Insight

A Nation Hung by a Thread

On his way to Israel, Colin Powell was kept waiting for two hours by the King of Morocco, then openly chastised during a press conference. On his way back, the President of Egypt refused even to see him.

Just weeks ago, Vice President Cheneys mission to the Arab countries to gain support for military action against Iraq failed.

Last week, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was deposed in a coup detat that was condemned by every Latin American democracy. The United States did not do so. Two days later, it collapsed and Chavez returned to power. The US was strongly criticized by all of Latin America, and lost tremendous credibility. Even though the White House claimed that it had not sanctioned the coup, it admitted that we had discussed a change of government with Venezuelan leaders. The speed with which we recognized the new government has caused the Latin American press, in general, to assume that we did, in fact, sanction or even engineer the coup.

Also last week, at a major environmental meeting in Canada, delegation head after delegation head stood up to condemn US environmental policy, and specifically our abandonment of the Kyoto Agreement.

In India, the government rejected a power plant proposal that had been championed by the US because it would have caused an increase in power costs that Indians can ill afford. The plant would have been situated in an area rich in coal but powered by liquefied natural gas shipped in from the Middle East, an energy source already more than four times as expensive as local coal. The company proposing to build the plant and the company that owns the liquefied natural gas are both the same: Enron.

Across Europe, Latin America and Asia, American prestige is at its lowest ebb in modern history. The myth that we do not depend on good relations with other countries for prosperity here at home is just that: a myth. A nation that is as heavily reliant upon foreign oil as ours is in no position to alienate most of the rest of the planet.

But that is what we are doing, and it is a perilous course to follow, radically different from the foreign policies of all past presidents since Franklin Roosevelt, and completely at odds with the policies of Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George Bush and Clinton, the six presidents who have been stewards of our country during the era of its dependency on foreign oil. All of these presidents, despite their differing ideologies, shared common ground when it came to foreign policy: America must engage on behalf of democracy worldwide and maintaining American influence.

The idea that drilling for oil in the Alaskan far north will somehow improve our dependency posture is false. At best, it will result in a slight reduction in our dependency. At worst and this is why so far no major oil companies have committed themselves to drilling if congress allows itit will turn out that there isnt much viable oil there.

As a matter of national security, the United States should have been aggressively pursuing a policy of reducing dependence on foreign oil in the most efficient possible way, by conservation. Both Toyota and Honda now offer cars that vastly reduce gas consumption. Decisive leadership from Washington could spur other automakers to offer the same thing. Instead, we get a policy that is bound to increase our dependence, to our great national peril.

Right now, Iraq and Iran are seeking to embargo oil, to starve the United States into abandoning Israel. Venezuela, newly radicalized by our policy failure, is likely to become even more friendly to this idea.

If the already unstable Saudi government were to fall to the radical Muslims who are the majority in that country, it could be that this international friendship, upon which our country absolutely depends for its welfare, will be gone. For if Saudi Arabia were to join the embargo camp, we would be at its mercy.

The radical Muslim community knows this, and is actively seeking to undermine the Saudi regime. The whole world knows it, and the mere fact that it is true undermines our position.

American power, which presently seems so invincible, actually hangs by the thread of a single, shaky government. No administration, pursuing an effective, intelligently designed foreign policy, should ever have let us get into this dangerous situation.

(The author of this article is involved in policy analysis. He contributed this article on condition that he remain anonymous.)

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