George W. Bush has presided over the diminution of America’s prestige and influence in ways almost too numerous to count: flouting the Geneva Conventions, permitting torture, launching unprovoked wars, claiming unprecedented executive power, bungling relationships with the UN and virtually every other country on the planet, eroding civil liberties, increasing government secrecy, the list goes on and on.
But in the long haul, I think his most grievous blow to this country is the one that is least discussed and understood: his utter failure to prepare the U.S. for the 21st century energy situation. This is treated with typical casual silliness in the press and has provoked little outrage in a public that sees American global hegemony as a fixed fact of life.
But it isn’t fixed. It isn’t immutable. Matter of fact, it’s tottering:
President George W. Bush, already weakened at home by the soaring cost of oil, is finding that it’s also eroding his ability to achieve his foreign-policy goals.
"It’s a geopolitical nightmare,” says William Cohen, a former Republican senator from Maine and defense secretary under President Bill Clinton who is now chairman of the Cohen Group, a Washington-based consulting firm. Such nations as Iran, Russia and China "don’t see us as the colossus that can cause them any harm, either by our economy or by our prestige.”
Record-high energy prices are weakening Bush’s prospects of assembling an international coalition to counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions. They are diminishing his chances of influencing energy-rich nations such as Russia and isolating troublesome ones including Venezuela and Sudan. And they are straining U.S. economic and diplomatic ties with China, whose oil needs are skyrocketing.
"We’re in the middle of a new wave of resource nationalism because these countries feel like they don’t need any help” from the U.S., says Luis Giusti, who headed Venezuela’s state-run oil company before Chavez came to power. "This is a completely different world.”
Yeah, you could say that. Maybe energy prices will dip again in the short term, but this "completely different world" we’re getting a preview of is our inevitable future.
The best thing Bush could have done the minute he came into office is focus like a laser on reducing demand: tax carbon, tax gas, raise fuel-efficiency standards, plough money into any and every alternative fuel. Reduced demand would help hold prices down in the short term and help the country prepare for the day when they inevitably rise. Fucking around with supply — drilling in ANWR, off the coasts, in the West, and everywhere the hell else, fiddling with refinery permits, removing environmental standards on gas — is at best a delaying tactic.
He’s catching on, but only nominally, too little too late. A couple of shocks — another war, another terrorist attack, a natural disaster that knocks out a significant supplier — and we could teeter into geopolitical chaos. We no longer have the moral, economic, or military muscle to keep a lid on it.