Time for foreigners to pull their own weight

It is an axiom of leadership that the people you benefit will be ungrateful … until you are gone. This has been the U.S. fate for generations. We have protected the world and taken lots of crap for it. No more than in the Middle East. Well, children, your coming of age is here. As technologies like fracking make the U.S. becomes less and less dependent on foreign oil, we can give the middle finger salute to the region and let the Chinese pull their own weight in defending the black gold contained therein.

I wrote a note a few days ago about the U.S. becoming the world's biggest energy producer. This has important geopolitical consequences that people are only now beginning to recognize. Among those uneasy with this development are the Chinese. China has become OPEC's biggest customer. But China, like most of the world, has been riding free on America's security train. Oil flows freely from the Middle East and Chinese goods stream unvexed to the rest of the world largely because the U.S. Navy, in cooperation with a dwindling number of allies, makes it so.

We are only the latest in leaders who get despised for our efforts. The U.S. was able to grow and prosper in the 19th Century because we sheltered behind the Royal Navy. We defended our rich and continental sized country with an army usually smaller than the police forces of middle-sized European principalities because Britannia ruled the waves and didn't let others much bother us. Did we give the Brits any credit? Not until they could not do it anymore and we got dragged into two world wars did we even think about it.

We, in turn, helped keep Latin Americans independent. There is the interesting case of Mexico. Mexico owes its independence to the U.S. During the Civil War, when the U.S. was otherwise occupied, the French installed an emperor, the ill-fated Maximilian von Hapsburg, in Mexico. It was not until the Civil War was over, the U.S. pressured France and Phil Sheridan's cavalry sat on the border that the French withdrew their support. It is clear that had the United State so acted, Mexico would have remained a de-facto French colony for a long time and probably colonialism would have been reestablished in many parts of the Americas.

Back to the future, it looks like the U.S. will be unable or at least unwilling to play the role of world stabilizer that we have played, often with British cooperation (The British played the role from the end of the Napoleonic wars until they were unable to continue alone around the time of World War I.), for the last century and more.

Nobody alive today remembers a world without that sort of guarantee, but you can read histories. W/o a power to rule the waves, things fall apart. You get piracy, war and general unrest. Opponents of globalization may initially rejoice, but will be less happy when everything they gets harder to get.

The world has the luxury today of imagining how nice it would be if we all just got along. But it is U.S. power that makes even the imagining possible.

Empires are out of style, but think about the alternatives for a minute. The Roman Empire collapsed in the West in AD 476 and it was mourned by those who knew of it for more than 1000 years. As Edward Gibbon beautifully writes, "IN the second century of the Christian era, the Empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilised portion of mankind. The frontiers of that extensive monarchy were guarded by ancient renown and disciplined valour. The gentle but powerful influence of laws and manners had gradually cemented the union of the provinces. Their peaceful inhabitants enjoyed and abused the advantages of wealth and luxury ..." A thousand years later, most of the former empire was worse off than it had been during the height of Rome. In fact, if you visit areas of the Middle East and North Africa, you are inevitably drawn to the conclusion that the place has not been as well governed since the time of Caesar. You can find the ruins of great Roman cities in the desert, that Roman engineering maintained. The new rulers were unable to maintain the system and evidently still have not figured out how to restore them.

During Roman times, Gaza was a prosperous place with a thriving economy and pleasant cities. Why not? It was so obviously well situated with a great climate. Well, you can see what leadership does, or not.

As American power wanes, much of the world might soon learn what it was like in 1943, 1813 or 1763 and they will long for the time when they were guarded by disciplined valour and the easy going American approach.

Posted by Christine & John at October 12, 2013 7:32 AM
Comment #372378

In the arena of policy, there are always winners and losers attached to any policy decision. During the Obama administration, our oil and gas production have increased, toward the end of our nation becoming energy independent. There are prices that have been paid however, and will continue to be exacted as a result of fossil fuel production. The environmentalists have a litany of costs they cite. For me, good policy never sleeps in its attempts to reduce or eliminate the negative costs associated with adopted policies. In this case, replacing fossil fuels with other cleaner and less harmful and risky energy sources is the objective going forward. It is a tall order, as the fossil fuel industry fights such efforts, while researchers struggle for the funding to find, test, and implement alternatives. Generally, it is the nature of American policy history, to always end up with newer and improved, regardless the resistance experienced along the way. One of the many reasons I am so fortunate to have been born and lived in America.

Posted by: David R. Remer at October 12, 2013 9:54 AM
Comment #372382


I have been watching fracking since 2005 and have seen it become much, much more efficient and environmentally friendly. We can thank environmentalists for keeping tabs and firms for being responsible and forward looking.

You are right that the quest never ends and I expect that natural gas will be replaced some day. In the meantime, however, fracking has helped reduce U.S. CO2 emissions to levels approaching our putative Kyoto limits and we did this w/o the draconian measures that treaty would have imposed on us. Ironically, German and European emissions have not declined as much as ours have and in some cases have increased, despite - perhaps because of - their top-down “commitment.”

Posted by: CJ at October 12, 2013 12:02 PM
Comment #372385

CJ, trying to make rational comparisons between the U.S. and nearly every other nation, is fraught with unequals. That said, I think it is safe to say, that the U.S., Japan, and a few other nations in Europe, are in a position to light the way for the rest of the world in clean renewable energy and accommodative mechanical and electrical design. This is an area where much can be accomplished faster with federal government assistance in research and development. THat of course, raises the issue of government spending prioritization. Vested shareholders in existing designs will of course resist.

The tug of war continues, but, almost always in a progressive direction. I find most political battles are fought over a slim margin of difference and balance, ultimately. That is one of America’s great strengths, and why we need a minimum of two viable and rational political parties to squeeze the extremist ideologues and selfish vested interests back toward the center of compromise and closer to balancing the present needs with the future’s.

Posted by: David R. Remer at October 12, 2013 3:01 PM
Comment #372388


We are lighting the world, the current arguments between the president and the congress not withstanding.

We agree that Federal money is good for research. We need to be careful with Federal attempts to manage innovation. We had that problem with the Solyndra case.

Fracking is a good thing for the environment and for America.

Posted by: CJ at October 12, 2013 3:45 PM
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