Commentary Magazine


Topic: foreign oil

We Still Need to Protect Oil Interests

The Wall Street Journal has the umpteenth article today trumpeting the technological advances–primarily fracking–that are allowing oil companies to uncover and exploit vast, untapped fields in North America. This is leading a dramatic decline in our need for imported oil, especially oil imported from the Middle East. As the Journal notes:

By 2020, nearly half of the crude oil America consumes will be produced at home, while 82 percent will come from this side of the Atlantic, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By 2035, oil shipments from the Middle East to North America “could almost be nonexistent,” the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries recently predicted, partly because more efficient car engines and a growing supply of renewable fuel will help curb demand.

Read More

The Wall Street Journal has the umpteenth article today trumpeting the technological advances–primarily fracking–that are allowing oil companies to uncover and exploit vast, untapped fields in North America. This is leading a dramatic decline in our need for imported oil, especially oil imported from the Middle East. As the Journal notes:

By 2020, nearly half of the crude oil America consumes will be produced at home, while 82 percent will come from this side of the Atlantic, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By 2035, oil shipments from the Middle East to North America “could almost be nonexistent,” the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries recently predicted, partly because more efficient car engines and a growing supply of renewable fuel will help curb demand.

Great news! We can all agree on that. But does this mean that in the future we will be able to ignore developments in the Middle East? That we will no longer have to spend some $50 billion a year (as estimated by Brookings’ Mike O’Hanlon) to protect the flow of oil? Were that it were so. In reality, as the article notes, oil is a global commodity, so supply disruptions in the Middle East–which our European and Asian trading partners remain reliant upon–would still drive up the cost of gasoline in the United States.

Another point worth keeping in mind, which goes unmentioned in this article: Much of the reason we remain concerned about the Middle East is because its oil supplies produce revenue streams that can be used for all sorts of nefarious purposes. Just think of the Saudis funding the promulgation of Wahhabi fundamentalist doctrines around the world–or of the Iranians building nuclear weapons. As long as oil is valuable–and there is scant prospect of that changing anytime in the foreseeable future–we will have to remain concerned about who controls it. And that means we will need to have a substantial military presence in the Middle East.

It’s not simply a defensive deployment either: Don’t forget that China is heavily dependent on the Middle East for its own oil. As long as our Navy can close its supply routes, we will hold a valuable cudgel that could be employed in the event of a crisis.

Read Less

What Will America’s Oil Boom Bring?

Every now and then, the Iranian regime threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz or some al-Qaeda activist comes close to bombing a major oil facility, and pundits spring up and point out the cost of American reliance on foreign oil, only to be forgotten when the news cycle moves on. The fact that American politicians focus so little on energy security is nothing short of policy malpractice. The Chinese have made energy security their primary strategic ambition and have reaped the benefits. The issue for the United States is not simply jobs—although creating productive, private sector jobs should be the goal of any government—but rather national and economic security.

Enter “Securing America’s Future Energy” (SAFE). Co-chaired by General P.X. Kelley, the former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, and Frederick Smith, chairman, president, and CEO of FedEx, the organization has assembled a marquee list of top military brass and CEOs, who together make the case that energy security is not only an economic issue, but a national security matter as well. Together, the business and military experts discuss energy issues with greater fluency and depth than politicians of both parties. This is reflected in SAFE’s new report, “The New American Oil Boom,” released yesterday. Because of government regulation, the oil boom may not be as pronounced as it might be but, even so, the United States last year became a net exporter of refined petroleum products for the first time since 1949.

Read More

Every now and then, the Iranian regime threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz or some al-Qaeda activist comes close to bombing a major oil facility, and pundits spring up and point out the cost of American reliance on foreign oil, only to be forgotten when the news cycle moves on. The fact that American politicians focus so little on energy security is nothing short of policy malpractice. The Chinese have made energy security their primary strategic ambition and have reaped the benefits. The issue for the United States is not simply jobs—although creating productive, private sector jobs should be the goal of any government—but rather national and economic security.

Enter “Securing America’s Future Energy” (SAFE). Co-chaired by General P.X. Kelley, the former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, and Frederick Smith, chairman, president, and CEO of FedEx, the organization has assembled a marquee list of top military brass and CEOs, who together make the case that energy security is not only an economic issue, but a national security matter as well. Together, the business and military experts discuss energy issues with greater fluency and depth than politicians of both parties. This is reflected in SAFE’s new report, “The New American Oil Boom,” released yesterday. Because of government regulation, the oil boom may not be as pronounced as it might be but, even so, the United States last year became a net exporter of refined petroleum products for the first time since 1949.

Petroleum fuels account for 37 percent of U.S. primary energy demand, and during the past five years, U.S. households and businesses have spent a total of $755 billion annually, a major drain on disposable income. Transportation is especially hostage to oil. Liquid fuels provide 97 percent of the energy needed to move cars, trucks, seaborne ships, and aircraft. When the White House pursues policies that limit domestic fuel production, they cripple the economy and empower foreign exporters. Ethanol is no solution. Not only does it drive up the cost of food, but because ethanol-based fuels are priced on the same scale as petroleum fuels, they do not lower the price.

The report, however, is clear-eyed about what the current American oil boom will mean and, as important, what it will not:

As U.S. levels of oil imports continue to fall, the trade deficit will improve, and the transfer of U.S. wealth abroad will decrease. This will help strengthen the dollar and increase investment in the domestic economy… But it is important to be clear-eyed about the effect the boom in oil production will have on American energy security. Rising domestic production will not shield consumers from oil price volatility, and it will not lower gasoline prices over the long term. It will also not allow the United States to abdicate its role in the Middle East.

SAFE is correct that “America’s dependence on oil represents one of the most dangerous and pressing national security threats facing the country today.” Their conclusion that “as long as the United States remains dependent on oil as the primary fuel in our transformation sector, the nation will remain vulnerable to the effects of oil price volatility and debilitating price shocks” will be more controversial. Any strategy, however, that strengthens the economy and marginalizes Saudi and Iranian influence is a noble one to pursue.

Read Less

China’s Getting Our Oil Because of Obama, Says Canada PM

This is big news, and not just because it refutes a lot of the skepticism that Canada would ever actually go through with its threats to sell its oil to China. It also shows there will be major consequences from what the Obama administration clearly believed was a harmless little political game it could play with the Keystone XL permitting. Even if the president backs down from his Keystone XL objections now – as Republicans have continued to urge him to do – Canadian PM Stephen Harper says it won’t make a difference.

Canada’s Sun News reports:

In a public one-on-one interview here with Jane Harman, head of the Wilson Centre think-tank, Harper said Obama’s rejection of the controversial pipeline — even temporarily — stressed Canada’s need to find other buyers for oilsands crude.

And that wouldn’t change even if the president’s mind did.

“Look, the very fact that a ‘no’ could even be said underscores to our country that we must diversify our energy export markets,” Harper told Harman in front of a live audience of businesspeople, scholars, diplomats, and journalists.

“We cannot be, as a country, in a situation where our one and, in many cases, only energy partner could say no to our energy products. We just cannot be in that position.” Read More

This is big news, and not just because it refutes a lot of the skepticism that Canada would ever actually go through with its threats to sell its oil to China. It also shows there will be major consequences from what the Obama administration clearly believed was a harmless little political game it could play with the Keystone XL permitting. Even if the president backs down from his Keystone XL objections now – as Republicans have continued to urge him to do – Canadian PM Stephen Harper says it won’t make a difference.

Canada’s Sun News reports:

In a public one-on-one interview here with Jane Harman, head of the Wilson Centre think-tank, Harper said Obama’s rejection of the controversial pipeline — even temporarily — stressed Canada’s need to find other buyers for oilsands crude.

And that wouldn’t change even if the president’s mind did.

“Look, the very fact that a ‘no’ could even be said underscores to our country that we must diversify our energy export markets,” Harper told Harman in front of a live audience of businesspeople, scholars, diplomats, and journalists.

“We cannot be, as a country, in a situation where our one and, in many cases, only energy partner could say no to our energy products. We just cannot be in that position.”

Where to begin on this? First, there’s the amateurishness of an administration that thinks it can string along Canada for political convenience, without realizing the potential fallout. It’s also yet another example of Obama’s commitment to alienating allies while simultaneously aiding adversaries.

And the damages aren’t limited to diplomacy and the U.S. losing out on oil to China. The U.S. will also take a hit on the oil it already purchases, at a reduced rate, from Canada, because of the added competition in the market:

Harper also told Harman that Canada has been selling its oil to the United States at a discounted price.

So not only will America be able to buy less Canadian oil even if Keystone is eventually approved, the U.S. will also have to pay more for it because the market for oilsands crude will be more competitive.

“We have taken a significant price hit by virtue of the fact that we are a captive supplier and that just does not make sense in terms of the broader interests of the Canadian economy,” Harper said. “We’re still going to be a major supplier of the United States. It will be a long time, if ever, before the United States isn’t our number one export market, but for us the United States cannot be our only export market.

“That is not in our interest, either commercially or in terms of pricing.”

The U.S. could be paying for Obama’s political stunt long after he leaves office.

Read Less

Obama’s Energy Promises Ring Hollow

President Obama isn’t the only one whose poll numbers seem to be sinking lately. A new Rasmussen poll found that Democrats in Congress are also losing ground to the GOP on the Generic Congressional Ballot:

Republicans hold a six-point lead over Democrats on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, March 11.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 44 percent of Likely U.S. Voters would vote for the Republican in their district’s congressional race if the election were held today, while 38 percent would choose the Democrat instead. Last week, the Republican led by three points, 44 percent to 41 percent.

Read More

President Obama isn’t the only one whose poll numbers seem to be sinking lately. A new Rasmussen poll found that Democrats in Congress are also losing ground to the GOP on the Generic Congressional Ballot:

Republicans hold a six-point lead over Democrats on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot for the week ending Sunday, March 11.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 44 percent of Likely U.S. Voters would vote for the Republican in their district’s congressional race if the election were held today, while 38 percent would choose the Democrat instead. Last week, the Republican led by three points, 44 percent to 41 percent.

It’s not clear whether the shift has anything to do with rising gas prices – which appears to be a reason behind Obama’s dip in the polls – but it sounds like the White House is pretty nervous that it is. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pushed back on criticism of Obama’s energy policy at a White House briefing this afternoon:

Salazar insisted that Obama is reviewing short- and long-term actions to lower gas prices, while also noting that there are no quick fixes to the problem.

“All options are on the table because the president obviously feels the pain that the American people are facing,” Salazar said when asked if the administration would tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a 696-million barrel emergency oil stockpile.

But based on Obama’s own comments today, he’s only interested in dragging out the same recycled energy rhetoric he’s been pushing since he took office: America needs to reduce its oil dependency and pursue clean energy alternatives. Here’s part of Obama’s statement, via CNN:

“Our focus on increased domestic oil and gas production, currently at an eight-year high, combined with the historic fuel economy standards we put in place, means that we will continue to reduce our nation’s vulnerability to the ups and downs of the global oil market. We’ve also made progress in the expansion of clean energy, with renewable energy from sources like wind and solar on track to double, along with the construction of our first advanced biofuel refineries. And yet, despite the gains we’ve made, today’s high gas prices are a painful reminder that there’s much more work to do free ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil and take control of our energy future. And that’s exactly what our administration is committed to doing in the months ahead.”

This has been a regular mantra from the administration since 2009, but Obama has yet to follow through on it.

Obama in a 2009 speech: “Rhetoric has not led to the hard work needed to achieve results and our leaders raise their voices each time there’s a spike on gas prices, only to grow quiet when the price falls at the pump.”

Obama after the BP oil spill in 2010: “The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now.” And yet the can was only kicked further down the road.

And remember, it was just last March when the president made his big, much-celebrated energy address. “[W]e cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again,” he proclaimed.

So when Obama says we need to “free ourselves from our dependence on foreign oil,” and promises this is something that “our administration is committed to doing in the months ahead,” it’s hardly surprising if the American people don’t take him seriously. If this were something the administration was capable of doing in a matter of months, they would have done it the first time Obama promised it. Instead, this sounds more like empty talk to placate the public until gas prices drop again.

Read Less

CAP a Shill-for-Hire on Natural Gas

The Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll flags this interesting item from the Washington Post’s report on the messy break-up between environmental groups and the natural gas industry:

Natural gas entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens gave $453,250 to the liberal think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) in 2008 and 2009 through his nonprofit groups, to support its National Clean Energy Project events. At the time, Pickens was pressing lawmakers to adopt a bill to subsidize construction of natural gas filling stations. The legislation would have directly helped a company Pickens co-founded called Clean Energy Fuels, which describes itself as “the leading provider of natural gas for transportation.”

Read More

The Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll flags this interesting item from the Washington Post’s report on the messy break-up between environmental groups and the natural gas industry:

Natural gas entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens gave $453,250 to the liberal think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) in 2008 and 2009 through his nonprofit groups, to support its National Clean Energy Project events. At the time, Pickens was pressing lawmakers to adopt a bill to subsidize construction of natural gas filling stations. The legislation would have directly helped a company Pickens co-founded called Clean Energy Fuels, which describes itself as “the leading provider of natural gas for transportation.”

It’s odd that Pickens, a long-time funder of conservative groups and one of the heavyweight allies of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign, would throw his money behind the Center for American Progress. Carroll reports on how CAP used the funding to promote natural gas initiatives:

This forum will focus on modernizing and expanding the electricity grid, integrating energy efficiency and distributed generation into operation and regulation, rapidly increasing transmission capacity for renewable energy, and reducing our nation’s dependence on foreign oil by examining short- and long-term solutions to replace foreign oil with domestic resources to fuel vehicles and trucks, including natural gas.

Unfortunately for Pickens, his new friends didn’t stick around for long. As soon as his funding was used up, CAP became a critic of natural gas, which is increasingly unpopular in environmental circles:

Fast forward to this year and natural gas is no longer an alternative to oil. Here is a CAP headline from last month:

Natural Gas Is A Bridge To Nowhere

Apparently, on the left, money can buy you love … but only for so long.

If CAP’s agenda is being driven so transparently by the special interests of its donors, how can it call itself a credible think tank? It makes you wonder who else is giving money to the organization, and how much their political and business agendas are influencing the direction of the group.

Read Less

“A Rough Version of Mr. Bush’s Dream May Yet Come True”

In its editorial today, “A Good Year in Iraq,” the Washington Post writes this:

AT THE beginning of this year, Iraq’s fragile new political order faced a momentous challenge. The country needed to hold credible democratic elections at a time when its army was still battling al-Qaeda and other domestic insurgents. The winners had to form a government in spite of deep rifts among leaders and sects, who just three years ago were fighting a civil war. And all this had to happen even as the United States reduced its troops from 150,000 to 50,000 and ended combat operations for those who remained.

The result was a long, painful, contentious, confusing and sometimes bloody year. But when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presented his new government to parliament on Tuesday, Iraq could fairly be said to have passed a major test. It is not yet the peaceful Arab democracy and force for good in the Middle East that President George W. Bush imagined when he decided on invasion eight years ago. But in the past 12 months it has taken some big steps in the right direction.

The editorial goes on to point out that (a) the election was judged free and fair, a very rare event in the Middle East; (b) measures to integrate former Sunni militiamen into the security forces or other government jobs have been implemented; (c) fears that Mr. Maliki would establish a dictatorship look to be exaggerated; (d) the economy is nearing a tipping point, with foreign oil companies refurbishing the fields of southern Iraq and the city of Basra, a militia-ruled jungle four years ago, beginning to boom; and (e) violence has dwindled to the lowest level Iraq probably has known in decades (in September 2006, there were more than 3,300 civilian deaths from violence; this month so far it has counted 62, making Iraq a country far safer than Mexico). Read More

In its editorial today, “A Good Year in Iraq,” the Washington Post writes this:

AT THE beginning of this year, Iraq’s fragile new political order faced a momentous challenge. The country needed to hold credible democratic elections at a time when its army was still battling al-Qaeda and other domestic insurgents. The winners had to form a government in spite of deep rifts among leaders and sects, who just three years ago were fighting a civil war. And all this had to happen even as the United States reduced its troops from 150,000 to 50,000 and ended combat operations for those who remained.

The result was a long, painful, contentious, confusing and sometimes bloody year. But when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presented his new government to parliament on Tuesday, Iraq could fairly be said to have passed a major test. It is not yet the peaceful Arab democracy and force for good in the Middle East that President George W. Bush imagined when he decided on invasion eight years ago. But in the past 12 months it has taken some big steps in the right direction.

The editorial goes on to point out that (a) the election was judged free and fair, a very rare event in the Middle East; (b) measures to integrate former Sunni militiamen into the security forces or other government jobs have been implemented; (c) fears that Mr. Maliki would establish a dictatorship look to be exaggerated; (d) the economy is nearing a tipping point, with foreign oil companies refurbishing the fields of southern Iraq and the city of Basra, a militia-ruled jungle four years ago, beginning to boom; and (e) violence has dwindled to the lowest level Iraq probably has known in decades (in September 2006, there were more than 3,300 civilian deaths from violence; this month so far it has counted 62, making Iraq a country far safer than Mexico).

The Post editorial concludes this way:

It’s still too early to draw conclusions about Iraq, though many opponents of the war did so long ago. Mr. Maliki’s government could easily go wrong; the coming year, which could end with the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. troops, will likely be just as challenging as this one. But the country’s political class has repeatedly chosen democracy over dictatorship and accommodation over violence. If that keeps up, a rough version of Mr. Bush’s dream may yet come true.

Four years ago this month may have been the low-water mark in Iraq, with the nation gripped by a low-grade but escalating civil war. The American public strongly opposed the war. Almost every Democratic lawmaker in Congress, with the honorable exception of Senator Joseph Lieberman, was in fierce opposition to both the war and what later became known as the “surge.” Republican lawmakers were losing their nerve as well. Three months earlier, in September 2006, Senator Mitch McConnell had asked for, and received, a private meeting with President Bush. Senator McConnell’s message was a simple one: the Iraq war’s unpopularity was going to cost the GOP control of Congress. “Mr. President,” McConnell said, “bring some troops home from Iraq.”

President Bush, to his everlasting credit, not only refused to bend; he increased the American commitment to Iraq and changed our counterinsurgency strategy. And while the situation in Iraq remains fragile and can be undone — and while problems still remain and need to be urgently addressed (including the terrible persecution of Christians occurring in Iraq right now) — this is a moment for our nation, and most especially our military, to take sober satisfaction in what has been achieved. It has not been an easy journey. But it has been a noble and estimable one.

There is no need here to rehearse the names of the few who did not buckle at the moment when the war seemed lost. They know who they are. In the words of Milton, they were “faithful found among the faithless.” Their faithfulness, and in many cases their courage, is being vindicated.

Read Less

The National Security Strategy of 2010. Or 2006. Whatever.

I’m with my former boss, Les Gelb, who complains that President Obama’s new National Security Strategy is essentially a grab bag of concerns that don’t amount to a coherent strategy. This is evident from the opening letter attached to it under the president’s name:

Our strategy starts by recognizing that our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home. We must grow our economy and reduce our deficit. We must educate our children to compete in an age where knowledge is capital, and the marketplace is global. We must develop the clean energy that can power new industry, unbind us from foreign oil, and preserve our planet. We must pursue science and research that enables discovery, and unlocks wonders as unforeseen to us today as the surface of the moon and the microchip were a century ago. Simply put, we must see American innovation as a foundation of American power.

This isn’t necessarily wrong, but where do you draw the line? Perhaps finding a new judge to replace Simon Cowell on American Idol is vital to the continued strength of American soft power. By Obama’s reasoning, every facet of American society can be said to have some connection with American policy abroad.

There is much more about domestic policy in this document — as there is about every aspect of foreign policy. There are lines that gladden the heart of more hawkish commentators (like me), including a commitment to “maintain the military superiority that has secured our country, and underpinned global security, for decades”; a ringing endorsement of democracy promotion (“our support for universal rights is both fundamental to American leadership and a source of our strength in the world”); and a vow to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates.”

Naturally, there is even more to gladden the hearts of liberals, including a call for “comprehensive engagement,” a commitment “to engage and modernize international institutions and frameworks,” and to “pursue the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.”

This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach also entails talk of “strengthening international norms against corruption” and “pursuing a comprehensive global health strategy.”

This is, I suppose, what happens when every branch of government gets to weigh in while such a document is being drafted. But it is possible to do something different. Love it or hate it, the Bush National Security Strategy of 2002 was a truly innovative and influential document that will be long remembered for declaring the need for preventative action against aggressors and terrorists. Eight years later, I can still recalls some of its lines: “The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology” and “America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.”

There is no such intellectual groundbreaking in the Obama document, which is, as Peter Feaver notes, more than anything a continuation, with some slight adjustments, of the National Security Strategy produced by the Bush administration in its second term.

You remember that Bush National Security Strategy of 2006, don’t you? No? You don’t? Well I suspect you won’t remember the Obama strategy of 2010 either.

I’m with my former boss, Les Gelb, who complains that President Obama’s new National Security Strategy is essentially a grab bag of concerns that don’t amount to a coherent strategy. This is evident from the opening letter attached to it under the president’s name:

Our strategy starts by recognizing that our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home. We must grow our economy and reduce our deficit. We must educate our children to compete in an age where knowledge is capital, and the marketplace is global. We must develop the clean energy that can power new industry, unbind us from foreign oil, and preserve our planet. We must pursue science and research that enables discovery, and unlocks wonders as unforeseen to us today as the surface of the moon and the microchip were a century ago. Simply put, we must see American innovation as a foundation of American power.

This isn’t necessarily wrong, but where do you draw the line? Perhaps finding a new judge to replace Simon Cowell on American Idol is vital to the continued strength of American soft power. By Obama’s reasoning, every facet of American society can be said to have some connection with American policy abroad.

There is much more about domestic policy in this document — as there is about every aspect of foreign policy. There are lines that gladden the heart of more hawkish commentators (like me), including a commitment to “maintain the military superiority that has secured our country, and underpinned global security, for decades”; a ringing endorsement of democracy promotion (“our support for universal rights is both fundamental to American leadership and a source of our strength in the world”); and a vow to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates.”

Naturally, there is even more to gladden the hearts of liberals, including a call for “comprehensive engagement,” a commitment “to engage and modernize international institutions and frameworks,” and to “pursue the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.”

This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach also entails talk of “strengthening international norms against corruption” and “pursuing a comprehensive global health strategy.”

This is, I suppose, what happens when every branch of government gets to weigh in while such a document is being drafted. But it is possible to do something different. Love it or hate it, the Bush National Security Strategy of 2002 was a truly innovative and influential document that will be long remembered for declaring the need for preventative action against aggressors and terrorists. Eight years later, I can still recalls some of its lines: “The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology” and “America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.”

There is no such intellectual groundbreaking in the Obama document, which is, as Peter Feaver notes, more than anything a continuation, with some slight adjustments, of the National Security Strategy produced by the Bush administration in its second term.

You remember that Bush National Security Strategy of 2006, don’t you? No? You don’t? Well I suspect you won’t remember the Obama strategy of 2010 either.

Read Less

Yawn II: A Dangerous and Inexplicable Boredom

If your Spider Sense told you there was something significant about Friday’s news of Iranian forces taking over an Iraqi oil well – then it’s functioning properly. The U.S. government’s information mechanisms, on the other hand? Not so much. Our officials have given the absurd impression that this is no big deal. Such incidents, we are informed, “occur quite frequently” in the disputed Iran-Iraq border area. (So do a lot of things that we nevertheless bother to warn perpetrators about.) State Department spokesman Robert Wood noted, with an air of giving the correct answer on an oral pop quiz, that the U.S. military was aware of the incident. Then he referred media questions to the Iraqi authorities.

This ineffable performance merits an award for its misleading banality and buck-passing. Given the obviousness of the border incident’s current context, meanwhile – let alone the historical context – real determination is required to ignore it.

The oilfield in question lies in Iraq’s Maysan Province, which has gained fame as the principal geographic corridor between Iran and its insurgent clients in southeastern Iraq. For reasons geographic, commercial, military, and even ethnic, there is nothing random about seizing an oil well in that area. The Iranians wouldn’t be thinking only about oil assets either. In this desolate border territory, an oil well is a major terrain feature: a structure whose control has tactical import.

But, of course, the Iranians are thinking about oil too. Tehran is currently being sidelined from a key event in the region; foreign oil companies were finally awarded contracts last week to develop southern Iraq’s biggest oilfields (map here), and will soon be flooding the country. The huge resulting increase in Iraqi oil traffic and revenues will involve at least some areas Iran claims as its territory. Converging with this development are looming transfers of security responsibility from U.S. forces to the Iraqi army.  The transfers alone would make fresh Iranian maneuvers inevitable. In southeastern Iraq in particular, the U.S. 34th Infantry Division, currently charged with the security of Maysan Province, is scheduled to turn over its headquarters base in Basra to the Iraqis in January 2010. That’s only a few weeks from now.

As Iranian probes increase, the Iraqis won’t always lend clarity to events. Their initial difficulty getting their story straight on the oil-well seizure portends frustrating dramas as our forces draw down, with disputed reports, conflicting official statements, and everyone advancing his pet conspiracy theory. It’s way too early in the drawdown to make “Ask the Iraqis” the answer to every question.

None of this is specifically attributable to Barack Obama being in the Oval Office. But a worsening trend will be the fault of American passivity. We don’t have to have an opinion on the outline of the Iran-Iraq border to affirm pointedly that a peaceful resolution of the border dispute is a U.S. national security concern. We should have done that Friday. If nothing else, we still have over 100,000 soldiers in Iraq. It’s basic self-interest to act like we care what happens there.

If your Spider Sense told you there was something significant about Friday’s news of Iranian forces taking over an Iraqi oil well – then it’s functioning properly. The U.S. government’s information mechanisms, on the other hand? Not so much. Our officials have given the absurd impression that this is no big deal. Such incidents, we are informed, “occur quite frequently” in the disputed Iran-Iraq border area. (So do a lot of things that we nevertheless bother to warn perpetrators about.) State Department spokesman Robert Wood noted, with an air of giving the correct answer on an oral pop quiz, that the U.S. military was aware of the incident. Then he referred media questions to the Iraqi authorities.

This ineffable performance merits an award for its misleading banality and buck-passing. Given the obviousness of the border incident’s current context, meanwhile – let alone the historical context – real determination is required to ignore it.

The oilfield in question lies in Iraq’s Maysan Province, which has gained fame as the principal geographic corridor between Iran and its insurgent clients in southeastern Iraq. For reasons geographic, commercial, military, and even ethnic, there is nothing random about seizing an oil well in that area. The Iranians wouldn’t be thinking only about oil assets either. In this desolate border territory, an oil well is a major terrain feature: a structure whose control has tactical import.

But, of course, the Iranians are thinking about oil too. Tehran is currently being sidelined from a key event in the region; foreign oil companies were finally awarded contracts last week to develop southern Iraq’s biggest oilfields (map here), and will soon be flooding the country. The huge resulting increase in Iraqi oil traffic and revenues will involve at least some areas Iran claims as its territory. Converging with this development are looming transfers of security responsibility from U.S. forces to the Iraqi army.  The transfers alone would make fresh Iranian maneuvers inevitable. In southeastern Iraq in particular, the U.S. 34th Infantry Division, currently charged with the security of Maysan Province, is scheduled to turn over its headquarters base in Basra to the Iraqis in January 2010. That’s only a few weeks from now.

As Iranian probes increase, the Iraqis won’t always lend clarity to events. Their initial difficulty getting their story straight on the oil-well seizure portends frustrating dramas as our forces draw down, with disputed reports, conflicting official statements, and everyone advancing his pet conspiracy theory. It’s way too early in the drawdown to make “Ask the Iraqis” the answer to every question.

None of this is specifically attributable to Barack Obama being in the Oval Office. But a worsening trend will be the fault of American passivity. We don’t have to have an opinion on the outline of the Iran-Iraq border to affirm pointedly that a peaceful resolution of the border dispute is a U.S. national security concern. We should have done that Friday. If nothing else, we still have over 100,000 soldiers in Iraq. It’s basic self-interest to act like we care what happens there.

Read Less

Re: Heads Begin to Roll

John, the put-their-fingers-in-their-ears-and-hum reaction of the White House is, if nothing else, ironic. Remember, this was the crowd that excoriated the Bush administration for buying into the groupthink of every Western power that Iraq was in possession of WMDs. No excuse! The fix must have been in! The excuse that there was unanimity among Western intelligence agencies and our own intelligence professionals carried no weight. And this was also the crowd that was going to take “politics out of science” — the inference being that only Neanderthal conservatives could question certain scientific truths or stand in the way of “progress.”

Now that we have overwhelming evidence of the danger of groupthink and of the triumph of ideological preconceptions over data collection, the Obami want to hear none of it. It is, if nothing else, an example of how dearly the liberal political class clings to the security blanket of “science” to push its big-government agenda. It’s not enough to want to lessen our dependence on foreign oil or create jobs by developing domestic energy resources. There had to be a crisis to create a sense of urgency and justify huge taxes and regulatory controls. So it’s not surprising that when the “science” justifying the “crisis” is called into doubt, those pushing the extreme green agenda want to run the other way.

Unfortunately, as you point out, the cat is out of the bag, and there is a full-fledged scandal. And the Obami couldn’t even release the news on a Friday. It seems the social engineers will have their hands full trying to convince us that there is nothing to see after all. Just move along.

John, the put-their-fingers-in-their-ears-and-hum reaction of the White House is, if nothing else, ironic. Remember, this was the crowd that excoriated the Bush administration for buying into the groupthink of every Western power that Iraq was in possession of WMDs. No excuse! The fix must have been in! The excuse that there was unanimity among Western intelligence agencies and our own intelligence professionals carried no weight. And this was also the crowd that was going to take “politics out of science” — the inference being that only Neanderthal conservatives could question certain scientific truths or stand in the way of “progress.”

Now that we have overwhelming evidence of the danger of groupthink and of the triumph of ideological preconceptions over data collection, the Obami want to hear none of it. It is, if nothing else, an example of how dearly the liberal political class clings to the security blanket of “science” to push its big-government agenda. It’s not enough to want to lessen our dependence on foreign oil or create jobs by developing domestic energy resources. There had to be a crisis to create a sense of urgency and justify huge taxes and regulatory controls. So it’s not surprising that when the “science” justifying the “crisis” is called into doubt, those pushing the extreme green agenda want to run the other way.

Unfortunately, as you point out, the cat is out of the bag, and there is a full-fledged scandal. And the Obami couldn’t even release the news on a Friday. It seems the social engineers will have their hands full trying to convince us that there is nothing to see after all. Just move along.

Read Less

Finally, Embrace the Obvious

The Washington Post employs the passive voice in its lede on the newfound fondness for nuclear power:

Nuclear power — long considered environmentally hazardous — is emerging as perhaps the world’s most unlikely weapon against climate change, with the backing of even some green activists who once campaigned against it.

Considered by whom, exactly? Well, by the green activists who never had a good explanation for why nuclear power wasn’t the solution to the hysteria they were creating over global warming and to the more realistic concern about lessening our dependence on foreign oil. Now we know that it was the anti-nuclear-power forces that have managed to block plants from being built for the past 13 years. But around the world, it’s a different story:

From China to Brazil, 53 plants are now under construction worldwide, with Poland, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia seeking to build their first reactors, according to global watchdog groups and industry associations. The number of plants being built is double the total of just five years ago.

Even in the U.S., the Obami are grudgingly eying nuclear power, and some green groups are throwing in the towel on opposing a clean source of domestic power. The fanaticism of the antinuclear forces, however, has not been without a cost. After all, we’ve used all that fossil fuel and delayed the building of any nuclear plants for more than a decade. The former head of Greenpeace in Britain announces: “Like many of us, I began to slowly realize we don’t have the luxury anymore of excluding nuclear energy. … We need all the help we can get.”

Of course, we didn’t have the luxury of doing so back then either, but the politicians were cowed by groups like Greenpeace. Now we’ll have to scramble to catch up, if in fact the iron grip of anti-nuclear-power activists is broken. Perhaps next we’ll get around to developing domestic supplies of oil and natural gas. But let’s not get carried away.

The Washington Post employs the passive voice in its lede on the newfound fondness for nuclear power:

Nuclear power — long considered environmentally hazardous — is emerging as perhaps the world’s most unlikely weapon against climate change, with the backing of even some green activists who once campaigned against it.

Considered by whom, exactly? Well, by the green activists who never had a good explanation for why nuclear power wasn’t the solution to the hysteria they were creating over global warming and to the more realistic concern about lessening our dependence on foreign oil. Now we know that it was the anti-nuclear-power forces that have managed to block plants from being built for the past 13 years. But around the world, it’s a different story:

From China to Brazil, 53 plants are now under construction worldwide, with Poland, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia seeking to build their first reactors, according to global watchdog groups and industry associations. The number of plants being built is double the total of just five years ago.

Even in the U.S., the Obami are grudgingly eying nuclear power, and some green groups are throwing in the towel on opposing a clean source of domestic power. The fanaticism of the antinuclear forces, however, has not been without a cost. After all, we’ve used all that fossil fuel and delayed the building of any nuclear plants for more than a decade. The former head of Greenpeace in Britain announces: “Like many of us, I began to slowly realize we don’t have the luxury anymore of excluding nuclear energy. … We need all the help we can get.”

Of course, we didn’t have the luxury of doing so back then either, but the politicians were cowed by groups like Greenpeace. Now we’ll have to scramble to catch up, if in fact the iron grip of anti-nuclear-power activists is broken. Perhaps next we’ll get around to developing domestic supplies of oil and natural gas. But let’s not get carried away.

Read Less

Obama’s Energy Nonsense

Barack Obama spent a few minutes condemning the Bush administration for failing to have an energy policy. An hour later, he turns around and announces opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste storage facility — which is key if we are to come up with an energy policy to replace national dependence on foreign oil through the deployment of nuclear power. All the Democrats oppose Yucca Mountain, and why? Because it’s in Nevada, they’re in Nevada, Nevada Democrats don’t like it, and the liberal stance on nuclear power remains wildly irresponsible.

Barack Obama spent a few minutes condemning the Bush administration for failing to have an energy policy. An hour later, he turns around and announces opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste storage facility — which is key if we are to come up with an energy policy to replace national dependence on foreign oil through the deployment of nuclear power. All the Democrats oppose Yucca Mountain, and why? Because it’s in Nevada, they’re in Nevada, Nevada Democrats don’t like it, and the liberal stance on nuclear power remains wildly irresponsible.

Read Less

Don’t Trust the Experts

Max Boot’s insistence that only climatologists should be allowed to comment on global warming is bizarre, and actually anti-scientific, if you think about it. As I’ve pointed out before, science is not some kind of cabal, or a secret society open only to initiates; the beauty of science is that the evidence is there for everyone to look at and interpret. (This is why Al Gore, an ex-politician who earned a D in a college course called “Man’s Place in Nature,” feels qualified to disagree with Richard Lindzen, the Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT.) The “consensus” offered in the IPCC Summary for Policymakers is not evidence, but the interpretation of evidence that’s been sanctioned by a particular body of scientists. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right one—especially if that body has been engineered to exclude or put pressure on scientists with other views.

The cancer analogy Mr. Boot offers doesn’t make much sense. When an oncologist tells you that you have cancer, you’re dealing with something that can be proven beyond a doubt—usually by looking at a biopsy sample. By contrast, the worry about global warming involves changes that are merely predicted to occur with more or less likelihood. In most cases, the predictions are based on trends whose existence can’t even be established with certainty. There’s no gold standard here; there’s only a set of assumptions and the statistical models built around them. You don’t have to be a climatologist to understand the potential pitfalls of making predictions this way.

A better analogy would be asking twenty oncologists about the odds that you’ll develop cancer at some point in the near future. It’s almost impossible to imagine that you’d get the same answer from all of them, and some of their guesses might be no better than a meteorologist’s—especially if the meteorologist has read the literature on cancer risk factors, as anyone with a basic understanding of statistics and experimental design can easily do. In fact, such a meteorologist might be able to tell you that the “consensus” of medical professionals on cancer detection and prevention often has no basis in fact. Of course, it’s cheap and easy to eat more fiber, or to do a breast self-exam (neither has been proven to reduce cancer mortality), so one might as well do these things. Cutting carbon dioxide emissions in half, by contrast, is neither cheap nor easy.

One might ask, moreover, why Mr. Boot feels that the “policy implications” of global warming are something that can be discussed without any scientific literacy. Consider his recommendation that we end sugar subsidies to make sugar-derived ethanol cheaper. What makes Mr. Boot think that burning ethanol would contribute less to climate change than burning fossil fuels? Isn’t this also a scientific question?

I certainly agree with Mr. Boot that it would be desirable for us to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but the argument for this doesn’t have to invoke the bogeyman of climate change.

Max Boot’s insistence that only climatologists should be allowed to comment on global warming is bizarre, and actually anti-scientific, if you think about it. As I’ve pointed out before, science is not some kind of cabal, or a secret society open only to initiates; the beauty of science is that the evidence is there for everyone to look at and interpret. (This is why Al Gore, an ex-politician who earned a D in a college course called “Man’s Place in Nature,” feels qualified to disagree with Richard Lindzen, the Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT.) The “consensus” offered in the IPCC Summary for Policymakers is not evidence, but the interpretation of evidence that’s been sanctioned by a particular body of scientists. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right one—especially if that body has been engineered to exclude or put pressure on scientists with other views.

The cancer analogy Mr. Boot offers doesn’t make much sense. When an oncologist tells you that you have cancer, you’re dealing with something that can be proven beyond a doubt—usually by looking at a biopsy sample. By contrast, the worry about global warming involves changes that are merely predicted to occur with more or less likelihood. In most cases, the predictions are based on trends whose existence can’t even be established with certainty. There’s no gold standard here; there’s only a set of assumptions and the statistical models built around them. You don’t have to be a climatologist to understand the potential pitfalls of making predictions this way.

A better analogy would be asking twenty oncologists about the odds that you’ll develop cancer at some point in the near future. It’s almost impossible to imagine that you’d get the same answer from all of them, and some of their guesses might be no better than a meteorologist’s—especially if the meteorologist has read the literature on cancer risk factors, as anyone with a basic understanding of statistics and experimental design can easily do. In fact, such a meteorologist might be able to tell you that the “consensus” of medical professionals on cancer detection and prevention often has no basis in fact. Of course, it’s cheap and easy to eat more fiber, or to do a breast self-exam (neither has been proven to reduce cancer mortality), so one might as well do these things. Cutting carbon dioxide emissions in half, by contrast, is neither cheap nor easy.

One might ask, moreover, why Mr. Boot feels that the “policy implications” of global warming are something that can be discussed without any scientific literacy. Consider his recommendation that we end sugar subsidies to make sugar-derived ethanol cheaper. What makes Mr. Boot think that burning ethanol would contribute less to climate change than burning fossil fuels? Isn’t this also a scientific question?

I certainly agree with Mr. Boot that it would be desirable for us to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but the argument for this doesn’t have to invoke the bogeyman of climate change.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.