Saturday, May 12, 2007

Only Halfway There


By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
The New York Times
May 13, 2007

I’m glad Democrats are keeping the pressure on President Bush for a withdrawal date from Iraq. It’s the only way to keep him and Iraqis focused on the endgame. But if Democrats really want to be taken seriously on foreign affairs, they need to recognize that they have only half a policy on Iraq. And it’s the easy half.

You can’t be in favor of setting a date to withdraw from Iraq without also being in favor of a serious energy policy to radically reduce our dependence on oil — now. To call for withdrawing from Iraq by a set date, no matter what the situation is on the ground there — without a serious energy plan here — is reckless. All we would be doing is making ourselves more dependent on an even more unstable Middle East, because any U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is likely, in the short run, to be destabilizing.

The Middle East today is deeply troubled. If we determine that our efforts to tilt that region in a different direction — by building a decent Iraq — have failed, then our efforts to minimize our exposure to that region have to begin. But the last thing we can afford to do is walk away from the Middle East militarily while remaining chained to it economically.

More important, if Iraq totally fails, but we still believe it is in our interest to promote reform in the Middle East, a serious U.S. energy policy that permanently brings down the price of oil — by developing scalable alternative energies — is actually the best Plan B there is. You will see reform in the Arab-Muslim world only when regimes there can’t survive just by extracting oil, but have to extract the talents of their people by educating, empowering and connecting them.

But to hasten that day, Democrats have to be a lot more serious about energy than they have been up to now. Everyone has an energy plan for 2020. But we need one for 2007 that will start to have an impact by 2008 — and there is only one way to do that: get the price of oil right. Either tax gasoline by another 50 cents to $1 a gallon at the pump, or set a $50 floor price per barrel of oil sold in America. Once energy entrepreneurs know they will never again be undercut by cheap oil, you’ll see an explosion of innovation in alternatives.

“Right now we’re looking for solutions in all the wrong places,” argues the noted oil economist Philip Verleger. “The only way one can effectively address this problem today and get an immediate kick is by raising the price at the pump and keeping it there.” Some of the revenue could be used to buy back the most fuel-inefficient vehicles on our roads, he added. “The best monument to 9/11 we could erect would be a mountain of crushed gas guzzlers.”

There are some hopeful signs: Chris Dodd has just broken ranks and become the first presidential candidate to issue a serious, comprehensive energy plan that includes the “T word.” He has called for a “corporate carbon tax” that would both help fight global warming emissions and raise gasoline prices.

“You say the word ‘tax’ and people usually head for the hills,” Mr. Dodd told me. “But this is one where the American people can handle the truth. Unless you address the issue of price, you’re not serious about moving us from Point A to Point B.”

Barack Obama also just got right in Detroit’s face. He went to Motown, called for much tougher fuel economy standards and bluntly told automakers and autoworkers the truth: “For years, while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American automakers were spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars. Whenever an attempt was made to raise our fuel efficiency standards, the auto companies would lobby furiously against it, spending millions to prevent the very reform that could’ve saved their industry.” Those are fightin’ words!

Finally, in a move that also merits praise, General Motors announced that it was joining other major U.S. corporations, like General Electric, and signing on to the United States Climate Action Partnership (U.S.C.A.P.), which calls for a cap-and-trade program to control carbon dioxide emissions. G.M. is the first auto company to do so.

None of these go far enough, but they are all new positions and may be harbingers of a new competition in which companies and candidates try to outdo each other in being serious about energy rather than phony. That would be a big deal — and it might give the Democrats a more comprehensive Iraq policy just in the nick of time.

You can’t be serious about getting out of Iraq if you’re not serious about getting off oil.

, , , , , , , ,

1 Comments:

Blogger Find A Small School said...

Thank you for posting the Friedman column. This is a vital message. I'm switching to an electric car from www.ampmobiles.com

Steve McCrea
www.WhyWaitForDetroit.com

6:28 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Link

Web Site Hit Counters
High Speed Internet Services