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If Only
August 7, 2002
By Mike Shannon

Richard Nixon was, among other things, a mean spirited paranoid who deserves every ounce of contempt that he is so often remembered with. With that in mind, I compliment him with great reservation. However, truth be told, he was not without his uses. The primary one for the purpose of this discussion is his legacy-enhancing trip to China. While it would be overstating the case to credit this wholly unexpected stroke of genius with the subsequent dismantling of the USSR, it would be equally historically inaccurate to dismiss it as not being a part and parcel to that process.

The reason for the epoch changing success of this initiative was that broke a stalemate in strategic relations that had by almost universal acclaim come to be thought of as unbreakable. By forcing the Soviets to consider the prospect - however farfetched it might have been - that the Chinese would align themselves militarily with the US the status quo was shattered. This terrifying possibility of being confronted on both borders by hostile forces gave the gentlemen of the Politburo no alternative other than to dramatically over stretch their military resources. A development which directly contributed to the eventual collapse of their thoroughly anorexic economy.

While the strategic foresight that inspired the trip was realpolitik at its finest, only a bona fide commie hater like Dick Nixon could have carried it off. Any Democratic/leftist/liberal/pinko, President or otherwise, who had the nerve to attempt even suggest such blasphemy would have been swallowed whole by the right wing: they would have been lucky to only have been impeached. With Tricky Dick at the wheel, many on the right to do nothing more than sit quietly in the back seat in stunned silence as Mr Nixon drove off with his unlikely coup.

There exists a similar opportunity for our current President to play such an unexpected trump card. A move which would also lead directly to a realigning of global power structures. A move which would enhance the security, both militarily and economically, of the United States. And all without a shot being fired.

With the dismemberment of the International Communist Movement Islamic fundamentalism has taken its place as the premier threat to American/western interests. While the danger posed by the latter is vastly different in scale - as horrendous as the loss of life was on September 11 an attack by the Soviet Union on New York would have been incalculably more devastating - it obviously remains a formidable one. But whereas the Soviet Union was a military force that had the capacity to inflict cataclysmic damage on the United States, the Islamic extremists seek to wreak untold damage on our economic systems.

The key to their doing so lies in their ability to impact the smooth functioning of the world's oil markets. That they have the potential to do this is a unfortunate coincidence of theology, geology and geography. Were it not for overlap between where this movement's most militant adherents reside and the states in which the majority of the world's reserves of exportable oil lie, the struggle with Islamic fundamentalism would be waged within the confines of the umma. Making it of peripheral interest to the United States. If that were only so, people would still be calling the Windows on the World for dinner reservations.

As a parallel effort to meeting the threat posed by the Islamic extremists the most potentially productive long-term strategy would be to minimize the central point of contention. If these people wish to be left to themselves we should make every effort to oblige them. In one important way we have already taken steps to accomplish this. And it is with rich irony that we have turned to our former archenemy to assist us in that regard.

Although for a number of sensitive geo/political considerations it has not been trumpeted as another epoch changing breakthrough, our vastly improved and expanded relations with Russia have in many ways marked the beginning of the end of the predominance the Middle Eastern -- OPEC states have on world energy politics. But just as the meeting of Nixon and Mao marked the first step journey of ten thousand miles so too is there a long way to go in the shifting of power in the global oil business. Finding oil is the easy part; expanding the infrastructure necessary to extract, store, transport, refine and distribute the stuff is where the going gets tough. Although this development is well underway - the NY Times reports, Sunday August 4, that Russian production has now risen back to its pre-USSR breakup levels, making it once again second only to Saudi Arabia in daily output - it will still be a full decade at the least before the effects of the transformation are fully felt.

In the meantime and in order for this process to become fully actualized another crucial step must be taken. A step that puts Mr Bush at a strategic juncture similar to the one Mr Nixon found himself at three decades ago. And like Mr Nixon, Mr Bush is in a uniquely advantageous position to take America and the world down a new road. What it's going to take is the vision to grasp the long-term benefits to American society as a whole and the guts to implement it.

Switching our primary source of oil from a Mid-eastern/OPEC dominated few to a more diverse, more stable and more US friendly based source is only part of the solution. Even if our supply of oil was unassailably stable both in quantity and in price, all the latent problems of carbon based energy usage would remain at hand: diminished air quality, contribution to global warming and most importantly, a finite pool from which to draw. To paraphrase Einstein - you can't solve the problems of tomorrow using the same methodology that created the condition in the first place. A new and decidedly different approach is what is so sorely required.

As a certified member from birth of the Texas oilocracy George Bush is uniquely qualified to guide the United States into a future based on renewable sources of energy. Whereas someone such as Jimmy Carter, although eminently well intended, came across as an idealistic, cardigan sweater wearing dreamer, if Mr Bush would mount the bully pulpit and denounce the strategies and policies of the past as ones that have served their purpose and now must be discarded and thereby throw the weight of the Presidency behind this initiative he will perform a service of immeasurable benefit. Announcing to the world that from this day forward the United States would leave no stone unturned in a national drive for real and sustainable energy independence would be the mark of a visionary and statesman. If only he had the good sense and the courage to do it.

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