Oil Power Politics

New York City -- Perhaps at no point in his failed presidency, probably the worst in American history, did President Bush look more out of touch than sitting at the Olympics in Communist China as did fellow guest, Vladimir Putin, also watching the festivities was presiding over the invasion of democratic Georgia. Having not so recently invaded a country himself, Bush's moral authority was at a low. But contributing to the aura of self-interested incompetence suffused with a dose of cnyicism was his acquiescence to a vastly diminished American presence in the world.

Although it appears that the immediate Russian strike was triggered by a Georgian action against South Ossetia, the Olympic timing that placed Bush in the Chinese stands as Russian tanks rolled was tailor-made for Vladimir Putin. Pumped up with new oil and gas wealth extracted directly from Europe and the United States, Putin could not have found a better stage to announce his reassertion of Soviet imperial ambitions.

Now as President Bush and his team prepare to leave office, it is left to the rest of us to figure out how to resurrect an America that has been unnecessarily and artificially weakened--economically, militarily and strategically by this oil friendly Administration.

Indeed, oil and natural gas wealth is responsible for virtually all of the hubris on display from Putin like the other petro-strongmen who currently threaten the world's security. And oil and gas revenues are fueling the rebirth of authoritarianism--a point discussed trenchantly by Chrystia Freeland in today's Financial Times.

There should be no mistaking, at this point, that oil and gas wealth is a direct threat to the future security of the West. Thus it should be equally clear that a national commitment to developing alternative fuels must be a central element of American economic and security policy. To be sure, this transfer cannot take place overnight. But neither economically nor strategically, can the United States--or Europe--or other free countries allow themselves to remain dependent on the oil states.

As I have written before, a national program to change how we get our energy should include the following:

  • Immediate passage of tax credits for renwable fuels such as the solar investment tax credit and production tas credit which benefits wind power;
  • Acclerated development of new and impore energy storage and other advanced energy technologies;
  • A renewable electricity standard;
  • Legislation and tax credits to take older gas-guzzling vehicles off the road (as suggested by Jack Hidary and recently, Alan Blinder);
  • Tax credits to encourage energy savings; and
  • Investments in mass transportation and smart growth to lower energy demand across our society.

As major changes in energy consumption in the last few months --sparked by high gas prices--have shown, Americans can adjust. But we cannot leave this transition up to the whims of the market.

Most important of all is that these measures not be viewed independently as elective items but rather as part of a vital national commitment to free ourselves from what has become an unacceptable dependence on fossil fuels.

The alternative--acquiescence to a world run by oil-emboldened strongmen--is simply unacceptable.