Saturday, November 3, 2007

Home of the Free

Here's a report of a high-level simulated exercise that took place last week here in D.C. The exercise was to simulate what would happen if there were a crippling attack on just one energy source in the world. The result of the simulation: evidence of U.S. "impotence" and the likelihood of a military draft.

Former Treasury Secretary Rubin played the part of the hypothetical President's National Security Advisor. His response: "With global production capacity almost maxed out, there is little possibility of replacing the lost oil flow. 'It shows how weak our hand is,' he says, as the group falters on urging the president to do more than assuage US consumers."

What strikes me about Rubin's response is the unreflective way in which Americans are referred to as "consumers." That is now our presumptive identity: people who consume. By such a self-definition, any such scenario - any such condition of want - will cause a massive identity crisis. It will be hard to assuage people who think that money entitles them to buys things. If we can't consume, what can we do? Who are we?

Such a crisis in the past had the effect of bringing Americans together, of calling upon our deepest reservoirs of civic commitment. Can such reservoirs be assumed to persist in an age when we are so easily identified as "consumers," and when the only call to sacrifice we have heard in response to the most deadly attack on American soil is to go shopping?

ADDENDUM, 11.5.07:
More on this report in today's WaPo. Note the rather sanguine reportage about "unusual" conditions that are giving rise to record high oil prices. It is "unusual" only if one believes that the laws of supply and demand can actually create new oil. Otherwise, what we take to be unusual is going to become the norm.

And here's a report in the New York Times. My favorite line here is by Mike McCurry, who (rightly, but idiotically) observes that a crisis of this scale would mean that the sitting President would realize (s)he's a one-term President. That's the biggest take-away from this exercise? When will these people get a clue?


Kevin J. Jones said...

It's hard to see how a bunch of consumers could tolerate the draft. Citizens might, but not consumers.

Patrick Deneen said...

Citizens might object to a draft initiated so that we can "extend U.S. power" over foreign oil production points. Citizens might rather stand for freedom, even if it means having to do with less oil. Indeed, the existence of citizens might make a draft wholly unnecessary. But, consumers don't see things that way, so it's consumers who will be drafted.