The Wages Of Strategic Procrastination
October 11, 2005 - 11:54am ET
When I heard about the earthquake in Pakistan, it was immediately clear that there would be a large loss of life. Having worked at Catholic Relief Services during the Turkey and India earthquakes, I know intimately how the poor suffer for the incompetence and corruption of developing world governments. But it was also clear that the earthquake would challenge the existence of Gen. Musharraf's dictatorship.
That's because I also know how quickly such pervasive insecurity can be transformed into anger and that anger channeled into a political movement that can negate the power of a military dictatorship. In China, it's called losing the 'mandate of heaven.'
It will take a few weeks before local politicians decide whether there is enough anger in the population to attempt to sweep the Musharraf regime from power. His fate will largely rest with the quality of the emergency response. Meanwhile, the Pakistani intelligence services will likely be working overtime trying to silence the would-be challengers.
But what is certain now is that Pakistan is only one shock away from chaos. Whatever buffer Musharraf had built up has crumbled like so many poorly designed Pakistani buildings.
And that should scare Washington. Unlike Iran or North Korea, Pakistan has nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. Should the government fall into the hands of a properly extremist element, Pakistan's weapons could be aimed west, toward the oil fields of Saudi Arabia rather than East, toward Pakistan's chronic enemy, India.
Actually taking out Saudi Arabia's oil operations at Ras Tanura, a target within range of the Pakistani missiles, would instantly destabilize the current international order. Western economies would collapse under massive fuel shortages, especially in light of all the shut-in production in the Gulf of Mexico . For anyone interested in breaking the will of the United States and shaking up the tottering old autocracies in the Middle East, this would do it.
Will such an event occur? Juan Cole notes that lesser shocks have rocked more stable governments, like Turkey.
What is important, however, is that this earthquake has taken us one step closer to that nightmare scenario, just on the heels of the oil field devastation in the Gulf of Mexico and the Saudi warning on civil war in Iraq.
Our strategic vulnerability has never been more pronounced or impossible to overcome. Just as there is no military solution to the mess in Iraq, there is no way to maintain our dependence on petroleum and be free of the political instability in Southwest Asia.
We have procrastinated too long. Preferring the unfounded belief that our military can defend a global commodity owned in large part by despots and wanted desperately by all nations. It is now time to set America on a course that will free us from any dependence on petroleum.
And in doing so, we will shift from defense to offense.
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Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future