14 August 2008

Energy and the Russkies

America's oil independence and the accompanying energy debate can be boiled down to one issue: National security.

Republicans push to pour hundreds of billion dollars per year into defense programs that many believe are largely inadequate to deal with the changing face of radical Islamic extremism in the 21st century, and undyingly support corporate welfare and myriad tax breaks for oil companies. Democrats hysterically oppose offshore drilling (or, really, any drilling at all) for ludicrous reasons (save the porcupine caribou!) and blatantly ignore the national security implications of sworn enemies of the United States -- Iran, Venezuela and now perhaps Russia -- controlling the lion's share of the world's oil supply. Both sides are wrong.

The energy debate must be couched in national security terms, and these two issues are invariably intertwined.

The recent Russo/Georgian conflict is an example. Instead of responding to Russia's aggression toward its neighbor with force -- as Robert Kagan and other neocons assert the U.S. must do -- the most effective way to damage and therefore coerce Russia in the long term is to pursue avenues that reduce America's demand for oil, the most major of Russian exports. Russia has extensive oil reserves, particularly in the frigid, largely uninhabited region of Siberia.

(Sen. Obama's tepid response to the Russo/Georgian conflict -- that the Russian aggression did not comport with the spirit of the Olympics -- you think so, Professor? -- was laughable. While McCain seems to fundamentally understand the nature of the conflict and the aims of the Russians, Obama seems to think -- as he so often does -- that hostile leaders can simply be talked off the ledge. As the Chairman has noted, it seems that Obama and his supporters believe that the only reason America has encountered problems in the past is because the Changemaker wasn't there to pat everyone on the head.)

Both McCain and Obama must keep the Russo-Georgian conflict in mind as they frame the energy crisis facing the United States. Virtually everyone agrees that America must reduce its dependence on foreign oil. What many people fail to understand is why.

This is not an environmental issue. Rather, energy independence is at its core a national security issue, and among the relevant factors is the ability of the United States to use economic coercion against rogue states like Russia. Aside from McCain's goal to expel Russia from the G-8, the Russian administration realizes that the U.S. has little economic clout over it, especially with the U.S. still pathetically dependent on foreign oil.

I'm surprised that McCain has not yet framed the debate in these terms. While being a forward-thinking, environmentally friendly Republican, McCain has not (publicly, at least) made a connection between the two. Aside from the Howard Dean/John Kerry wing of the Democratic Party, it's safe to say that such an argument would resonate with most Americans. In reality, it is a legitimate issue of national security to have the vast majority of the world's oil reserves controlled by governments that are so obviously adverse to American interests.

It's simple. The United States is at the mercy of not only Russia, but Iran, Venezuela and the substantial amount of American enemies in the House of Saud, until we have weaned ourselves off our addiction to oil.

No comments: