Sensible Foreign Policies — and One that Just Doesn’t Make Sense

Over at the Partnership for a Secure America, I highlight three recent articles – by Justine Rosenthal, Barry Posen and Richard Betts, respectively – that advance the sensible proposition that the best way to restore balance to our foreign policy is to change the ends, not the means.

Specifically, all three articles make a compelling case for a new direction that is less dependent upon America acting as the world’s policeman; would expect and demand more of America’s allies; and would place fewer demands on our nation’s military.

This new strategy would enable us to reduce overall defense spending to pre-9/11 levels, a position supported by more than 4 in 10 Americans. As a Gallup Poll found earlier this year, “The percentage of Americans saying the government is spending too much on defense has increased by 11 points over the past year and is now at its highest level since 1990.” By contrast, only 20 percent believe that we should be spending more on the military.

The most direct and concise of the three, Rosenthal’s lead essay in The National Interest, makes a number of specific recommendations for what a new strategy would look like.

Of her several proposals, I would take strong issue with only one: Rosenthal calls for a concentrated national effort aimed at “creating alternate sources of energy.” I don’t see how this advances U.S. security, in general. We have very little to fear from the so-called oil weapon, as Eugene Gholz and Daryl Press argued earlier this year.

But even if one were to concede the dubious point that energy independence would make us safer, there are a number of other ways to achieve said independence that do not require a massive new Manhattan Project.

Rosenthal says, that “He who breaks the hydrocarbon monopoly rules the 21st century” – but technology is transferable. What is broken by one is available to all – for a price. Which explains why there are thousands of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists pursuing alternative energies. The UN Environment Program found that $70.9 billion was invested in renewables in 2006, a 43 percent increase over the previous year, and trends from the first quarter of 2007 showed still further growth.

That these investors would love to have taxpayer money to subsidize their efforts shouldn’t surprise anyone; that we would be gullible enough to do so is another matter entirely.

It may seem trite to point out that the market still functions with respect to the allocation of all other natural resources, from gold, to copper, to tin, but the “oil markets are different” mentality persists. Perhaps what we really need is a Manhattan Project to teach Americans the basics of economics, beginning with the laws of supply and demand?