June 07, 2010

This Weekend's News: Opportunity Costs

The direct costs of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico have been outlined clearly for weeks now in the news. Last week and through the weekend, the opportunity costs for the country’s foreign policy and security became more apparent than ever.

The first missed/postponed opportunity came in the form of the president’s cancelled trip to Australia and Indonesia. This was probably the right thing to do in the big picture, but it is far from being without consequences. Tending to issues in our relations with Asia is always important, but it seems to be more important every week (witness Japan’s government once again turning over in no small part due to its U.S. relations). Indonesia will be a key player in climate change negotiations at the end of the year as well, and, worse, the cancellation had the Jakarta Post speculating that security concerns played a role in the president’s delaying the visit again.

Yesterday The Washington Post also reported on the federal resources being dedicated to efforts to stop the leak and contain the damage. It’s clear that the Coast Guard and a few other agencies have dedicated enormous effort this, but the Post article intimated that other priorities are likely being bumped from the schedule of cabinet members, their deputies and White House staff on a daily basis:

The new normal at the Obama White House has required that a whole new schedule be laid on top of the old one. There is a daily oil-spill conference call for Cabinet officers, one for their deputies, yet another with the governors of affected states, and sometimes as many as three briefings a day that include the president himself.

…It might also help that the administration is sending as its emissaries officials who have ties to the region, including EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, a New Orleans native, and Tom Strickland, the Louisiana State University-educated chief of staff to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. At the request of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), the White House has also assigned each parish president in Louisiana a personal Coast Guard liaison.

What else is getting the short end of the attention stick?

Then again, Dr. Andrew Bacevich (of whom I’m a big fan) suggested in a must-read op-ed last week that with all of this focus on attending to this nation’s health, the Obama administration may actually be making the best national security decision possible.

A few additional, noteworthy stories:

The Week Ahead

On Wednesday, get a chance to hear the DOE's Designated Federal Officer for its Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, at The Heritage Foundation's Capitol Hill discussion on Achieving Nuclear Fuel Cycle Sustainability, beginning at 10:00am. There's only one place you should be this Thursday. Check out the CNAS fourth annual conference, Shaping the Agenda: American Security in the 21st Century, beginning at 1:30pm; here are a few alternatives if you happen to have some extra free time this Thursday outside of the CNAS conference: at 10:00am, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs will discuss the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; at the same time, the House Committee on Science and Technology will discuss the gap in technology in the Gulf oil clean-up; and at 3:00pm the Wilson Center will hold an event on the Conflict Potential of Climate Mitigation and Adaptation.