|Obama Charts Middle Course of Failure on Libya, Energy|
By Ashton Ellis
Wednesday, March 09 2011
Economic sanctions against Libya are crippling that country’s revenues, and the Libyan conflict is raising the price of gasoline worldwide. With America barreling toward $5 per gallon gas if the situation gets worse, President Barack Obama continues to chart a middle course of failure between two coherent options for dealing with the Libyan crisis. Choosing either would redefine his presidency and make America more secure.
In ordinary times, America’s reliance on foreign oil makes policymaking difficult because the nation’s interest in a steady oil supply tempts officials to support whoever can guarantee stability. Thus, the United States legitimizes authoritarian regimes throughout the Middle East in exchange for energy. When those regimes are pressured to change via violent protests, American policymakers have two choices: either intervene directly to keep the oil flowing, or rollback domestic regulations to spur homegrown production.
Intervention has its costs. While the clearest national security rationale for applying American military force against Libya is to calm the markets and stabilize oil prices, it’s not enough to galvanize support for bombings and boots on the ground. People must be morally persuaded to commit blood and treasure when troops are already engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, two other Muslim countries with volatile political climates.
Don’t expect the president who watched Iran’s Green Revolution protesters killed in Tehran’s streets two years ago to be moved into military action in Libya anytime soon. No less than three Obama surrogates did everything they could to take intervention off the table.
Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that, “The United States should not, in my view, launch military intervention into yet another Muslim country without thinking long and hard about the consequences and implications.” Obama’s Republican Defense Secretary Robert Gates went further in remarks to this year’s graduating class at West Point. In his commencement address, Gates argued that any future Pentagon chief sending large armies to invade Asian countries “should have his head examined.”
Speaking on Obama’s behalf, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised a complete hands-off approach, saying, “We think it’s important that the United Nations make this decision – not the United States.”
While stabilizing Libya’s oil production through intervention would benefit America’s economy, the cost of doing so is probably too much for a country at war with terrorists and deficits.
The other option is to use the Libyan conflict’s effect on oil prices to pivot towards domestic issues. With Obama’s economic sanctions taking root, businesses are refusing to trade with Libya. The result is a spike in price because the worldwide demand for oil remains high while the supply just got smaller. In a daily reminder of how much Americans depend on foreign oil, U.S. gasoline prices seem destined to rise well above the $4 per gallon threshold many predicted. For a president failing spectacularly at growing the economy – and with it, American confidence – it is a wonder he doesn’t sense a political opportunity when he sees one.
If it’s true Obama is moving to the political center in an effort to court independent voters, he should adopt a strategy guaranteed to appeal to a majority of Americans. Millions of people need jobs. Many folks can’t afford to pay sky-high gas prices or the additional transportation costs of most goods and services. And a sense of weariness is setting in over America’s mixed successes in the Middle East. Why not combine all of these issues into a comprehensive plan to move America rapidly toward energy independence?
Obama has already expressed interest in building new nuclear plants and subsidizing bio-fuel and other sustainable technologies. It’s time he declared all sectors of the American energy industry open for business. He should start by rolling back regulations that ban offshore drilling, followed by expediting permits for new oil and natural gas exploration on land and sea. The goal should be to significantly reduce America’s importation of foreign oil over the next six years, not just fantasize about the future possibilities of “green” energy.
Adopting a pro-energy, pro-growth policy would allow Obama to link several issues together. He could even talk up the benefits of incentivizing math and science education for high school and college students. Best of all, the focus on energy independence would get America out from under its troubling relationships with dictators.
The United States needs a president with a plan for managing a world crisis like Libya to America’s advantage. If Obama can’t muster up the courage to pick a coherent strategy and implement it, in 2012 the American people will elect someone who will.
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