The Energy Angle: Why Hillary Clinton is Right about Putin

Both energy companies and consuming countries who still think appeasing Russian President Vladimir Putin will solve their long term problems need to think again. Hillary Clinton’s tough talk about why we must stand up to energy fascism is spot on and needs to be carefully heeded.

The West and China have undoubtedly benefited from cheap energy supply for decades and I know it is hard to give up that luxury. But Europe is now facing unpleasant choices, and the United States must back up their ability for steadfastness both in words and deeds. The first step is for President Obama to make it clearer that he intends to share American energy resources, even if it means higher energy prices for Americans. That is what it means to be an alliance of democracies.

I get it. We don’t have the physical facilities right now to export our natural gas to Europe. But we do have a giant government controlled Strategic Petroleum Reserve that is filled with light sweet crude that we are unlikely to need over time given our own rising domestic production of the same quality of crude oil. The President needs to let our allies in Europe know publicly that we are willing to lend them this oil, to stretch out their own strategic stocks, if the need arises. American consumers and businesses need to rise to that occasion. We should be too embarrassed to say out loud that prices at the pump or American petrochemical profits are more important to us than our steadfast commitment to Europe in these dangerous times. Why is the business community not on this same page? Is Hillary Clinton the only one in America who understands the danger that Vladimir Putin poses?

The US administration (and everyone else) has been too silent on the energy part of the problem with Russia. “Responsible” world leaders are telling themselves that they are trying to avoid an energy crisis that could cripple the global economy. But it would be better to have an energy crisis and, albeit expensively, reconfirm our commitment to alternative energy and advanced automotive engine design than to give up our individual freedoms and allow a revisionist Putin to drive the world order into chaos. The world needs to reduce its reliance on Russian energy dramatically over time and stomach the short term consequences of such a decision.

In today’s world of cyber-attack and advanced weapons systems, we cannot afford to leave energy fascism in place. President Putin has revealed himself in so many ways, first in 2006 with the hint that he could cut off energy supply over a democratic election result in Eastern Europe that he didn’t like, and now with the accidental downing of ML17. Do we need to know whether the Russians are responsible for the innocent people killed? It is enough to know that Russia has the ability to intimidate us all into submission to know we have to do something about it. This link is to an article that articulates many of the ways Russia has used the energy weapon in the past.

I say us all because the actions of Vladimir Putin don’t just threaten Ukrainians, they also threaten Americans like myself.

For example, if it turns out that Russia could consider giving missiles to a party that would “accidentally” shoot down civilian aircraft and then without Russia also vociferously condemning that act and then doing something really definitive to make sure it never happens again, then international travel will, sadly, abruptly end. That will hinder global economic activity as much as an energy supply cutoff, as we learned after September 11.

I am already finding myself wondering: Will I be safe to travel to other countries if I have to fly over Russian air space, over airspace with Russian military clients, or over airspace where Russian weaponry is simply sold for profit to line the pockets of Putin’s inner circle of friends?   I don’t even like the idea that I have to consider such a concern, and I am saddened to think that there could be an accidentally partitioned world that I would be leaving to my children because our generation wanted the economic benefits that came with cheap energy. I suppose there will be an app soon for what flights don’t travel over Russian client airspace.

And what if Putin doesn’t like my blogging? If we keep emboldening him, would Vladimir Putin try to silence Western journalists through digital bullying? Are we certain Putin will stop at the East Ukrainian border to hinder freedom of speech?

I can imagine a world where a leader like Putin could try to make a cyber-attack against the Houston Chronicle so they drop a columnist. I doubt it would be successful (we are Americans and we will stand up to that kind of fascism) but honestly, like Hillary, we need to show that we aren’t afraid. We need to stop pandering to the Russians out of concern about energy supplies. In considering energy supply ahead of other values, we take our civil liberties and way of life for granted.

There is much more at stake here than energy prices. Americans need to stand behind our President as he offers to share our energy with Europe.