COLUMN: Presidents Obama, Forsee traveling down wrong paths

Thursday, December 3, 2009 | 4:25 p.m. CST; updated 10:19 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 3, 2009

Both of my presidents in the past few days have made policy announcements I’m afraid they, and we, will live to regret.

Barack Obama’s decision to send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan puts at risk thousands more lives and billions more dollars. Gary Forsee’s decision to urge our congressional delegation to oppose cap-and-trade legislation puts at risk a policy that’s crucial in combating climate change.

A headline in Thursday’s New York Times announced that Mr. Obama’s speech at West Point “wins over some skeptics.” I watched the speech hoping to be won over, but I wasn’t.

Let me be clear — as President Obama himself might say, and indeed did say several times Tuesday night. I’m a strong Obama supporter. I voted for him, and I think he’s a smart and thoughtful guy trying hard to do the right things with all the difficult issues he faces. Most of his decisions I agree with. On this one, though, I’m still a skeptic.

If you haven’t read Nick Kristof’s column, also in Thursday’s Times, you should. He’s a writer who walks the ground in the dangerous corners of the world he opines about, from Afghanistan to Darfur. I share his conclusion:

“My hunch is that if Mr. Obama wants success in Afghanistan, he would be far better off with 30,000 more schools than 30,000 more troops. Instead, he’s embarking on a buildup that may become an albatross on his presidency.”

He quotes Greg Mortenson, the “Three Cups of Tea” author who actually builds such schools in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, as saying that the Afghans themselves “want schools, health facilities, but not necessarily more physical troops.”

To be fair, Mr. Obama took pains Tuesday to stress the difficulties and uncertainties that abound in the land that defeated two previous world powers, Great Britain and Russia. He clearly understands, as he said, that there are no perfect choices, no sure things. I thought he made the best case that could be made for the policy he has chosen.

His enemies on the right — and I think most of them really are enemies and not just critics — are attacking him for all the wrong reasons. The problem isn’t the time he took weighing unattractive options or the timeline he announced. The problem is that, to him and his advisers, Afghanistan looks like a nail. So they’re reaching for a bigger hammer.

Instead, it seems to me that the situation there more closely resembles one of those Improvised Explosive Devices that plague our troops. The more force that’s applied, the greater the likelihood it’ll blow up in our faces.

Of course, I could be wrong. Mr. Obama is certainly acting on the best advice he could get from the most knowledgeable experts.

That’s not so clear, at least not yet, about President Forsee’s decision. As I write, we just don’t know who, if anybody, was consulted. We do know that Chancellor Brady Deaton wasn’t. I’ve seen no evidence that any of the university’s scientists or economists were.

We also know that economists from Nobel winner Paul Krugman on the left to the staff of the Economist magazine on the right agree that cap-and-trade or a more straight-forward carbon tax is essential if we are to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that nearly all climate scientists hold largely responsible for global warming.

President Forsee complained of the costs that could be imposed on our coal-burning university. I wish that, instead, he had publicly pledged to move as fast as possible to switch to less toxic sources of heat and power. Actually, in an earlier statement shared with other university presidents, he appeared to do something close to that.

Both presidents, I’m confident, are leading to the best of their considerable ability. I just wish they were headed in a different direction.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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Allan Sharrock December 3, 2009 | 7:24 p.m.

Any comment on the Climategate scandal?

(Report Comment)
George Kennedy December 4, 2009 | 8:02 a.m.

One of the all-time worst ideas of American journalists was the attaching of the "gate" suffix to any and all scandals, mini-scandals and pseudo-scandals.

As to the purloining of those e-mails from the climate scientists at that British university, all I know is that the scientists themselves have said that the science hasn't changed. Climate change is real and largely human-caused. They've admitted, or some of them have, that it was unscientific and improper to discuss limiting argument or over-simplifying the data.

(Report Comment)
Jason Wood December 4, 2009 | 2:25 p.m.

About the CO2 thing...

You say "cap-and-trade or a more straight-forward carbon tax is essential if we are to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that nearly all climate scientists hold largely responsible for global warming."

Perhaps it's best we find scientists from other related fields to interpret climate data as well. I wouldn't be wrong to say it would be in a climate scientists's best interests to create a problem requiring monstrous amounts of funding to study and/or fix. Wag the dog, pad the wallet.

A quote from the article "Sulfur dioxide initiates global climate change in four ways" by Peter L. Ward, a Geologist with a PhD. in Seismology:
"There is no change in the rate of change of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere that precedes or is contemporaneous with the flattening of the temperature profile since 2000. Thus it seems reasonable to accept the hypothesis that global warming during the 20th century was primarily initiated by a rapid increase in the rate of anthropogenic emission of sulfur by man, that the SO2 reduced the oxidizing capacity of the atmosphere, leading to an increase in methane, water, and other greenhouse gases."

According to his research, and the researchers behind the 241 references in his article, The SO2 was the main catalyst for climate change -- both man-made, and from volcanic events. Further, due to regulations imposed 10+ years ago on sulphur emissions, global temperatures are already on the decline again--a stat. climate scientists are not quick to admit nor release.

Your thoughts?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro December 4, 2009 | 2:50 p.m.

Climategate: the final nail in the coffin of 'Anthropogenic Global Warming'?:
This Will Not End Well:

(Report Comment)
George Kennedy December 4, 2009 | 3:20 p.m.

In response to Mr. Wood, my thoughts are those expressed in my essay -- that the overwhelming majority of scientists expert in the field, from the EPA and NASA to the UN's inter-governmental panel, are in broad agreement on the seriousness of the problem and on its most important contributors.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock December 4, 2009 | 4:15 p.m.

NASA is being sued now to release their climate data. Apparently a scientist has been trying to get them to release the information for the last 2 yrs under the FOIA. NASA has revised the warmest yrs on record 5 times now. EPA is mostly political appointees at the top. If the Dems appoint a person who believes in global warming then the rest of the workers (if they value their job) will support it. I think Woods is right when he mentioned about padding the wallets with research dollars. I wonder how many Billions have been spent by nations and private entities on the "global warming" business. People are going to get super rich if this thing goes through and it will be a small majority. While the rest of the poor will bear the brunt of it when jobs are lost and energy costs go up. I am sorry but the UN isn't exactly a credible group anymore. They can't stop Iran from producing nukes and there was the Oil for Food scandal.

(Report Comment)

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