2003 July 08 Tuesday
Intervention In Liberia Linked To Oil Dependency

Writing for The National Review James H. Robbins makes an argument for intervention in Liberia.

A stable, democratic, U.S.-leaning Liberia could serve as an important forward base to defend U.S. interests and promote regional stability. Liberia would be the Western counterpart of the expanding U.S. base in Djibouti, established to block terrorist escape routes from the Middle East into East Africa. Liberia is also located along the shipping lanes for energy resources coming from Nigeria (already a major oil supplier to the U.S.), and potential untapped future energy supplies from Sao Tome and Principe.

Note the assumptions here. He assumes it is within the power of the United States to create stable democracy in Liberia. Is that even possible? Most likely Liberia could be made to have a democracy under the guidance of an essentially benevolent sustained US military occupation. Defenders would say it was not colonialism. Certainly it would not be done to exploit the locals and the locals would be given a great deal of autonomy from the occupation forces. But it would be a form of colonial rule, albeit as a newer and more politically correct neocolonialism which the European Left might even look upon favorably (and then again, maybe not).

That British flagship of politically correct Leftist thought, The Guardian, has an article about US intervention in Liberia that emphasises the oil supply protection rationale for intervention in Liberia.

At a meeting organised last month by the Corporate Council on Africa, a senior CIA official, David Gordon, predicted that over the next decade African oil would be potentially more important to the US than Russia or the Caucasus. According to other participants at the meeting, he went on to warn however that over the following decade the oil industry ran the risk of imploding as a result of the region's inherent instability, unless the US did more to prop it up.

The world's dependence on oil is funding the spread of militant Islam, funding terrorism, and causing the United States to spend a lot of money and to deploy soldiers to far-flung locations in the world. Under the circumstances many of those deployments and expenditures of cash may even be fully necessary. But keep in mind that as the US extends its military presence to more places and ups its level of involvement in those places the costs for keeping the oil flowing are rising for the American taxpayer even while the spread of Islam and the funding of terrorism are still increasing the costs and risks to the US and other countries in other ways. While current force deployments may be necessary for short to medium term goals it is not clear that current strategy is adequate. At the same time current US strategy is expensive and risky.

Saudi money is promoting the spread of Wahhabi Islam in Indonesia. (NY Times requires free registration)

Until recently, Indonesia has been famously relaxed about its religion. But slowly Indonesians are becoming more devout and in the battle for the soul of Islam here the Saudis are playing an important though stealthy role, Indonesian scholars say.

The Saudi money has come in two forms, Indonesian and Western officials said: above-board funds for religious and educational purposes, and quietly disbursed funds for militant Islamic groups. The Saudi money has had a profound effect on extremist groups, allowing some to keep going and inspiring others to start recruiting, the officials said.

Well this is bad. If Islam is just another peaceful religion (okay, stop laughing) then why shouldn't the Saudis be free to spread their version of it? After all, they occupy the lands where it originated. Who are we (can't be getting judgemental about the beliefs of other cultures, to do that would be intolerant and un-P.C.) to judge the Wahhabis and say their interpretation of Islam is wrong? After all, the Koran does have a number of verses that support the rather dim view that Wahhabis take of non-believers.

The problem that the US faces in battling with Islam as an ideology is that no how no way are the majority of government leaders and intellectual elites going to say that Islam itself is the enemy. Battle against Islam at the level at which communism was battled (e.g. keeping communists from coming to the country, teaching, getting sensitive jobs) just isn't in the cards. Yet the US is about to build up its presence in West Africa in part because we want to get more of our oil from non-Middle Eastern places. And, again, that might even be a wise thing to do in the short term. But what is our long term strategy?

In my view one essential element of a long term strategy that would attempt to deal with the underlying problem posed by militant Islam would be to eliminate the need to use oil as an energy source by developing other energy sources that will turn out to be cheaper in the long run. If we can succeed in doing this we will eventually deprive the Saudis and other Muslim states of the money that now goes to spreading Islamic religious and ideological beliefs (an excellent argument can be made that Islam is inherently an ideology btw). What are our alternatives to doing that? The Saudis are not going to change all that much for the better. We could invade and split the Eastern Saudi oil fields off into a new country populated by the Shias who live in that area. That'd at least take those revenues away from the Wahhabis. But there is little support for that idea - in large part because there is a reluctance to make any move that seems like a more direct attack on any part of Islam. As long as we treat religions as inherently purer than secular ideologies I see little hope for military means to defund the spread of Islam.

A better approach would be to develop technologies that would eventually lead us to methods of producing energy that would be cheaper than oil. However, at this time we just are not trying that hard to develop replacements for fossil fuels even though we are expending hundreds of billions on the military. Plus, we are spending nearly $100 billion a year to import oil and that amount is going to increase as demand rises.

When I compare the amount of money spent on solar energy research (it is in the few tens of millions for effective basic research - not to be confused with dumb tax write-offs for installing current generation solar equipment and other boondoggles) with the money that is spent on the military and on oil imports it makes no sense to me. We face an ideological foe that may gain nuclear weapons deliverable by terrorists into our cities. We are spending hundreds of billions to try to manage the problem. And yet we are not willing to attack the roots of the problem.

The only argument that I can see that could be made against energy replacement research as an element of grand strategy against radical Islam is that there may simply not be technological solutions that will produce cheaper energy. That seems unreasonable to me. Such an argument strikes me as analogous to someone saying before Edison that we'll never discover a cheap long-lasting material that can glow in response to electricity passing thru it. We already know that, for instance, photons can cause electrons to flow in some forms of photovoltaic materials. Also, there are promising approaches for lowering the cost of photovoltaics by orders of magnitude using thin films, precisely spaced fullerene bucky balls, and other methods. Solutions can be found. We just have to find them. Our national security would be enhanced, our costs of defense would be lowered, and our import costs would be lowered if we found these solutions sooner rather than later.

Update: 1996 winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of the buckminsterfullerene (aka fullerene or ''buckyball") Dr. Richard Smalley. testifying before the US House Of Representatives Subcommittee On Energy Committee On Science says technological solutions to our energy problems are there waiting to be discovered.

I will get right to the point. Energy is the single most important problem facing humanity today. We must find an alternative to oil. We need to somehow provide clean, abundant, low-cost energy throughout the world to the six billion people that live on the planet today and the ten-plus billion that are expected by the middle of this century. As cheaper, cleaner, more universally available this new energy technology is, the better we will be able to avoid the human suffering and the major upheavals of war and terrorism.

Even though the problem of energy has vast political, economic, and social aspects that have been at the root of most wars and much of the political strife for the last century, it is only a technical problem. There will be a technical solution; we just need to find it.

...

Nature has already given us one such reactor and provided the necessary distance and shielding. It is our sun. There is plenty of energy from this natural fusion reactor to provide all our energy needs for centuries to come. We just don't know how to harvest it, store it, to transport it, and to use it in the amounts we need.

I believe the DOE Office of Science can find answers to how to do this. The technology that will do what we need does not yet exist. It will come from discoveries in basic science and particularly from nanotechnology. The biggest breakthrough will come in some, perhaps, small lab in some surprising way, perhaps made by some brilliant, young black woman who is currently not even out of high school. It will come from a garden of science, cultivated by DOE's Office of Science.

...

We need to find that new energy technology, and do it quickly.

I believe the U.S. should launch a 1B$/yr program within the Office of Science to find this answer, and plan to ramp this up to over $10B in 5 years. The new energy program must be big enough to inspire and capture the imagination of our nation's youth, get them to choose a career in science because of their idealism, and their sense of mission. And the program must be bold enough to actually make the necessary scientific breakthroughs happen.

Smalley is talking about an effort that is in a ballpark in terms of money that would still only amount to a few percent of what the US spends on the military. The total amount of money spent would be far less than the cost for the invasion of Iraq. Why not try it?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 July 08 04:09 PM  Politics Grand Strategy


Comments
perhaps... said at July 9, 2003 6:26 AM:

perhaps made by some brilliant, young black woman who is currently not even out of high school

Perhaps.

Roland said at November 29, 2005 2:39 PM:

Has anyone seen the hydrino theory?


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