Sunday, May 14, 2006
The Friedman Article
Thomas Friedman: The US Humbled
God, how depressing. Oil made us, and oil will break us.
The Post-Post-Cold War
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: May 10, 2006
Being in Eastern Europe in the wake of Dick Cheney's warning to Russia against using its oil and gas exports as "tools for intimidation and blackmail" has been revealing. The Financial Times noted that some Russian media presented Mr. Cheney's remarks as echoing Winston Churchill's 1946 speech in Fulton, Mo., warning that an "Iron Curtain" was descending on Europe.
I actually don't think we're going back to the cold war. I think we're going forward. We're leaving the world we've been in the post-cold-war world and entering the post-post-cold-war world. Americans won't like the post-post-cold-war world, unless they get serious about energy.
The cold-war world was a bipolar world, stabilized by a nuclear balance between two superpowers. The post-cold-war world was, for Americans, a unipolar belle poque, in which an American Hyperpower, as the French dubbed it, seemed to dominate the global scene, economically and strategically a scene characterized by a steady expansion of free markets and freely elected governments.
The post-post-cold war is a multipolar world, where U.S. power is being checked from every corner. China is rising as a power, thanks to hard work and high savings. Beyond China, though, other powers are rising thanks only to soaring oil prices, powers that were on the decline in the post-cold war.
These are: Vladimir Putin's Russia, which is countering the U.S. on a variety of fronts; Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, which is Castro's Cuba on steroids in the post-post-cold-war world, leading a new wave of nationalizations and anti-Americanism in Latin America; and, of course, Iran using its oil windfall to go nuclear. Yes, $70-a-barrel oil is making this post-post-cold-war world a multipolar world.
"It's the 'axis of oil,' " says Michael Mandelbaum, author of "The Case for Goliath." "It is more lasting and more important than terrorism and we don't have any policy for it."
Not only are others becoming more assertive: the U.S. has become less intimidating. With Americans bleeding in Iraq, with George Bush hugely unpopular in Europe, and with the U.S. two-party system so warped it can't even respond to a crisis like energy, America is not as feared as it was.
"In 2002 and 2003 everyone was talking about the American 'Hyperpower,' " said Eric Frey, editor of the Austrian daily Der Standard. "No one these days is talking about overwhelming American power, and that has even added to the anti-Americanism. Because before you had resentment and respect, and now you have resentment and scorn."
At the same time, the re-emergence of Russia has gotten the attention of Eastern Europe. Hungary gets more than half of its natural gas from Russia. Lately, some Hungarians have started to recall an old cold war joke: After the Hungarian soccer team beat the Soviet team, the Kremlin sent Hungary's leaders a brief telegram that read: "Congratulations on your victory. Stop. Oil stop. Gas stop."
"If you had asked me five years ago, I would have told you the whole story is finished no more Russian bear," said Pal Reti, editor of HVG, the Hungarian economic magazine. "They have so many problems themselves they would not have time to care about others' problems. But I've found that they have another set of priorities and they now have the muscle" to act on them. Yes, Russia no longer has much of an army or any ideology, but it still has a lot of brutish instincts, and now it has the oil money to push them.
In the post-cold-war world, European integration and economic reform seemed irreversible and certain to make Europe into a world democratic power. But in the post-post-cold war, Europe can't unite on anything â€” even on an energy policy â€” so it is being pushed around by Russia.
"I am very pessimistic about Western Europe and that is new," remarked Lajos Bokros, a professor of economics at the Central European University in Budapest. Too many Western Europeans "are not competitive enough" and "do not want to implement the reforms." Unless Europe chooses the high-growth Irish model, as opposed to the French, Italian and German models, Mr. Bokros added, "the whole European region will decline further and become insignificant and irrelevant for this global game."
For all these reasons, I don't miss the cold war, but I do miss the post-cold war. Because this post-post-cold-war world seems infinitely more messy, difficult to manage and full of way too many bad guys getting rich, not by building decent societies, but by simply drilling oil wells.