Sunday, September 18, 2005

nukes, bribes, and poles

Captain's Quarters reports that both France and Russia are helping Iran to avoid international pressure over it's nuclear program. Doesn't this sound familiar? Weren't France and Russia at the forefront of efforts to protect Saddam? We now know that there was bribery at high levels in the Oil For Food program and that some people who supported Saddam were beneficiary of the bribes. We also know that both France and Russia were involved. Now we have another situation where a terrorist-supporting country with a lot of money is engaged in activities which ought to have everyone's hair standing on end, and it is getting support from Russia and France.

Why in the world would they be doing that? We can dismiss their own explanations out of hand. They don't care about Iran or the other nations that might benefit from these programs. And although simple anti-Americanism might be a partial explanation, surely they wouldn't be that reckless out of simple resentment.

No, the only reasonable explanation here is bribery. Whether personal (in the form of payoffs) or national (in the form of sweet oil deals) remains to be seen.

Either way, the US has to adjust to the fact that we no longer live in the unipolar world that we have enjoyed since the fall of the Soviet Union. The repeated actions of Russia, France, and some other European nations show that we are facing, not just a few religious fanatics, but a coalition of oil-exporting nations (I'm including Venezuela) supported by Islamists and several second-tier powers like France, Russia, and Germany. This coalition is not only working against US interests; I believe some members are actively trying to expand their territory by fomenting and funding revolutions. China, by contrast is a distant threat.

The US needs to start taking this coalition seriously. One thing we need to do now is to take whatever drastic measures are necessary to end our oil dependence in the shortest time possible. Imagine if during the Cold War we had been dependent on the Soviet Union or her satellites for 60% of our energy resources. How could we possibly have won the war under those circumstances?

There are two things that the government has to do. First, they need begin a program of taxing crude oil and raising the tax gradually to make oil less and less attractive as an energy source. They need to let industry know where the taxes are headed so that companies can plan for ways to avoid the expense (at the same time, reducing their dependence on oil). Second, the government needs to make it cheaper to build atomic power plants by eliminating the endless legal challenges.

These two changes would encourage and allow the free market to solve the problem for us. What is depressing is the certainty that no one in the Federal government has the motivation or the courage to do either thing.

UPDATE: There is a discussion going on over at Dean's World about biofuels. My position is that we should not subsidize these petroleum alternatives (or nuclear power, for that matter). Rather we should get rid of the artificial constraints on nuclear power and then raise taxes on petroleum to reflect the true cost to America of being so dependent on foreign sources of energy. Let the free market find the best alternatives, whether biofuels, nuclear, some process involving coal, or even one of the green alternatives like solar, wind or wave if they can be made to work more economically than the others.

By the way, one alternative is not to tax all petroleum, but rather to just put heavy tariffs on petroleum from outside the US. This would alter the incentives a bit so that in addition to favoring slightly more expensive biofuels, it would also encourage the exploitation of hard-to-extract source of petroleum in the US. I feel that we would be better off finding alternatives to petroleum than new sources of petroleum, so I slightly prefer the tax to the tariff.

Also, I would also demand a corresponding reduction in other taxes so that the overall tax burden on the economy does not increase.

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