Shouldn’t You Have To Think?

I understand that, because he sinks a lot of money into the publication, foreign policy writing at The New Republic is necessarily going to reflect Marty Peretz’s crazy views on Israel and hatred for brown people Arabs. And on some level, I can tolerate that so long as I can keep reading Jon Chait, Noam Scheiber, Michelle Cottle, Eve Fairbanks, and Jonathan Cohn. Hell, it even got us Jamie Kirchick. But then they go and run drivel like this, written by someone with a demonstrated lack of knowledge like Leon Wiseltier, and it makes you wonder why any good writer would actually want their name attached to such an outlet. To wit:

The latest refinement of the Democratic creed of soft power is the view that environmentalism is a foreign policy. A week after the Russian invasion of Georgia, I was present at a conversation about whether the crisis around Russia’s borders could be relieved in part by the greening of Poland. I agreed that Putin has been emboldened by the new riches of Russia’s natural resources, but I averred that even if Poland found a way to emancipate itself from foreign fuel, so that every one of its schools was powered by the sun and every one of its cafes by the wind, there would still be a foundation in reality for the anxiety about Russia. The new Russian imperialism is animated by more than the new prices of commodities. Chávez does not owe his socialism to his petroleum. And the horror in Sudan has not been perpetrated by the weather. The verdure of the Democratic foreign-policy discussion is a proper retort to George W. Bush’s astounding delinquency about climate change; but energy does not explain everything. Green is not the only color. Indeed, monochromacy is a form of color-blindness. Even if we were to conquer our oil habit, we could not stand idly by if, say, jihadists came to power in Riyadh. (Israel is not the only reason.) A green world will not be a good world.

Matt already got to this, but I think garbage like this deserves to be taken down at least twice.

Firstly, as Matt says (and I’ll use the same link), anyone who doesn’t think climate is a source of the problem in Darfur doesn’t know anything about the conflict in Darfur. Secondly, Wieseltier’s petro nonsense is just that, nonsense. It might be true that oil has nothing to do with why Putin, Chavez, and, um, Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin are the way they are, but high oil prices indisputably has huge consequences for them. In the case of Chavez and Palin, their general popularity is derived mostly from the fact that they’ve taken the revenue boom associated with higher oil prices and, in one way or another, distributed it among the masses. Everyone likes free money, and people handing out the checks tend to be very popular, other flaws be damned.

In Putin’s case, the implication is even more stark. Russia in the 1990’s was a broderline 3rd world state. But the increased revenue high energy prices have brought about have allowed Putin, bulwarked by public support for the “renewed honor” of Russia to do things like wage a war in Georgia and meddle in Ukranian politics that take a lot of money and leverage. Without high hydrocrabon prices, Russia has neither, and they go back to being a glorified 3rd world country with nuclear weapons and 1980’s weapon systems.

As for his last point about Saudi Arabia, it’s not entirely wrong. We probably wouldn’t take kindly to al-Qaeda taking over any country regardless of their hydrocarbon supplies. However, that’s not the only consideration to make. The House of Saud is a brutal, monarchical regime. It’s not beyond imagination that the people of Saudi Arabia may one day decide they’ve had enough and revolt. And if they do, the United States will assist the monarchy in brutally repressing and punishing the populace for it. Why? Because instability and domestic unrest in the Kingdom will cause global oil prices to explode, and the fact that any resulting government will probably not be fond of the Western powers who enabled the monarchy for decades, will make our protection of OUR allies imperative. If Saudi oil were unimportant, its people may actually have a chance, and indeed the United States may even assist them in dumping their oppressors.

There are any numner of ways to debate the issues Wieseltier brings up. But to assert that oil plays no role inthe nature of regimes in Russia and Venezuela, or in our relationships with problematic Middle Eastern regimes, and that a post-fossil fuel economy wouldn’t fundamentally change that, mostly for the better, is to demonstrate either abject ignorance in regards to the nature of international relations or an intentional disregard for facts and truth in the matter. With The New Republic, you can basically flip a coin on that question.