Playing to Lose

Matthew Yglesias puts the blame for our troubles with Iran, naturally, at the feet of President Bush. Here’s the meat of his argument:

Immediately after 9-11 it was apparent that it would be good to change our energy policies so as to make it harder for oil-rich radicals to hold the world economy hostage. The administration has done nothing to change things.

Immediately after 9-11 it was apparent that the non-proliferation treaty contains large loopholes that it would be in the American interest to close. The Bush administration, irrationally averse to treaties and hard work alike, did nothing to change things.

Immediately after 9-11 it was apparent that it might be possible to achieve rapprochement with Iran, based on our cooperation against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The Bush administration rejected this approach, hinting instead at regime change in Iran.

Before we get to picking apart Yglesias’s points, I’d like to mention one other thing he said:

If liberals have any intention of playing politics to win, it’s absolutely vital to start making sure that when the broad public catches wind of the finger-pointing and recriminations, the fingers wind up pointing in the right direction — squarely at the face of George W. Bush.

Feet, face – whatever. Yglesias has made it clear he’s more interested in playing to win for liberals than he is in playing to win for America. But even if I’m guilty of reading too much into a single clause, his arguments don’t stand scrutiny.

Let’s take this point-by-point, starting with Yglesias’s assertion that things would be better if only Iran didn’t have so much oil money. He claims that after 9/11 it would have been “good to change our energy policies so as to make it harder for oil-rich radicals to hold the world economy hostage.”

I’ll pause here a moment. I’d like to give everyone with any understanding of the economics of energy, a chance to have a good, loud, long laugh at Matt’s expense.

Does he have no idea how much energy this country uses? Does he have any idea how long it takes to change consumption patterns? Is he really so clueless about the time and expense involved in switching energy sources? Does he really have no knowledge of how little we can change all those things in four years? Does he really believe the President, even a liberal one, can wave a magic wand and take billions of oil dollars away from the Middle East?

To be even more cruel, Yglesias seems to think that President John Kerry could have diverted Hurricane Katrina by pissing into the wind.

Given that we can’t radically alter our oil use over the course of a single Administration (or even an entire generation), maybe it would make sense to increase our domestic oil production. Bush has tried just that, time and again, by getting ANWR opened for drilling. But if Matt wants to play partisan politics, it’s probably best that he compounded his ignorance on one issue with silence on another.


Now let’s go to Yglesias’s Non-Proliferation Treaty boogeyman. Does Yglesias really want to point out, for partisan advantage, the holes in a treaty negotiated by the Johnson Administration and approved by the then-overwhelmingly Democratic Senate? In any case, the problem with the NNPT isn’t that it looks like thinly-sliced Swiss cheese – more holes than nutrition. The problem lies in enforcement. Enforcing the NNPT requires the member states, including China, to get serious with the offending party.

Fat chance.

Yglesias makes the mistake of so many well-meaning fools that treaties, by themselves, make facts on the ground. The loophole he refers to is the one allowing signatory states to enrich uranium for “peaceful” purposes. For states like Iran, determined to get nukes, closing that loophole would do little more than encourage them to hide even bigger parts of their weapons programs.

And if Iran got caught violating Yglesias’s dream-world NNPT? Well – so what? It’s not like the UN (or the EU) is going to do anything anyway. Iran is violating one version of the NNPT, so there would be nothing keeping them from violating another.

Before we get on to Matt’s final point, I’d like to apologize for calling him a “well-meaning fool.” By his own admission, Yglesias’s motives are purely partisan and not at all well-meant. We regret the error.