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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Gregory Scoblete

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Gregory Scoblete

Last Build Date: Thu, 07 Aug 2008 05:25:28 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

Energy Independence: A Bi-Partisan Pander

Thu, 07 Aug 2008 05:25:28 -0600

Like Santa Claus, energy independence is an alluring figment of our imagination. Unlike Santa, this illusory phantom isn't peddled as a harmless fairy tale to kids but to voting age Americans by supposedly serious politicians. It began with President Nixon, gravely intoning that by "the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need to provide our jobs, to heat our homes, and to keep our transportation moving." The spectacular and demonstrable failure to achieve this goal has yet to persuade any of Nixon's successors, and potential successors, to set more realistic goals. The journalist Robert Bryce documents the collective fantasy of energy independence in his book, Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of Energy Independence. "America's appetite is simply too large and the global market is too sophisticated and too integrated for the U.S. to secede," he writes. Yet the delusions endure. To understand the immensity of the challenge of achieving true energy independence, it's worth reading the words of former Intel CEO Andy Grove. Writing in the American magazine, Grove observed that while oil is a global commodity that moves to the highest bidder, electricity is "sticky" - "it stays on the continent where it is produced." To achieve energy independence, then, would require shifting America's energy consumption entirely to the grid. That means everything - industrial power generation, cars, trucks, planes, boats, home and commercial heating - would need to be powered by electricity. Have you flown in a battery-powered plane lately? Of course, we use oil for more than just transportation: it is a lubricant and a feedstock for a variety of industrial chemicals. After we exhaust our own domestic supplies of oil, someone would need to engineer an alternative. Lost in the fantasy of energy independence is any honest discussion of what, exactly, the point of the effort would be. It is a staple of the liberal indictment against President Bush that he should have announced a "Manhattan Project" after 9/11 to push the country off of oil. But what would that have accomplished? The challenge of Islamic radicalism is an urgent problem in the here and now. Even if the U.S. were to fundamentally revamp its energy infrastructure in a crash program that would make Stalin blush, it would take decades to transition to an all-electrical power energy economy. If we are still seriously threatened by Islamic jihadism in 2030, it's a good bet a plug-in hybrid won't be much help. Nor would American energy independence deprive Saudi Arabia or Iran of income. The growing economies of China and India - some two billion people - will continue to consume their oil and natural gas. Since terrorism is inherently inexpensive, even a drop in oil prices to 1990s levels (when al Qaeda was ascendant) would be sufficient to fund terror attacks or foment radicalism. That energy independence is a solution in search of a problem has not stopped the two presidential contenders from debasing themselves on its behalf. John McCain's staff has begun to distribute tire pressure gauges at campaign events to mock Barack Obama's suggestion that properly inflated tires would reduce oil consumption. "We're not going to achieve energy independence by inflating our tires," McCain said. It's obvious what the McCain camp is trying to do. Ever since Jimmy Carter sat before the nation in a cardigan sweater and had the temerity to suggest that we turn down the thermostat, conservation has become an object of ridicule among conservatives. In crafting a national energy strategy in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed conservation as a "personal virtue" not up to the challenge of providing the nation's energy. Rather than have individuals take a measure of personal responsibility for mitigating energy costs, Cheney argued, the government would handle it. But there is an irony at the heart of McCain's tire gauge mockery - it repudiates a central theme of his campaign. McCain has frequently referred to the n[...]

Will Obama Really Withdraw from Iraq?

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 10:30:43 -0600

America's interests in the Middle East can be broadly defined as the pursuit of four goals: the secure transit of oil from the Gulf, the security of Israel, the maintenance of American preeminence and regional stability. America has pursued these goals through a mixture of policies - coups, patronage, diplomacy, and military force - aimed at managing and shaping, to the extent possible, political outcomes in the region. Iraq sits squarely, and for Obama, uncomfortably, at the intersection of these professed interests. In an era of tight oil supplies, Iraq possesses huge reserves with direct access to the Persian Gulf. Though the U.S. troop surge has stabilized the country, those gains are, to quote General Petraeus "reversible." The prospect of instability, beginning in Iraq and radiating beyond its borders, remains a potent concern. Even under Obama's own optimistic scenario we will leave an Iraqi capital friendly, if not openly allied, with Tehran. The one serious rival to America's regional preeminence and the most urgent threat to the security of Israel will therefore be strengthened. To believe that Obama is serious about ending America's commitment to Iraq is to assume either that the progress Iraq has made to date is irreversible (which almost no one believes) or that he has placed the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq ahead of other regional interests. After all, it is impossible to maintain America's traditional sense of responsibility over events in the Middle East and simultaneously remove large numbers of troops from Iraq, come what may. The only way to convincingly argue on behalf of ending the war is to mount an argument in favor of fundamentally redefining America's interests in the region. Short of that, any proposal for withdrawal will be hostage to the persistent specter of regional instability. John McCain understands this. He has frequently noted that Obama's strategy would mean that the U.S. would have to "re-invade" Iraq to clean up the resultant chaos left in our wake. Obama too has acknowledged this presumed obligation, albeit tacitly. He has said that he would retain an unspecified number of residual forces in Iraq for an unspecified length of time. He has stressed that we would be as "careful getting out as we were careless getting in" and that any withdrawal would be conditioned on events on the ground. He even suggested in a speech in Washington D.C. earlier this month, that only when we "press the Iraqis to stand up" by steadily removing U.S. troops, will a stable Iraq emerge. Rather than subordinate other interests in the region, Obama has positioned his withdrawal plan as a means of advancing them. It's easy to see how quickly this position can be challenged. If you accept that there is a level of internal Iraqi violence that would compel the U.S. to remain in Iraq, if you accept the basic principle that America has to ensure regional stability, then all promises to "end the war" are suspect. For many, Obama's reluctance to challenge the current principles of America's involvement in the Middle East is a reassuring "move to the center." To others, it is a reminder of how narrow the debate on foreign policy really is. Rather than debate the ends of American policy, we debate the means. Such a narrow debate is one of the unintended consequences of America's Cold War victory. A broad, bi-partisan agreement on the nature of U.S. interests and the threat posed to them by the Soviet Union was vital - it allowed the United States to consistently contain communism even as presidential administrations (and thus tactics) changed. Much like this consensus, our interests in the Middle East are largely derived from the Cold War era, when American power-balancing was necessary to reduce Soviet influence. Rather than adjust those interests when the threat from global communism disappeared, Washington remained content with the status quo. Today, our presidential candidates debate the utility of their policies in advancing agreed upon interests. They debate with[...]