Friday, April 4, 2008

Almost Brilliant

I was listening to one of the right wing talk show hosts recently. I believe it was Glenn Beck but they all tend to run together in my mind. Whoever it was, was making an almost brilliant comparison between the United States and the Soviet Union just before the Soviet’s collapsed.

He pointed to three factors that led to the Soviet collapse and drew comparisons to the U.S. today. First, the Soviets were in a drawn out, expensive and unpopular war in Afghanistan. Second, the Soviets were in a arms race with the U.S. The Soviets were paying for both the war and the arms race by exporting oil. The third factor was a dramatic decline in the price of oil. At the much lower price, the Soviet economy could not afford to maintain either the war or the arms race and it went bankrupt before it could find an exit strategy for either of them.

Obviously, the U.S. is in a war in Iraq with no reasonable exit strategy. Final estimates for the war’s cost are between one and seven trillion dollars, assuming we engineer an exit strategy soon.

Although Glenn didn’t mention an arms race, we face several prospective races. The Russians are again exporting oil at high prices and are using the income to rebuild their military. They have had their bombers approach uncomfortably close to U.S. Navy ships. Russia is also using some of its neighbors’ dependence on Russian natural gas to extend influence across Asia and into Europe. China is using American dollars their earn by selling the American consumer cheap toxic crap to expand its military. Additionally, it is expanding its interest base across the Middle East and into Africa. China has an additional weapon of mass destruction aimed at the U.S. Their central bank has been hoarding dollars to influence the exchange rate. If they dumped all of the dollars they own at once, it will give the dollar a blow that will weaken it well beyond this little fainting spell we are currently experiencing. China may well decide to use their new military strength to take Taiwan, a U.S. ally. The European Union may finally effectively become one nation. It may take decades for their many armies to become an effective fighting force but even a disjointed force of so many countries will need to be taken into consideration. Than add the weight of many other smaller anti-American countries, many of which are using oil profits to build military and regional political strengths, such as Venezuela, Iran and North Korea. The Japanese are also slowly evolving their defensive military, as defined by the American written constitution at the end of World War II, into a more offensive force. The United States will have no option but to build and maintain a stronger and more flexible military than ever before.

Finally, the U.S. is an oil importer and the price of oil has taken off like a rocket. Since we are a fossil fuel powered nation, the cost of oil is forcing all other costs to rise. We may quickly find ourselves in a position of inflation and economic stagnation.

It we continue to follow this path, we may well follow the Soviet Union into bankruptcy and eventual collapse. Glenn used these arguments to suggest that the U.S. put aside our principals and torture suspected terrorists. While fun, torture isn’t going to do anything to help save us from ourselves. That’s why I’m only going to give Glenn an “almost brilliant” ranking.

We need to consider what we can do to chance the course of these factors. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is much we can or would want to do to reduce military spending in the face of the dangerous world we are in. Sure, we need to make sure we are spending smartly and efficiently. Wasteful spending and misappropriation of military funds should be considered treason. That’ll help but no so much.

The first thing we can do is to draw the quickest and most efficient line to victory in Iraq and then get out of Iraq. We shouldn’t have fought this war in the first place but we did. We’ve made a mess and now have to clean it up, but let’s do so quickly and go home.
The most important strategy we can take is to destroy the price of oil. This will help reduce American imports and it will reduce the amount of money oil rice American hating countries have to build weapons. Destroying the price of oil will actually be easier than it sounds, once the politicians get out of the oil companies’ pockets. There are three steps. First, increase domestic production of oil. Second, create incentives for Americans (and the world) to conserve oil. Third, greatly expand domestic production of oil alternatives.

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