Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Despite Saudi promises to increase oil output and put pressure on other OPEC nations to follow suit, oil prices have leveled after falling for the past week on the Saudi’s assurances. The reason seems to be that the second part of their pledge, to pressure other OPEC nations has fallen on mostly deaf ears. It shouldn’t be surprising, certain members of OPEC, Venezuela and Iran for instance, are decidedly anti-American and have been some of President Bush’s most outspoken detractors. In the cases of these two countries, the President’s hardline stance has been at once effective in bringing about certain concessions, but has also solidified the regimes’ strangleholds on their respective sovereignties.
While these two may be a tough sell, I would think that other OPEC countries, such as Egypt and Indonesia, would be more willing to go along with the Saudi pressure.
What does all this mean for the American economy? Well, in regards to the election, not much. Gasoline prices have a pretty slow gestation period from oil to pump, particularly when they are going down. Retailers won’t lower their prices until A) they’re sure there is enough stability in the oil market to weather future price spikes or B) the competition across the street lowers theirs. Both are self explanatory but the net result tends to be about 45 days of immobility. That puts any price decrease right around the Democratic convention, but still after the peak summer travel season. Even so, demand remains high both here and abroad, and for the moment there is not enough downward pressure on that side of the Capitalist equation to make me believe that any price change will be significant. So, basically Americans will have already felt the sticker shock at the pump and they will a) either attribute it to President Bush’s foreign policy or b) attribute it to a combination of Kerry Dems blocking the President’s energy policy and terrorism. Swing voters will choose according to whichever media influences them the most.
Now, long term effects are another matter. Core industrial commodities such as oil, steel and timber have been escalating in price fairly dramatically over the last two years. Certain food commodities such as milk have seen sharp increases as well. In the industrial market, much of this can be attributed to the Chinese becoming major industrial players (yesterday they and Brazil announced a trade pact involving Brazilian steel and aluminum in exchange for Chinese coke) while the food increases seem to be cyclical results and inflationary pressure. The overall effect is the dramatic rise in price indices I wrote about a few days ago. This hasn’t seemed to have been felt in full by American consumers yet, but the day of reckoning is coming.
Now, against this lengthy backdrop, the President addresses the nation last night in reassuring tones that the War in Iraq is going peachy-keen despite the seeming chaos depicted in media reports and he urges us to carry on as normal while he and the rest of our forces “hold onto this hard won ground,” Despite this pledge to Americans that we will hold what we’ve won, he also says that Iraqis will have total sovereignty on June 30. Honestly, I’m fine with these disparities that reflect more the struggle of speechwriters to make a president sound like he and the rest of Americans are at war, without making Iraqis feel like this war is against them, and without making Americans feel that they have to make any further sacrifice to this war effort outside of writing checks to the RNC.
It’s this last part of the overarching strategy that I have troubles with. I have been often reminded in recent days by conservative friends that “War is Hell” and that atrocities like Abu Ghraib are bound to happen in major conflicts. Terrorists would do anything to kill Americans and we must be prepared to do whatever we can to stop them, or else more Americans may end up as Nicolas Berg. What I usually ask them then, is what exactly they are doing to help this effort. Invariably the brunt of their reply is supporting the President, flying flags, being generally patriotic and optimistic. Some when pressed will say they should write letters to our servicepeople and help out with the families of those still overseas (most haven’t as yet gotten around to it). All of this is well and good, except for the fact that it isn’t enough. They are right when they say that war is Hell, most even seem to understand that it should require sacrifice, but no one seems to know what this particular war requires us to sacrifice outside the sense of general security we had before September 11.
This is one more area where the President has failed to provide real leadership. Early on in the war on terror, he should have reinstituted the draft. It is clear to me that for his grand vision of a worldwide Democratic revolution that he hasn’t had enough ground support to meet his goals. Certainly the draft would have infuriated liberal peace mongers like myself and the rest of the Node of Evil, but if this country was really at war, it would fit in with what countries at war do. This would provide the necessary manpower and allow him greater liberty to bully other rogue regimes into capitulation.
Second, he should have asked Congress for more money for the attacks on and reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan. He should have suspended some programs that he and other conservatives deem aren’t necessities, such as the NEA, Amtrak, even certain aspects of Medicare or Social Security, to pay for this. Again, politically, it wasn’t feasible, but again, it’s what a real leader would do in times of crisis.
Finally, he should have -even as recently as last night- asked Americans to conserve fuel and energy. Even if such an action is merely symbolic -like ducking under a desk to hide from nuclear bombs- most Americans would go along thinking that this is the price that they pay to keep our troops going. It would psychologically tie everybody to the efforts overseas and in this case it would have made the gasoline price surge a less glaring symbol of the President’s failure to have his cake and eat it too.
These are the kinds of things real decisive leaders do, they push their countries and pull and are willing to make mistakes to meet their goals. Instead, we are dabbling our toes in a Cold War relic in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. The enemy’s changed but the program stays the same.
Rather than doing what’s needed to achieve the leadership’s objective, we do just enough to make ourselves look bad. I’m thoroughly against the war on terror, and have been from the beginning, but I would have respected a leader willing to truly put his or her convictions on the line. It’s too bad that George W. Bush isn’t that leader.
Anyway, he did get it right to raze Abu Ghraib, but it still may turn into a painful symbol of the occupation. Like most administration plans, it lacks adequate afterthought. Raze it yes, but then quietly make that land a public and sacred memorial to Iraqis who lost their lives in both the Hussein regime and the subsequent U.S. invasion and occupation. It’s the least we could do.
Bran 5:20 AM : |
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