So what cards do the U.S. and its allies have to play? Short term, there is diplomatic hardball which would include threatening Russia with expulsion from the G8 (which was meant to be a club for industrialized democracies only), depriving Russia of any chance to host the next Olympics, and blackballing Russian membership in the World Trade Organization.
Longer term, addressing the West’s strategic vulnerability is imperative. Former CIA director Jim Woolsey points out that salt was, for centuries, a strategic resource. It was necessary for the preservation of food. Without it, soldiers could not travel and villagers risked starvation. Wars were fought over salt. As recently as the Civil War, Union and Confederate troops battled over saltworks in the South.
But technology — the advent of refrigeration — turned salt from a strategic resource into just another condiment. Similarly, technology can free the U.S. and the West from the tyranny of dependence on hostile regimes. We can innovate our way out of this crisis.
We don’t need a new Manhattan Project — we just need to open the energy marketplace, to spur more vibrant competition. Lawmakers can accomplish that by leveling the playing field between oil and alternative fuels, and by encouraging the development of technologies that will squeeze energy more efficiently and cleanly from coal (which the U.S. has in abundance) and from crops grown for this purpose. (And no, that doesn’t create hunger — not when American and European farmers are being paid to keep millions of acres of cropland fallow.)
It will help, too, to accelerate research on and development of cars that can run long distances on electricity — which can be derived from nuclear power facilities, wind farms, solar energy collectors, and many other sources.
Or we can sit back and watch as oil flows to us, while wealth and power flow to the despots ruling Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. We’ll burn the oil, they’ll amass the power. Our grandchildren will wonder why we were so feckless in the face of such a dire threat to our security and independence. But by then it may be too dangerous to ask such questions aloud.
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