If he's smart enough to use it, the Democratic nominee may have just been handed the perfect cudgel with which to pummel President Bush -- and cripple Karl Rove's attempts to position his man as America's go-to guy on national security.
The weapon in question is a new report on the grave and gathering threat posed by global climate change -- and the potentially cataclysmic consequences of the Bush administration's obstinately ignorant approach to global warming.
And the thing that makes the report so frightening -- and the prospective bludgeon so crushing -- is that it wasn't authored by some crunchy, granola think tank or a band of tree-hugging Earth Firsters, but by the U.S. Department of Defense.
That's right, the Pentagon -- Rummy's playpen. In fact, the report, which was slipped to the press earlier this month after being kept under wraps by the White House for four months, was commissioned by Andrew Marshall, a legendary DOD figure nicknamed "Yoda" for his sagacity. As head of the Pentagon's secretive Office of Net Assessment, Marshall has offered national security assessments to every president since Richard Nixon.
And this latest assessment pegs climate change as a far greater danger than even the scourge of international terrorism.
Dryly titled "An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security," the report reads like the plot summary of the upcoming Dennis Quaid doomsday flick, The Day After Tomorrow, in which global warming pushes the planet to the edge of anarchy and annihilation.
But the DOD's scenario isn't science fiction. According to the Pentagon study, the question is not if abrupt climate change will happen, but when. It could be, according to the report's authors, as soon as the next three years, with the most devastating fallout potentially occurring between 2010 and 2020.
At that point, we could find ourselves in the midst of a new ice age in which mega-droughts devastate the world's food supply, drinkable water becomes a luxury worth going nuclear over, 400 million people are forced to migrate from uninhabitable areas, and riots and wars for survival become commonplace.
In Tom Ridge's color-coded guidebook, I believe that would qualify as a Red Alert. But the Bush White House remains unwilling to address -- or even acknowledge -- this looming peril. Instead, the "oiligarchs" in the administration continue to fiddle while the atmosphere starts to burn, routinely ignoring scientific evidence and international consensus, and casting a questioning eye on the very idea, let alone the fact, of global warming. It's a stance that has warmed the hearts -- globally, no doubt -- of the Bush Pioneers and Rangers in the oil and energy industry, making them feel very generous indeed.
As last month's release of a scathing letter signed by 60 prominent scientists -- including 20 Nobel laureates and former science advisors to both Republican and Democratic administrations -- makes clear, the Bush administration has made an art out of ignoring science, particularly when it comes to the issue of global warming.
Who can forget the president's famous CO2 flip-flop, or the way the White House tried to force so many changes to a section of an EPA report dealing with climate change that Christie Todd Whitman finally threw up her hands and decided to eliminate the section on global warming altogether?
But blinding the voters with pseudo-science may no longer be an option now that the Pentagon report threatens to put the issue front and center -- and reframe it as a key component of our national security debate.
This is particularly good news for John Kerry, who has a long history of leading the charge in the Senate to cut down on greenhouse gases by raising fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. The president, of course, has done just the opposite, giving Kyoto the kiss-off, and pushing through unconscionable loopholes that reward gas-guzzling monster SUVs and allow carmakers to effectively reduce fuel economy for millions of the vehicles they sell.
One of the defining traits of leadership is the ability to see not just the crisis right in front of you but the one lurking around the next corner. Bush's steadfast refusal to act upon the potential desolation that awaits us if we do nothing to confront global warming makes him a major national security liability.
Everyone in the Bush administration acted shocked and surprised when 9/11 happened -- even though there had been red flags aplenty warning of al-Qaida's evil intentions. Well, let there be no surprise this time. We have all been warned.
While the Pentagon is sounding the alarm on an environmental Armageddon, the president is covering his eyes, crossing his fingers and whistling about the "national importance" of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
The Democratic nominee needs to remind the White House -- and the American people: It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature.
Arianna Huffington is a syndicated columnist, co-host of the National Public Radio program Left, Right, and Center, and author of 10 books. Her latest, Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America will be published in April.
Publication date: 03/04/04