Jewish Journal

A New World View

by Joel Kotkin

Posted on Sep. 20, 2001 at 8:00 pm

Kuwaiti Oil Company officials pass by oil installations destroyed by Iraqis during the Aug. 1990 invasion, in the Burgan oil field south west of Kuwait City in 1996. Kuwait has an output capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day. Photo from Agence France Presse

Kuwaiti Oil Company officials pass by oil installations destroyed by Iraqis during the Aug. 1990 invasion, in the Burgan oil field south west of Kuwait City in 1996. Kuwait has an output capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day. Photo from Agence France Presse

Much of what has been said about the twin disasters in New York and Washington, D.C, last week holds validity. Spiritual revival, national unity and steely resolve are all, in themselves, excellent responses to the recent disturbances.

But what has not been discussed is anything that amounts to a coherent national strategy that could take such fine sentiments and turn them into something effective. In the New Year, Americans of various ideologies need to rethink long-standing traditional approaches and come up with something that addresses the real-and-present danger now facing this country.

The fundamental goal now is both how to liquidate those directly threatening us and then insulate ourselves as much as possible from parts of the world that, for the time being at least, have become severely infected with a lethal, apocalyptic and reactionary theology. Islamic fundamentalism in its current form represents in a different form what Leninism or National Socialism reflected in Europeans -- diseases that we must do our best to either eliminate or at least quarantine from global society.

Until the peoples in those countries are willing to stand up against this insanity, which could eventually happen, governments there will continue to tolerate, or even covertly encourage, the fundamentalist impulse. The growing role of irreconcilable Islamic extremism in the educational, media and military life of these countries suggests things are likely to get worse rather than better, even in traditionally pro-Western countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and perhaps even Pakistan.

Given these realities, we must also insulate ourselves from the one thing that keeps us engaged in that tortured part of the world: oil and other energy products. Our need for cheap fuel has driven virtually all our policies there, from our embrace of the corrupt Saudi regime to our slowness to see that no meaningful peace can be concluded between Israel and its neighbors. This really explains how we have allowed so many Arab and other Muslim people, including military, into our country, for training in the technologies now being used against us.

America must rebuild its foreign and strategic vision on a new basis that lessens, if not eliminates, our need to engage this part of the world except in a purely defensive mode. It means a new resolve to change our economic policies to become more energy self-sufficient and, at the same time, cultivate supplies from more reliable countries with whom we have at least a modicum of common ground.

For liberals, this means the end of the tradition of appeasement and distaste for things military. The recent events are a stark reminder of the enormous failure of the Clinton geopolitical world view. Clinton's weakness, his obsession with seeking an illusory agreement with the old terrorist Yasser Arafat, his desire to keep energy prices low and SUVs pouring out of U.S. factories directly set the stage for the current disasters.

Clinton, it is clear, hated any conflict that involved risk and military force. He had almost eight years to eliminate Osama bin Laden, but lacked the willingness to risk the economy or any American lives. The Americans who died during last week's disasters were, indirectly, some of the victims of this failed policy.

Yet the blame for the current situation also stems from the failures of those involved in the previous and current Bush administration. Their Cold War orientation of the past helped create the current crop of terrorists, including bin Laden. Now that the Soviet threat is gone, it is time for these people to recast their geopolitical vision.

It will not be easy. Worshippers of oil above all, the Texas-centered elites now in power have close ties to the ruling elites in the Middle East. Their appeasement took the form not so much of grand diplomatic gestures as in selling advanced weaponry, military and political protection to the varied oil regimes, including formerly Iraq and Iran, and to this date Saudi Arabia.

Now is the time to say goodbye to this approach. Of course, we want to work with countries cooperatively, but I believe we will find that few in the Middle East -- outside of Israel -- are really interested in bringing terrorists to justice. After all, the terrorists largely are from these countries and they are widely seen as heroes there.

What we must address instead is how to live without depending on the Arabs, and perhaps much of the Muslim world as well with the possible exception of Turkey. This is somewhat similar to the kind of disengagement that Israel is now considering with the Palestinians.

The key is oil and here we need a new vision. First, we should enter into a long-term strategic and economic alliance with Russia and other former Soviet states who need our energy technology, capital and markets for their recovery. We should agree to buy on long-term contracts their oil and also cooperate on strategic issues. The Russians, after all, face the same Islamic security threat. Other potential allies, like Mexico, could also help meet our short and medium-term needs.

At the same time, we need to employ our much-vaunted national unity to do two things at the same time: increase domestic exploration and production while also looking at alternative fuels and conservation. These are not contradictory policies. Our energy dilemma is a byproduct of the factiousness between energy producers who dislike the notion of conservation for business or ideological reason and environmentalists who oppose any new domestic production of fossil fuels.

This approach -- boosting production, exploring alternative energies, conservation and the creation of a new, non-Middle Eastern network of international suppliers -- offers the president and the nation the greatest possible ability to lessen our dependence on a part of the world now consumed by a kind of madness. It will also give our military and strategic planners the freedom to do what is needed in the months and years ahead.

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