12.06.2004

Energy Incompetence


I am not exactly a big fan of Tom Friedman, but here is a thought-provoking column in today's Times. He is proposing a nicely counterintuitive, though not completely new alternative to the Bush administration's approach to foreign policy:

If President Bush is looking for a legacy, I have just the one for him - a
national science project that would be our generation's moon shot: a crash
science initiative for alternative energy and conservation to make America
energy-independent in 10 years.

The idea, in a nutshell, is this:

You give me an America that is energy-independent and I will give you sharply
reduced oil revenues for the worst governments in the world. I will give you
political reform from Moscow to Riyadh to Tehran. Yes, deprive these regimes of
the huge oil windfalls on which they depend and you will force them to reform by
having to tap their people instead of oil wells. These regimes won't change when
we tell them they should. They will change only when they tell themselves they
must.

What strikes me about this notion is its similarity to Bush's current plan for remaking the Middle East. Both rely on market forces to reform corrupt governments. Both suggest that regimes can only be changed from the inside out. And both can only be judged a success or failure after about 30 years.

Ah, yes. There is one significant difference: Bush's plan requires killing thousands of people and alienating the majority of the world. Friedman's plan (it's not really his, but we'll call it that) might actually make us some friends and probably won't kill anyone. It's a "win-win-win-win-win," according to Michael Mandelbaum.

No one in their right mind would choose the former if the latter were truly a viable option. But is it? That's the rub, I suppose. Maybe we're comparing apples and oranges here, but it would be nice to give this a decent shot. Instead, we are cutting the budget for the National Science Foundation--hardly a step in the right direction.

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