March 29, 2004
Three Presidential elections from today -- in 12 years -- America will
face a crisis of direction that may even surpass the significance of
Abraham Lincoln's ascension in 1860. Why will the outcome in 2016 be so
important? Because the country will face a choice that cannot be
rescinded: either a multilateral foreign policy supporting a socialized
domestic one, or a largely unilateral, militaristic imperialism that
requires sacrificing the social welfare of Baby Boom retirees and their
children. Why is this irrevocable? Because it sets America's course for
dealing with the exhaustion of world petroleum: either turn away from
empire, and deal with a messy world in a bureaucratized and compromising
UN-way, or fortify Garrison America, militarizing its people for a
permanent state of war in an occupied Middle East.
Life In 2016
This will be a world of over 7 billion people, globally warmed to +1 °C above the average temperature between 1961 and 1990 (15 °C) -- with as yet unknown effects on climate.
The world oil production rate (barrels per day extracted) will most likely peak between 2012 and 2016, as rising world demand -- particularly from India and China -- collides with rapidly diminishing supply. By 2016 about 65% of world oil reserves will have been used, and a depletion of 80% is expected by 2028; this will all be common knowledge. The exploding price of oil will do much to undermine comfort and prosperity in the United States and Europe, and undercut industrial development and the rise of living standards in Asia, but it will do little to create more petroleum. A shift to coal and efforts to manufacture synthetic fuels will be costly, environmentally devastating, and of limited yield for liquid fuels. There is no escape, oil will end. (1), (2)
In the United States, the tidal wave of Baby Boom (say, those born between 1945-1955) retirements will be at its peak, and the Social Security Trust Fund will be (or, should be) at its highest rate of depletion. This population cohort will be a major voting bloc seeking to ensure there are no cut-backs in the retirement and medical benefits they have come to expect. Of course, it will also be wedded to a desire to maintain the standard of living it enjoyed during the prior decades of inexpensive petroleum.
The Fork Of 2016
If the Baby Boom cohort consolidates its concern around the issue of its Social Security and Medicare benefits, then the country may tilt as a whole away from empire. This is because increased taxes and deficit spending to support these socialized goals would be unavailable to support foreign wars to secure oil reserves. Call this the "social option" or "social change."
If the Baby Boom cohort splinters along economic class lines, then they might not be a decisive voting bloc, and the imperial and plutocratic tendencies of America's elite economic classes would have their way, stripping away many of the rights, freedoms and socialized structures that "cost too much" to the running of a militarized state. Call this the "imperial option" or "social inertia."
In either case we will have higher taxes and deficit spending. The tax structure is certain to be regressive either way, but likely to be more so with the imperial option.
The social option for American socio-political evolution can only occur if the Boomer cohort combines its economic and political powers into a unified bloc. Only then will corporate interests and government restructure their operations to serve such a commanding market and decisive electorate.
Judging from history, it seems most likely that America will choose to sacrifice its society in favor of military adventurism -- just as Iphigenia was sacrificed by Agamemnon to launch the Argives against Troy -- chasing an illusory fossil-fueled prosperity with a Foreign Legion of awesome firepower that consumes both the oil it seeks to win abroad and the social enhancements it could have had at home.
Let us consider each of these national evolutionary options in turn, first the social option, and then the imperial one. The success of either ultimately depends of the American people having a clear understanding of what they are doing, and a shaking off of delusional self-images. Truth works best when it is naked and clean, like the exposed blade of a Japanese sword flashing in the sun. My own preference is the social option.
The Social Option
If the country chooses the social option, then economic activity will center around the social and medical needs of the Boomer cohort, and the technological activity to shift smoothly from petroleum to alternative forms of energy that minimize environmental damage. This focus would have a cascading effect down to younger generations, by opening new career opportunities for them, and sharing with them the benefits of revitalized healthcare and educational infrastructures. We can anticipate a sizable group from the Boomer cohort returning to school ("adult education"), to acquire learning of personal interest and fulfillment.
The foreign policy needed to shield this domestic program from external harm would be one of world-engagement by multilateral diplomacy, as is the basis of the United Nations, and regional groupings such as the European Union. Our current "preemptive" militarized "offshoring" "globalization" would give way to a profusion of bilateral and multilateral economic-diplomatic agreements. This shift would probably spark explosive job growth in the State Department and trade negotiation agencies of our government, perhaps recycling retrained military officers from the down-sized Pentagon.
Of course, the American military will never be "small," it is just too lucrative a subsidy for that to ever occur. But, it would be much more of a defensive force under the social option, rather than a forward-projected threat to back-up domineering trade relationships. As a result, the American dollar will be propped up much more by American economic activity (a robust GDP), and less so by military power. America would seem much more like Japan and Northern Europe: robust economies combined with comprehensive and expansive social services.
A return to conscionable bilateral trade agreements as opposed to the unconscionable NAFTA, WTO and IMF structures would end the "offshoring" of American jobs and do much to end the slavery being inflicted in much of the Third World, to supply American products at "rock bottom" prices to an increasingly unemployed American population. The need to elicit diplomatic favor from other nations, to conclude bilateral agreements, would engage more of the popular concerns of those nations than were we to deal only with compliant oligarchies whom we prop up with extensions of our military power. In 1860 our slaves were here, in 2000 they were offshore, perhaps by 2016 we will emancipate them.
The 7th Cavalry In Saudi Arabia (The Imperial Option)
America will choose gas in the SUV over the expansion of Israel. This will require military occupations in Saudi Arabia and Palestine, to simultaneously placate a Muslim world as we extract Arab oil. Oil will become a "strategic national resource," so America may require rationing by civilians in order to supply the military. American mobility is fueled by oil, and war is a low-gas-mileage affair. A solar energy boom would arise, particularly for home heating.
The ideal occupiers of Saudi Arabia would be an Islamic proxy military force, as the Iraqis of a post-Saddam Hussein client state might have been. It seems unlikely that a compliant Iraqi state can be organized within 12 years, especially after the botched Second Gulf War of 2003-2004. Without a reliable Islamic proxy force, a direct occupation would be necessary, adding the tension of "infidels" occupying the land of Mecca and Medina. Clearly, such an occupation force would have to be large, and it would be expensive to maintain. But, it certainly would be popular back home, as the instrument of American vengeance for "Nine Eleven."
To soothe Muslim sentiment against such an occupation, America would find it expedient to create a state of Palestine within pre-1967 borders for the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and without any Israeli settlements. This would be accomplished be choking off the Israeli subsidy as needed to win compliance from the political factions in Israel, and encamping an American military force in Palestine to guarantee the security of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Only the potential of transiting American flesh and blood would effectively limit the attacks between these populations as they are separated into their respective corners. The incentive to limit attacks is, of course, the known consequences of American retaliation. These might have to be demonstrated once or twice in each direction to ensure future compliance. It is quite likely that the American occupiers and guarantors of protection would actually experience very little hostility over the long course of their stay. Once protected in an independent state, the Palestinians would cease to arouse world hostility towards the United States, and Israel would undoubtedly be a far happier place.
Once America has occupied Saudi Arabia and Palestine, it would probably be drawn to consider sending forces into Iraq (again) if it is "unstable," and might decide it necessary to invade Iran, if that nation is seriously committed to international guerrilla warfare against the United States. Since the American goal would be to ensure its access to Iraqi and Iranian oil, and since these nations are economically dependent on their oil revenues, it is most likely that a mutually agreeable arrangement would be arrived at diplomatically, especially after Palestine is defused.
All these foreign military operations will require a steady stream of soldiers. We might anticipate the return of the draft. However, it is very unlikely that America would again send draftees into a colonial war, as it did in Vietnam. Instead, conscript troops would man the operations for protecting the territory of the United States, its possessions, coastlines and close allies. The troops drawn into foreign expeditionary units would be volunteers -- in traditional Beau Geste style -- who would be offered incentives of high pay and post-service benefits. It is quite likely that these Foreign Legion professionals would be soldiers who have graduated from the "national service" sector of the armed forces guarding the American homeland.
Gold And Rule
The expense of steady war and occupation half a world away will be very large. Domestic pressure will resist tax increases and benefit decreases, while howling for the pleasures of fossil-fueled prosperity. As today, one can anticipate deficit spending to satisfy these conflicting demands. But why would other nations support our imperialism, by buying US bonds to underwrite debt created by our military expenses? Simply put, the "full faith and credit" of the US currency and bonds is based on overwhelming US military power -- the United States can take what it wants by force, if it chooses. Investment in American debt paper is better than gold at ensuring that value will be retained over time. For investors from small and poor nations, that is something indeed. As long as the U.S. is strong, other nations will invest in its dollars and bonds, and as long as other nations invest their wealth in US debt paper, the U.S. will be strong.
Any conspiracy to bankrupt the United Stated by a boycott of its debt paper is doomed to failure, because such a conspiracy requires discipline to resist taking individual action that is advantageous (investing in the U.S.), and because it relies on everyone remaining honorable. This is a false hope, and retaliation can be brutal against the weak. Persia, Athens, Rome, all exacted tribute, so in essence does the United States.
How To Pick Your Candidates
During the political campaigns of 2016, look for those who can speak the truth "naked and clean." They are most likely to plan effectively. Next, weigh your conscience and your human empathy against your willingness to assume the Spartan code and to find meaning, purpose and pride in wresting from the world both its riches and your glory. Arriving at this point with clarity, you will know who your leaders are. Then, proceed.
· · · · · ·
Notes and Resources
1. Manuel García, Jr., "Oil, Population And Global Warming," Swans, 15 March 2004. (back)
2. Paul Roberts, "Running Out of Oil - and Time," The Los Angeles Times, Editorial, Sunday 7 March 2004, reprinted at http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/030904G.shtml (as of 9 March 2004). (back)
America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Manuel García, Jr. is a graduate aerospace engineer, working as a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He did underground nuclear testing between 1978 and 1992. He is concerned with employee rights and unionization at the nuclear weapons labs, and the larger issue of their social costs. Otherwise, he is an amateur poet who is fascinated by the physics of fluids, zen sensibility, and the impact of truth.
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