Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Mustache (Tom Friedman) on green energy and American power

Tom Friedman's weekend New York Times column The Big American Leak 12/04/2010 is revealing. Not because it has more than the usual low level of insight from the influential columnist. But because it shows the superficiality of his approach

Tommy complains that the United States is losing clout. He doesn't think, though, that it's because some of the most respected and influential commentators acted as cheerleaders for a completely unnecessary war in Iraq. Or because they displayed the attitudes of six-year-olds in doing so, like that guy who said the benefit of the Iraq War was to tell some Arabs somewhere: "Suck.On.This." No, here's Tommy's definition:

Geopolitics is all about leverage. We cannot make ourselves safer abroad unless we change our behavior at home. But our politics never connects the two.

Think how different our conversations with Saudi Arabia would be if we were in the process of converting to electric cars powered by nuclear, wind, domestic natural gas and solar power? We could tell them that if we detect one more dollar of Saudi money going to the Taliban then they can protect themselves from Iran.

Think how different our conversations with China would be if we had had a different savings rate the past 30 years and China was not holding $900 billion in U.S. Treasury securities — but was still dependent on the U.S. economy and technology. We would not be begging them to revalue their currency, and maybe our request that China prevent North Korea from shipping ballistic missile parts to Iran via Beijing airport (also in the cables) wouldn't be rebuffed so brusquely.

And think how much more leverage our sanctions would have on Iran if oil were $20 a barrel and not $80 — and Iran's mullah-dictators were bankrupt?
Less far-sighted geopoliticians than Tommy Friedman might look at this a bit differently.

If we were moving rapidly toward using green energy, we suddenly would have to worry nearly as much about the problems of the Saud monarchy. Or spreading American military bases around in the Middle East and South Asia which inevitably involve intervening in those countries' politics and increasing temptations to use military power in those places. And creates all kinds of opportunities for "blowback".

If we weren't borrowing so much money from China, we would be borrowing it from somewhere else. Welcome to the 20th century. Not to mention the 21st. Also, if we weren't borrowing from China, people like Tommy Friedman and the neoconservatives would be far more likely to be looking for opportunities to start political and military conflicts with China.

If we had that advancing green energy economy, we wouldn't be so entangled in Middle East politics and wouldn't need to worry so much about Iran. Of course, if oil prices were to plunge, Iran could expect far less export income and would probably perceive they had a greater incentive to use nuclear power for their domestic needs to maximize the amount of oil they can export. And we would still have the same risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, if not a greater one. On the other hand, if we weren't so militarily committed in the Middle East, the US would be less inclined to threaten war, which probably would discourage the kind of constant saber-rattling that has probably inhibited rather than promoted a solution to the Iran proliferation problem.


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