There will be plenty of time to talk about Hillary, or "American Idol" or the antique ritual known as the State of the Union. Let's talk instead about the fate of the union.
On Jan. 11, China used a "kinetic kill vehicle" to destroy one of its own weather satellites, 500 miles above the Earth's surface. The implications of this action are enormous, because it shows that the Chinese are serious about fighting - and winning - a space war. The implications for America are ominous: Our own government seems uninterested in anything happening outside the Middle East.
Indicative of the Bush administration mind-set was this headline in Monday's New York Times: "U.S. Tries to Interpret China's Silence Over Test." The piece quotes national security adviser Stephen Hadley, who suggested that maybe the Chinese political leadership did not know what its military was doing when it blasted that satellite out of the sky.
"The question on something like this," Hadley said soothingly, "is at what level in the Chinese government are people witting, and have they approved?" And so, he concluded, Washington will inquire of Beijing - "and it will be interesting to see how it comes out." If Hadley really thinks like this, we have a problem. The Chinese military is not independent. So, if China shot down a satellite, it's because the leadership in Beijing wanted it shot down - as part of its plans for fighting a possible war with the United States.
Most likely, Hadley does understand this military-bureaucratic reality of Chinese politics; he just can't share his understanding with the rest of us. Why? Because he is under orders, from President Bush, to stay focused on Iraq. That's the "legacy issue" for this president, the foreign adventure on which his reputation will rise or fall. So some future president can worry about China.
Indeed, some other president will have to worry - really worry - about homeland security, too. Here's another Monday headline, from the Los Angeles Times: "Burdened U.S. military cuts role in drug war / Air and sea patrolling is slashed on southern smuggling routes." The article details how the Pentagon, stretched thin by Iraq during the past four years, has reduced its homeland-protecting naval patrols by one-third and aerial surveillance by two-thirds.
And what's the administration response to an uncontrolled border? The same as its answer to the threat posed by China: The White House will push yet another surge in Iraq. For their part, the Democrats say "no" to the Iraq surge - even as they, too, choose to ignore China and our border security. After all, the Democrats have their own legacy-building issues to pursue, such as education, health care and global warming.
So in Washington, today and every day, the president will likely talk about policing Baghdad - while, in their response, the Democrats will talk about helping the uninsured.
One of the few politicians who will speak candidly about national security issues is a former politician, Newt Gingrich. In an interview, the ex-House speaker was blunt: "If the U.S. can't interdict drugs, why would we think we can stop terrorists?" And he went further, making an argument that won't sit well with either party: "The decision by the military to accept defeat on our southern border is one more indicator that our military is too small and underfunded." And what of China? Beijing's satellite-killing success, Gingrich declared, is a "grim warning" that the United States holds no monopoly on scientific, and therefore military, power.
The fate of the union depends upon leaders who look mortal threats squarely in the eye, and then take action to deal with those threats. But it's not likely that we will see that sort of vision from incumbent officials in either party. And so the threats to our national survival will continue to grow.