Thursday, October 26, 2006

Unpleasant Options on North Korea

Just finished a talk on where we go vis-a-vis North Korea after the nuclear test and Secretary Rice's Asian tour at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York.

New Yorkers seem to have a better grasp of the concept of setting priorities and balancing costs and benefits than Washington (after all, we run deficits all the time). But seriously, we are approaching a juncture that with North Korea and Iran we will either have to bargain with other major powers for a shared outcome--which may be far short of our optimal position--or we will have to shoulder larger burdens to do things largely unilaterally or with only a few other major partners.

I'm really getting tired of DC rhetoric from both right and left about "low cost solutions." There aren't any. We have to start talking about different types of costs.

But then again, as I reminded the audience, I'm not a politician. ("I promise you victory, I promise you good times!")

If you really want to be disgusted by DC rhetoric, check out Rick Santorum's "Gathering Storm" speech. He says in no uncertain terms that Iran, like the Nazis before them, is intent on conquering the globe and destroying our civilization (in collusion with North Korea and Venezuela). Strong stuff, right? So what's his solution - legislation for "freedom in Iran" and more domestic oil drilling.

All this is apparently sufficient to save the entirety of our civilization from destruction. Shameful.
Why didn't US politicians of both parties call for a Manhattan project for energy independence on 9/12/01 and devote the resources to make it happen? We are in a box on Iran because of oil dependence--they benefit from high prices and states don't want real tough sanctions because they don't want the pain.

Santorum and others could say, Americans, Iran is the next nazi germany, so you need to pay $6 gas at the pump so that we can exert meaningful pressure. Don't hold your breath.
to anonymous:

(1) Because a magnificent set of government programs (not unlike that which was proposed by Sen. Lugar in a previous issue of TNI) would at best waste billions in now-scarce tax revenue and at worst would also shoulder a broad swathe of sectors with costly burdens and requirements, all without doing anything to significantly displace imported hyrdocarbons as the cornerstone of the economy

(2)Even if this "Manhatten Project" could be effective, decreasing US consumption of hydrocarbons necessarily lowers their international price. This is a classic free-rider problem, as the US would bear great costs to effectively subsidize greater consumption in other countries, especially China. This should be particularly worrying to realists with an eye towards relative power.

(3) The consensus position is that only the gradual imposition of a progressive marginal tax on energy could begin to significantly affect US consumption patterns. This is perhaps the most politically suicidal position that any poltician could adopt, short of mandatory gay marriage for all males over 18.
"...we will have to shoulder larger burdens to do things largely unilaterally or with only a few other major partners."

What partners are left? Britain has been nearly beggered by its deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and it is having the same worries over the costs of replacing equipment degraded in these combat zones. A Prime Minister who recommends further following the US into war will not last long!

The major continental European powers barely talk to us; is France or Germany going to contribute troops or money to fight North Korea or Iran?

That leaves Japan. The prospect of a Japanese attack on North Korea is not going to sit well with the rest of Asia, and maybe not with the voting public in Japan. And Iran is a long reach for them, even with US lift capability. Such as it is.

No one is left who will or can fight with us, at least no country of consequense.

Actually, we would be very hard pressed to fight either state without going nuclear. Our military has been badly worn down.
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