We’re Solving The Wrong Problem

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Nobody on the right, left or center disputes that a primary job of our federal government is national defense, ensuring our security in a dangerous world. ISIS or ISIL or Islamic Caliphate – whatever you want to call it – has incrementally and brutally plunged the Middle East into a conflagration of Middle East versus West, Sunni versus Shiite, believers versus infidels and seventh century versus twenty-first century reality. We have decided that this is a clear and present danger to America and have correspondingly sent our drones on attack and our munitions to Kurd and Syrian rebels.

The debate rages, though, hawks versus others, about putting American “boots on the ground.” We cannot fight effectively or have useful intelligence without those boots on the ground, the hawks tell us. So, as we fight that Middle East war with every non-boot-on-the-ground method we can think of, we are solving the problem about how to win that war by asking if we should put boots on the ground. Why are we doing that?

And why have we paid homage to a newly deceased, despotic Saudi ruler who thought that beheading was a good idea? And why did we invade Iraq?

The answer to all those questions is the same: oil.

We are still energy dependent on oil from the Middle East and Iraq has one of the largest known reserves of oil in the world. The Saudis have a huge reservoir of oil, so we continue to support the House of Saud, the people from whom 15 of the 19 airplane hijackers came to kill over 3,000 people in America. Upheaval in that area threatens our hydrocarbon supply, so we install  ( like the Shah of Iran) and prop up (like the House of Saud) some very unusual people.

The problem about whether to send ground troops to the Middle East to defeat ISIS is the wrong one on which to focus. The right one is this: “What are the strategies that will make the United States energy independent so that we will never again get drawn into oil wars in the Middle East?

President Nixon made a big deal about the importance of weaning us off foreign oil. In 1973, the year of the so-called Arab Oil Embargo, 20% of our oil needs came from other countries. Following that event our dependence soared to over 40%, where it still stood in 2012. The number has been whittled down a bit since then, but we are still hugely dependent upon others, some of them oil-rich, reprehensible dictator states. So, we continue to endanger our military people in an effort to keep a finger in the dyke of the natural state of chaos in the Middle East in order to protect the supply of oil we covet. When we ask the question of whether there should be American military boots on the ground in that area, we are caving in to an assumption that we must remain entrapped by the angry passions of seventh century animosities so that we can have cheap oil.

We cannot continue to burn fossil fuels indefinitely, this for two reasons. First, we are cooking our planet and ourselves in the process. Second, there is a finite supply of fossil fuels. Even if we have a 100 year supply, those fossil fuels will eventually be gone. We better have good solutions well before that time.

So, again, the right problem to solve is: “What are the strategies that will make the United States energy independent?

Engineers have told us that a 100 square mile grid – just 10 miles by 10 miles – of solar collectors in our desert southwest can produce enough electricity for all of Southern California and we are doing something about that. If we were to cover around 4 percent of all deserts with solar panels, we could generate enough electricity to power the world. Germany, one of the cloudiest countries in Europe, managed to craft a program for energy independence which included putting solar collectors on the roofs of its houses and those now supply 4.5% of their total energy needs. In America we have gigantic wind farms and have good locations for many more. Smart grid technology is in our hands to dramatically reduce transmission losses and do even more than that. These are just some of the ideas that have been proposed, some acted upon, and there are other technologies in development.

The strategy we need and eventually will employ is a current day version of the Manhattan Project, an all-in program to engineer and then build a new American energy system. And sooner is way better than later.

We’ll need fossil fuels in some measure for a long time to come, so don’t completely dismiss the pretty blonde in the black pants suit who lies to you about how safe hydraulic fracturing is, because we need the gas. On the other hand, it’s way past time to find ways to do it safely. It’s way past time to figure out how to transport oil without sliming the Yellowstone River and others due to ruptured pipelines.

And it’s way past time to stop telling ourselves what we can’t do or what we can’t afford to do.

We can’t afford not to do this, because if we fail to put that stake in the ground we will be consigning our patriotic military people to endless deaths, dismemberment, disfigurement and a lifetime of post traumatic stress disorder. We will be dooming future generations of Americans to second tier status in the world and the loss of the American Dream. Those are some of the things that happen when we put boots on the ground in the Middle East to prop up despotic rulers sitting on a big puddle of oil that we want, instead of solving the right problem and taking action to change the game.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
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