The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have refocused attention on national security issues. Presidential candidates from both sides have spoken out in the days since the attacks, with proposals to enhance U.S. security ranging from military action against ISIS to more effective surveillance to refusing to accept Middle Eastern refugees. In the midst of this, perhaps we should step back and ask the big question, namely, what is the single most important thing that the U.S. can do to enhance its national security?
I think the answer is obvious: the single most important thing the U.S. can do to enhance its national security is to pursue policies to keep the price of hydrocarbon fuels low. Now of course, that doesn't mean doing much. In fact, the U.S. government doesn't have to spend a dime to keep the price of fossil fuels low. That's the best part about this. The U.S. just has to engage in basic capitalism, which means that it just has to get out of the way and let the producers increase the supplies, and that will cause the price to be driven down.
Perhaps when you considered the question, you came up with a different answer from mine. But I suggest that if you think about it you will realize that I am right. Essentially all the bad guys in the world are mostly funded by revenues from fossil fuel extraction, principally oil and natural gas. In the bad guy category, I certainly put Iran, Russia and Venezuela, as well as ISIS. Saudi Arabia and various Gulf states should also be on the list, not so much because their governments are direct strategic adversaries of the U.S., as because wealth stemming from oil extraction in those countries ends up via donations as revenue for ISIS, al-Qaeda, and their various affiliates.
I concede that Cuba and North Korea are serious bad guys, and they don't have significant fossil fuel revenue; but it's their very absence of fossil fuel revenue, combined with the fact that their economies are such basket cases, that leaves them with no weight to throw around on the world stage. I also concede that falling oil and gas prices are not a panacea for national security, and that all of the bad guys have at least some other sources of revenue that can be used to wreak havoc. The effect of falling oil revenue varies from one bad guy to the next. Russia, Iran and Venezuela have big fixed costs of government that leave them financially crippled when oil prices remain low for long periods. All of them need oil prices well over $100 per barrel to avoid big budget deficits and seeing their international reserves dwindle. ISIS is a much lower cost operation that seems to be able to sustain itself with taxes in its controlled territories and only small amounts of oil revenue; but think about how much more havoc they could wreak if their revenues from oil suddenly doubled or tripled.
Anyway, whether low oil prices are critically important to U.S. national security or just very important, there can be no question but that low oil prices financially hamper all of our serious strategic adversaries and greatly constrain their ability to make trouble on the world stage. So therefore, the policy of the U.S. is to seek lower oil and gas prices by all reasonable means. Right?
Actually, it's the opposite. The U.S. and many of its states intentionally engage in policy after policy seeking to raise the price of fossil fuels, and in ways that have the effect of increasing the revenues of the bad guys. In some cases these policies take the form of purposely and directly forcing the prices up. In other cases, the policies take the form of hampering and restricting alternative and competing production, which leads to lower supplies and therefore higher prices for the remaining producers. In the category of purposely and directly forcing prices up, we have various "cap and trade" programs, including one in California and the so-called "Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative" among several states in the Northeast. Then there's EPA's "Clean Power Plan," which seeks to force coal to stay in the ground (and, since wind and solar basically don't work, therefore forces demand to migrate to oil and gas). And then we have all the many, many policies that just prevent the production of alternative and competing supplies: the federal government stops selling oil leases on public lands; offshore drilling is subject to more and more restrictions; drilling is banned on the federal lands in Alaska (which comprise well over 90% of that vast state); the Keystone pipeline is blocked; Andrew Cuomo bans fracking in New York; and so forth. Somehow the fracking revolution nonetheless got around all of these restrictions and brought about huge price declines to the current low levels. But that was in spite of these government efforts, all of which were intended to achieve the opposite result.
But isn't national security the first priority of the government? Well, according to our President, the greatest threat to our national security is -- get ready -- climate change! From the Wall Street Journal on May 20, reporting on President Obama's commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy:
As rising seas swallow low-lying areas and threaten coastal military installations and as extreme-weather events increase the need for humanitarian missions, the U.S. military will need to factor climate change into plans and operations, the president said. Politicians who say they care about military readiness should care about addressing climate change, he said. “Denying it or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security,” Mr. Obama said. A new White House report released Wednesday lays out the links between climate change and national security, saying that it may exacerbate existing stressors such as poverty and political instability, and may provide enabling environments for terrorist activity abroad.
And of course, Obama is not alone in claiming climate change as the greatest national security threat. Secretary of State John Kerry has said the same thing multiple times. Candidate Bernie Sanders took the same position during Saturday's debate. Without doubt, Madame Hillary will be on board before you know it. Really, the level of cluelessness is impossible to comprehend.