"Clueless in Washington" was how The Economist, a British weekly read by movers and shakers the world over, headlined America's crisis in governance. Neither the president nor Congress shows any sign of knowing how to tackle the budget deficit.
A $1.6 trillion deficit for the current fiscal year, to be followed by $1.35 trillion for the 2011 budget and an authorized increase of almost $2 trillion in the national debt to $14.3 trillion is a road map for a fiscal catastrophe. The last half-trillion-dollar spending bill signed by President Obama included more than 5,000 earmarks worth about $7 billion — pork funds forced upon the executive by legislators in return for their votes.
Deficits between now and 2020 are forecast to add up to $30 trillion. The total amount of U.S. dollars in circulation worldwide (known by the Fed as M3): $14.3 trillion. Some financial and economic experts think the Obama administration's remedial measures thus far are tantamount to slightly rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
In his new book, "Freefall" (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010), Joseph E. Stiglitz, a member of President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers, says, "In the Frankenstein laboratories of Wall Street, banks created new risk products without mechanisms to manage the monster they had created," while innovation simply meant "circumventing regulations, accounting standards and taxation."
Kevin Philips, whose latest book — "Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism" (Viking, 2008) — is an equally devastating indictment, writes, "The financial industry will most likely block any far-reaching overhaul, even though it will not be able to put its own broken Humpty Dumpty back on the wall. That bleak conclusion may not be too far from what Joe Stiglitz himself thinks."
Mr. Obama is floundering as he tries to reset his presidency on economics. Defense is sacrosanct. Either taxes go up, or entitlements go down, or both. On Capitol Hill, it's still burned toast for the president.
For centuries, leaders faced with insuperable domestic problems found escape in foreign distractions. In some cases, the distractions occurred suddenly and fortuitously, such as World War II, which started in Europe and pulled America out of the Great Depression.
President Obama isn't looking for such a distraction, but others have no pangs illuminating what they think is the way out of the "clueless in Washington" dilemma. Right-wing scholar-activist Daniel Pipes, a neocon icon, could not be more blunt: President Obama can "save" his presidency by bombing Iran. The fact that this also could cost him the presidency is not deemed worthy of discussion.
Mr. Pipes is in good company. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair now says the world may have to take on Iran as the mullahocracy and its Revolutionary Guards are more of a threat today than Iraq was when U.S. and British troops invaded in 2003.
Mr. Blair, addressing a joint session of Congress, gave President George W. Bush a powerful oratorical assist on the historical need to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime and its nuclear and chemical weapons. There also was much disinformation about a purported alliance between Saddam and Osama bin Laden. At one stage, 60 percent of the American people believed the canard that Saddam had been behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 Americans.
While under questioning by a British panel investigating his decision to join the U.S. in the war against Iraq, Mr. Blair kept coming back to Iran — no less than 58 times. If Saddam hadn't been eliminated, Mr. Blair said, today Iraq and Iran would be competing in supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups.
Mr. Pipes, a powerful voice in Israel's corner, says Mr. Obama "needs a dramatic gesture to change the public perception of him . . . preferably in an arena where the stakes are high, where he can take charge, and where he can trump expectations." Such an opportunity now exists, to wit: "Obama can give orders for the U.S. military to destroy Iran's nuclear weapons capacity. It would have the advantage of sidelining healthcare, push Republicans to work with Democrats, make tea partyers jump for joy, conservatives and neoconservatives would swoon ecstatically."
In 2003, President George W. Bush appointed Mr. Pipes to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Today, he is part of a powerful lobby in Washington that pooh-poohs the repercussions predicted by the Iran war naysayers, a group that includes three former U.S. CENTCOM commanders.
Gen. Anthony Zinni, one of the three, says, "If you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you'll love Iran." They can see how one bomb on Iran would trigger the theocracy's impressive asymmetrical retaliatory capabilities up and down the entire Persian Gulf — and beyond.
To reinforce the war party's arguments, Mr. Pipes also says that "the apocalyptic-minded leaders in Tehran could eventually "launch an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the U.S., utterly devastating the country." His detractors dismiss EMP alarmism as flimflam. But they are wrong.
EMP is a very real concern of those who ponder future asymmetrical threats.
In his latest book, "One Second After" (Forge, 2009), New York Times best-selling author William R. Forstchen looks at EMPs "and their awesome ability to send catastrophic shockwaves throughout the U.S. within seconds."
One Scud-type nuclear missile, fired from the cargo hold of a freighter off the East Coast, set to explode 75 miles up, could fry everything electrical in one-third of the United States, from every cell phone and computer to aircraft, trains, vehicles, elevators, and the entire government, including the Pentagon.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak disappointed the war hawks by saying the inability to negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinians is a greater threat to the Jewish state than a nuclear Iran. National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones added that Israel is acting "responsibly" on Iran, and "we're working very closely with them."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suddenly cooed, too, offering the West its low-enriched (3.5 percent) uranium, then taking it back once enriched at 20 percent. Within 48 hours, Iran's chief obfuscator was barking again, announcing the production of highly enriched uranium at 20 percent and the building of 10 new enrichment sites in 2010. Weaponization requires 90 percent.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he is certain Iran is going for the bomb and it's time for tough new sanctions. But Russia and China are not aboard.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.
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