Sabre Rattling Over Oil: Better Get Used to It

The juxtaposition of headlines this morning was strange but telling.  On page one of the Sacramento Bee, under the heading of “Tourism,” was the story of Virgin Galactic, a travel company that expects to offer 2.5 hour rides into space, starting as soon as next Christmas, for a mere $200,000.

You might want try to lock in your price now, before it goes up.  Buried back on page seven was this headline:  “Risk of showdown with Iran escalates as oil prices climb.”  According to Andrew Bacevich, in a 2008 interview with Bill Moyers, we can expect a constant string of oil crises; the choices we make as a nation make them inevitable.  There’s a price to pay for cheap space travel, among other things.

Andrew Bacevich

Bill Moyers 2008 interview with Bacevich is published in, Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues, (2011).  In the preface, Moyers says, “Our finest warriors are often our most reluctant warmongers.”  Bacevich is a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran who retired as a colonel after 23 years in the military, to teach history and international relations at Boston University.  Bacevich’s son, Andrew, died in Iraq in 2007.  Bacevich is the author of several books, including the best selling, The Limits of Power:  The End of American Exceptionalism (2008).

In his interview with Moyers, Andrew Bacevich doesn’t pull any punches.  He says our foreign policy, including our wars:

“reflect the perceptions of our political elite about what we the people want.  And what we want, by and large, is to sustain the flow of very cheap consumer goods.  We want to be able to pump gas into our cars regardless of how big they happen to be…and we want to be able to do these things without having to think about whether or not the books balance at the end of the month…”

To our list of wants we can now add, “affordable” space travel, with its guaranteed 5.5 minutes of weightlessness.   As an ex-miltary officer, Bacevich points to the dark side of this, something you never hear in presidential debates, and don’t often see anymore on the front page of the paper.

One of the ways we avoid confronting our refusal to balance the books is to rely increasingly on the projection of American military power around the world to maintain this dysfunctional system.”

The biggest elephant in the living room is our dependance on foreign oil.  Without oil, Bacevich notes, the middle east has “zero strategic significance.”  Every president since Richard Nixon has promised to address our dependance on foreign energy, and Jimmy Carter staked his political career on finding a solution.  Bacevich paraphrases Carter’s speech in 1979:

“If we don’t act now, we’re headed down a path along which not only will we become increasingly dependent upon foreign oil, but we will have opted for a false model of freedom.  A freedom of materialism, a freedom of self-indulgence, a freedom of collective recklessness.  The president was urging us to think about what we mean by freedom…Carter had a profound understanding of the dilemma facing the country in the post-Vietnam period.  And of course, he was completely derided and disregarded.” 

When Moyers asked him about the realities of al-Qaeda and radical Islam, Bacevich replied that yes, they are violent and dangerous, but are “akin to a criminal conspiracy…Rooting out and destroying the conspiracy is primarily the responsibility of organizations like the FBI, and of our intelligence community, backed up at times by Special Operations Forces.  That doesn’t require invading and occupying countries.”

At the end of the interview, Bacevich, who defines himself as a conservative, says he hopes we will come to understand the war in Iraq as a great mistake.  And rather repeat the mistake in Iran or anywhere else, hopes we will “look at ourselves in the mirror.  And…see what we have become.  And perhaps undertake an effort to make those changes that will enable us to preserve for future generations that which we value most about the American way of life.”

You can read the full text of the interview with Andrew Bacevich in Bill Moyers Journal, along with many other provocative talks with thinkers and artists across the spectrum of contemporary life.

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5 Responses to Sabre Rattling Over Oil: Better Get Used to It

  1. Great, thought-provoking post. Thank you.

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  2. Wisdom indeed from the reluctant warrior. Self-indulgence with exemptions from the consequences has become engrained in American life, from the highest levels addressed by Bacevich, to the countless individuals who blame everyone and everything except themselves when things aren’t exactly as they believe they deserve them to be.
    One possible solution: a resurgence of gratitude. True gratitude for what we have can help negate the endless greed for more.

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    • Hi Amy. I thought about “Petroplague” and peak oil as I was working on this post.

      I think you’re right – the kind of changes we need have to do with individuals changing their way of thinking and acting, and hopefully reaching a positive “tipping point.”

      It helps too, when positive choices begin to make economic sense – witness the resurgence of American car manufacture after it retooled to make smarter vehicles. These days you see a lot more hybrids on the roads.

      That in itself is really positive, since one of the other points Bacevich made in the interview had to do with the nation’s transition from producer society to consumer society, in the early 70’s. When institutions are set up to motivate people to be consumers, it takes an extra bit of mindfulness to be content with what you have. Still, as you say, gratitude is a wonderful practice, something I try to keep in mind, especially through the holidays and the new year.

      Thanks for your comment.

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  3. Rosi says:

    Lots to think about here. I must admit I think more and more about how attractive isolationism becomes at times like these. Of course, that’s completely unrealistic, but attractive nonetheless.

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