of the Taiwanese political process. There's no U.S. guarantee against that.
5. If you had been president in 2010, would Hosni Mubarak still be in power today?
U.S. governments had been urging Mubarak to step down since 1991. I certainly would not have supported the violence against his own people necessary to hold power for Mubarak. But I also had no illusions that what would follow Mubarak would be much of an improvement, and I hope those who imagined that it was Facebook and Twitter that toppled the ruler of a country where half the people live on less than $2 a day feel appropriately silly.
6. Do you believe there is a peaceful way to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?
Yes. The computer viruses and other non-military instruments used against Iran have successfully delayed that program while avoiding a devastating Middle Eastern war.
7. It's often said that our present energy policy leaves us dependent on oil suppliers who do not like us. Our top 10 suppliers are: Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Russia, Algeria, Iraq, Angola and Colombia. The anti-U.S. feeling of the Chavez regime is notorious. Which of the other nine would you describe as a supplier who "does not like us?"
The problem is not any one single supplier, but the shape of the whole oil market, and the effects of rising oil use on the planet's climate. We should be shifting from taxes on work, saving, and investment to taxes on fossil fuels and pollution in an effort to encourage useful changes. Let's redevelop our cities so that people have less need to drive, and re-engineer cars for enhanced efficiency.
8. Afghanistan: At the end of your first term do you think we'll have more or less than 20,000 troops in that country?
What Jon Huntsman said. We are way over-committed to Afghanistan. Worse, the more invested we are in Afghanistan, the more dependent we are on Pakistan — which manages despite its lack of oil to excel in the "does not like us" department.
9. Iraq: Knowing everything you know now, if you had been in Congress in 2002, would you have voted to authorize force against Saddam Hussein, yes or no?
No. For an Iraqi, there was no price too high to pay to rid the country of Saddam Hussein. For Americans, the issue was not Saddam's badness, but his nuclear weapons program. Knowing that the nuclear program was not a real threat, the invasion was too large a commitment. The world is a better place without Saddam, but as with everything, the question is one of costs and benefits. The costs to the U.S. were too high, the benefits to the U.S. too few.