TCS Daily


The Moral Equivalent of War, Again?

By Arnold Kling - February 1, 2006 12:00 AM

"America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world... The best way to break this addiction is through technology."
-- President George Bush

Well, that certainly was Carter-esque. Shame on the American people for choosing to use the cheapest source of energy. But I don't suppose you can expect the President to come out and say, "Government is addicted to spending, and I plan to keep it that way. Having wasted billions of your dollars on uneconomical forms of energy, we have an insatiable appetite to squander more."

Take Out the Oil Refineries

The connection between oil and terrorism can be severed. If we do not want to allow Iran, for example, to fund terrorism with oil revenues, then we need to stop Iran from exporting oil.

There are two ways to envision depriving Iran of oil revenues. The "blood for oil" approach would be to attempt to seize the oil fields for ourselves. It would be risky, cost the lives of American servicemen, and require a long-term occupation of parts of Iran, but it would lead to lower world oil prices. The "no blood for oil" approach would be to bomb the oil terminals, making it impossible to ship or refine the oil. The latter approach would require fewer sacrifices on the part of America's armed forces, but American motorists and other oil consumers around the world would feel the pinch.

Destroying Iran's oil terminals would fairly quickly force Iran's government to take a lower profile in the world. The country would not have the money to fund much in the way of foreign adventures.

Moral Doubt

Many people in the United States and elsewhere believe that destroying Iran's oil terminals would be improper. This concern might be called Moral Doubt.

Moral doubt may be a good thing in many cases, but not always. In the 1930's, when Hitler rose to power, moral doubt kept the Western democracies from taking steps to prevent Germany from engaging in its massive military buildup. Many people had moral doubt because of the trauma of trench warfare in World War I. Some people had moral doubt because of the harshness of the treaty of Versailles. Some people had moral doubt because they thought that time and responsibility would cause Hitler to moderate. By the time people realized that they were wrong, it was too late.

The offset to moral doubt is anger. When our anger rises above our level of moral doubt, we will put an end to petro-terrorism. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is to destroy the terrorist funders' ability to export oil. See Oil Econ 101.

Imagine, for example that we used a "blood for oil" approach with Saudi Arabia and a "no blood for oil" approach with Iran. This would leave radical Islam without a funding base, in exchange for somewhat less oil production. You might not want to take such a step today. But can you imagine something happening that would change your mind?

Would America be very unpopular if it severed the connection between oil and terrorism in this way? Perhaps that would be the case today, but that could change.

One year ago, Europe appeared to be dominated by moral doubt. However, events in recent months may have caused public opinion to shift toward anger.

-- France has been shaken by riots among Muslim youth.

-- Denmark has been subjected to a Muslim campaign of intimidation over political cartoons.

-- The European Union has been snubbed by Iran over the issue of nuclear weapons, while the President of Iran has boasted of his intention to wipe Israel off the map.

-- Hamas, victorious in the Palestinian election, continues to deny Israel's right to exist. Yet, with the chutzpah of a teenager asking for the car keys while refusing to accept a curfew, Hamas demands that Europe continue providing generous subsidies.

Ironically, just as European spines may be stiffening, the United States is backsliding into moral doubt. Americans are impatient with the slow progress in Iraq. The natural ebb and flow of politics is likely to bring major electoral gains this fall in the Democratic Party, which espouses Moral Doubt with moral certainty. And now, with his State of the Union Address, the one-time champion of moral clarity in the fight against Islamic militants has embraced Jimmy Carter's Moral Equivalent of War.

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8 Comments

You seem to be missing the point..
Perhaps this is just my self-centric perception, but it seems to me that teh statement by the President is focused not so much on the result you seem to ascribe to it, which is having its greatest impact on the arab-terrorist-funding oil-producers such as the Saudis and Iran. The fact is, with the ever-increasing demand from places like China and India, Saudi Arabia and Iran will not feel a pinch if we take our business elsewhere. That much may be true, but it misses the point.

The reason we should make every effort to lessen our utter dependence upon them is for our own sakes.

If, for example, something should happen to devastate that region - for example, let's just suppose that Iran were to actually attack Israel with some kind of wmd attack. It it highly likely that Israel would then, in retaliation, cause irreparable harm both to Iran and its oil-producing capability, but very likely serious damage to other oil-producers in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

If that were to happen, what then would happen to us, here, we simple soccer-moms and 9-to-5 dad, we working shleps who comprise the spine of this entire nation?

We would suffer tremendously. Therefore, the nation would suffer tremendously as well.

Being dependent upon those middle-eastern states for the health of our economy obviously puts in an extremely vulnerable position, and it only makes sense to explore every avenue of perhaps finding some way out from under that cloud.

Now, that does not mean that sinking endless funds into a bottomless hole of a pipe-dream technology should be the only approach. But capitalism being what it is, someone will figure out a way to make a profit from some kind of alternative fuel, or more efficient way to get oil from the sands in Canada, or something else we have not even seen yet.

But doing nothing is probably not the best course. And neither would any kind of military intervention in SA or Iran without first making an effort to reduce our vulnerability when it comes to the gooey black stuff.

This is Technology Central Station is it not.
This is not in any way related to Jimmy Carter or his positions. The American private sector needs to lead us to energy independence, no doubt with Govermental tax incentives.
If we move away from Middle Eastern Oil, not to mention, Chavez drilled oil. We may actually find more security and true independence from these radical states.

I was suprised at this Op/Ed piece here at TCS. I thought TCS had a more tech linked, forwarding looking philosophy. But maybe, some are stuck in the past.




Look the truth is that the path to petroleum indepence is simple and easyer than people think.
Look the truth is that the path to petroleum independence is simple and easier than people think.

It is as simple as a tariff. No politician will offer that because it causes pain here at home. But it would be effective and coal to liquid would keep the pain to a manageable level. If you do not like that the next option is an embargo on Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Is there a link between petroleum and terrorism? I do not know, Syria has no petroleum and neither does Egypt or Pakistan terrorist strong holds all. Kuwait sells lots of petroleum and is not a known terrorist haven (not to mention Canada and Norway). Does Saudi funding of Wahabbism world wide promote terrorism, doubtful. Palestine is the birthplace of modern Islamic terrorism (they copied it from the Tamil tigers). It seems to have a life of its own. Historically the Ahmadinejads of the world seldom turn in to Hitlers and so you must give things time to ripen. Iran is far less powerful relative to the west than Hitler was relative to the allies. We have plenty of time. We have the option to stop Iran at any point in time. It is not even a forgone conclusion that if Iran makes a nuclear weapon that they will be able to reach Israel with it.

Would an attack on Iran and Saudi Arabia make things better? I do not know that might make things worse. There are many in Iran and Saudi Arabia who are more sympathetic to the west than to the terrorists. Why weaken them at this point?

Ahmadinejad gained power by promising to distribute the petroleum dollars to the poor more (similar to Hugo Chaves) this will certainly drive Iran down economically. So why should we move?




a tariff
If your goal is to cut off oil from *America*, then a tariff will work. But if your goal is to change behavior in Iran or Saudi Arabia, a tariff won't do a whole lot. They'll still sell their oil, just sell less of it to us and more to other folks.

Servants of Saud
Saudi Arabia is the financial and recruting center for Al Qaeda -- this can't be repeated enough. Thus the "War on Terror" is doomed to failure as long as our need for Saudi oil is greater than our determination to root out the terrorist sponsors within the Saud royal family.

hitler defeated Moral doubt in his home land
Thats how he was able to start WW1. He attacked Rassia to get oil feilds.
Japan attacked the US trying to get at oils supplies.

Bush is right to understand that the US will do well to be able to support it's self energy wise and not have to interfere in nasty parts of the world in various ways in order to keep the US economy going.

Increase supply
Would we get angry enough to take full advantage of the oil reserves in the USA?
Oil platforms off the FL and CA coasts? Another oil pipeline across AK?
CNG facilities in New England?
Boosting production at home will keep more money at home and reduce the price of oil.
Destroying Iranian oil production will reduce supply and raise prices, which might then make most US citizens tell the enviros to pound sand and start drilling.

I agree but the stated goal is energy independence.
I agree but the stated goal is energy independence. I do not share this goal.

How to slow the production of terroists is another question. I do not know how to slow the production of terroists except by killing them. It seems that time is and will continue to take a toll on the terrorists.

Could the Saudi government do more certainly but attacking Saudi Arabia may not help. I say we continue to work with the Saudis and wait for Ahmadejad to collaps.


BTW Israel has enough fire power to take care of herself. If Iran attacks Israel will destroy Iran.




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