An Open Letter to the President: Press on.

Dear Mr. President,

In considering your forceful stance against our increasingly near peer competitor (one that increasingly is becoming an adversary), your gut instinct is correct. Press on. If history is to tell a lesson of strategy for us in 2019, we should keep a date fresh in our minds: 1957. Sputnik, as it was called, was (objectively) a great technological feat…just not by us. The shock of an adversarial power seemingly getting a foothold in space while the United States was stuck on the ground aroused insecurity and was the impetus that led Ike to do something. That something was NASA, and the passing of the law known as the National Defense Education Act. We eventually won the Space Race, culminating in putting American feet on the moon in 1969.

We can, as the situation impels us, once again re-orient our thinking. The warning lights are flashing.

If we lend ourselves to such a level of detrimental insecurity by which we do nothing at home but something against them, our competitors will necessarily be emboldened to reciprocate equally. Tariff for tariff, dollar for dollar. There is a need to again clearly devise a plan that is commensurate with, and gives credence to, our strength as a nation. The country invested in the seeds of American youth and created programs in science and mathematics that allowed us to compete with our adversary 60 years ago. Let’s do that once again.

This investment in our economy cannot be done in a vacuum, however, and one of the greatest strengths of the United States is our allies. Two countries recently have become strategically important: Poland and Taiwan. The affinity that Poland and the Polish president has for the US is not to be underestimated, nor cast off as a routine diplomatic overture. Fostering a closeness with a country that has shaken off the cuffs of communism and which has historically produced some of the greatest minds is necessarily beneficial to the United States. Taiwan is also a geopolitical investment – a constant check on our competitor. Those young students should be allowed to come to the US and engage in high level research that benefits the US economy: energy research, biotechnology and drug discovery, and information science. These areas are increasingly important and have national security implications. These countries are not to say the only partners of the US, but rather that these countries stand out in a hyperpolarized political environment, both domestically and internationally.

The situation calls for non-traditional thinking, as I think these are non-traditional times. The notion that our situation is non-traditional lies in the fact that (contrary to a significant portion of American history) our adversary is not over there as it has been for decades upon decades, but rather increasingly here in some shape or form. Left continued, I can imagine a future dynamic 100 years from now in which we become, literally, dependent on our adversary at the expense of our own security and as a result of our own contentment. The result of the current trends of today is a subordinate society tomorrow – one in which we use materials but do not make materials, and process information but do nothing with the information. A bureaucratic state – of desks, papers, and appointments; and of bills, fees, and automated phone calls. This state resulting from not only an increasingly information-based economy, but also the outsourcing of labor and a reliance on automation.

Call it the politics of material. Whatever the belief in the rationale for your administration’s steel tariffs, for example, the national security implication becomes apparent not necessarily because the steel comes from abroad in this specific circumstance, but in that what happens when the country you become dependent on cuts you off? We saw this with rare earth metals, as reported by various news outlets, that are valuable in the US defense tech area. Which is more of a national security risk: the small amount of rare earths our increasingly adversarial competitor owns and wields power over us to affect our military, or is it the massive dependency relationship we see ourselves succumbing to that has been diffused into a sense of normalcy – through the every day goods supplied by this adversarial competitor? A notion worth thinking about, Mr. President.

Bruce Plowshay

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