It is usually not constructive to look backwards in time and wish something had happened. The fact is, that “something” did not happen and it is better to deal with today’s reality and look to the future than to fret about what could have been.
However, with the death of Bin Laden, it is tempting to look back and imagine what could have happened if the United States government and the political class that operates it had actually put together and implemented a realistic, coherent, and comprehensive energy policy back in the late 1970s as a result of the Arab oil embargoes. This is a major failure of both political parties since over the past three decades, both parties have been in control of Congress and the White House and each party has always failed to address the need for energy independence.
Consider a short article from the May 8, 2011 edition of the Tampa Bay area St. Petersburg Times. It takes a number-intensive look at what Bin Laden and the 9-11 attacks have cost the country over the past ten years:
•The United States has spent at least $1.28 TRILLION on the war on terror.
•Most of that amount, $1.2 TRILLION, was spent on fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
•Almost nine thousand Americans have died as a direct cause of the war on terror between the 9-11 attacks, military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fatalities from the USS Cole bombing, and the African Embassy bombings.
•Not included in the St. Petersburg Times article is how many people from other countries have died in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere as a result of the war on terror, both military and civilian.
•The U.S. defense budget has grown so much over the past ten years that it now consumes 19% of the total Federal government budget.
•The U.S. now spends more money on defense than all of the other nations in the world combined.
•The U.S. taxpayer has already spent $66 billion to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, or about $651 for every U.S. household.
•The cost of veterans’ medical care has been $11.4 billion since 9-11 and will continue to go up for the foreseeable future as more and more U.S. military personnel are injured in battle and require continuing care.
This is what we have wrought upon ourselves as a result of interfering in other countries’ affairs and having to depend on foreign sources to feed our energy needs. Remember, one of the primary reasons that Bin Laden became who he was was because of his resentment of U.S. troops being stationed in his homeland of Saudi Arabia.
If the political class in this country had implemented an effective energy program and strategy back in the 1970s, do you think we still would have stationed U.S. troops anywhere in the Middle East? Probably not. Would that have not radicalized Bin Laden and his followers? That is unknown but it almost certainly would have been a better result than what we ended up with.
If we were energy independent as a result of some bold problem solving back in the 1970s and 1980s after the oil embargoes, do you think we ever would have ever sent troops into Iraq? Probably not. Would we have cared what happened in Iran as opposed to interfering with their internal affairs, supporting the repressive and torturing Shah, alienating and radicalizing the rest of the country’s citizens? Probably not. Would U.S. military resources been deployed to fight Qaddafi if we were energy independent? Probably not.
And if we had become energy independent several decades ago, what might we be looking at today from a budget, military, freedom and quality of life perspective:
•From a freedom perspective, we probably do not have the repressive and repulsive Patriot Act that has the potential to dramatically reduce the amount of liberty in this country.
•Theoretically, we could have taken the $1.28 TRILLION we have spent and used it to make the country more energy independent. For example, the Nova television show did a story a few years ago where they completely solar retrofitted a middle class, middle size California home so that it was energy independent. The costs of the retrofit was about $60,000. If that $1.28 TRILLION had been directed to solar retrofitting U.S. homes, based on the Nova experience, than every single family home in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Hawaii (over 20 million homes) would now be energy self-sufficient, significantly reducing the need for foreign energy sources.
•From a military perspective, one can only imagine how much smaller our military budget would be if we did not have 50,000 troops in Iraq and about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, year in and year out.
•From a quality of life perspective, the St. Pete Times article reports that the U.S. has spent an estimated $150 million to build a hospital in Basra, Iraq. However, hospitals in the four county area in the Tampa Bay region that are served by the St. Petersburg Times will lose an estimated $63.5 million in Medicaid funds this year.
•In Afghanistan, the U.S. has spent $58 million to rebuild or refurbish schools. However, schools in the Tampa Bay counties will receive $216 million less this year in state aid.
•Also in Afghanistan, we are spending $176 million to fix an Afghan highway which is turning out to be one of the most expensive construction projects, on a cost per mile basis, ever undertaken anywhere. Meanwhile, the state of New Jersey cancelled plans to build a vitally needed Hudson River tunnel because of a shortage of funds.
•From a quality of life perspective, we would not be taking our shoes off at airport check in points, we would not be spending billions of dollars for largely ineffective airport screening technology, and we would hopefully not be paying a larger and larger portion of our disposable income on energy related expenses (e.g. $4.00 per gallon of gas.)
Yes, it is pretty easy to draw a line straight from our politicians’ inability to solve the energy crisis decades ago to the current economic, military, and state-of-mind troubles we have in this country today.
However, rather than dwell on what could have happened, we need to get started on fixing what they have not fixed so that we can reverse some of the damage. We need to implement some strategies that will finally put together a compressive, domestically focused energy program that is environmentally friendly and economically friendly.
At the same time, we need to bring home the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops that are needlessly stationed around the world in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe, South Korea, and Japan in a quick but orderly manner. We need to start training ourselves and our politicians to not be so anxious to meddle in other countries’ affairs and be so quick to commit U.S. military forces anywhere where there is not a direct threat to U.S. security. We need to realize that we cannot fix the world so why bother trying. Part of the process is the need to streamline and refocus our military on real threats, hopefully reducing the outrageous defense budget in the process.
We need to implement steps as they relate to the Patriot Act in order to restore the freedom that it has deprived us of since the 9-11 attacks while still being vigilant against terrorist attacks in the future. If stopping terrorist attacks includes the complete elimination of freedom in the process, then the terrorists have already won.
We need to fix our political processes to get rid of the type of politicians we are constantly stuck with, politicians that have done nothing over the past three or four decades. We need to get people into office that can solve complex, interrelated problems. These political process changes include instituting term limits, reforming campaign financing laws (e.g. to take military contractors out of the election processes) and making our elected officials more accountable for failure to implement their responsibilities.
The last thing we want to happen is a repeat of the the past three plus decades where the political class has done nothing to address our ever growing energy needs while endangering the safety of U.S. citizens all over the world. We do not want to be looking back at 2011 thirty years from now and wistfully think how much better things would be in the year 2041 if only we had implemented an energy strategy and program back in 2011. We have already tried that strategy of nothing and it has brought us to where we are today.