These days, the price of oil seems ever on the rise. A barrel of crude broke another barrier Wednesday — $123 — on international markets, and the talk is now of the sort of “superspike” in pricing (only yesterday unimaginable) that might break the $200 a barrel ceiling “within two years.” And that would be without a full-scale American air assault on Iran, after which all bets would be off.
Considering that, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, oil was still in the $20 a barrel price range, this is no small measure of what the Bush administration years have really accomplished. Today, it’s hard even to remember not 9/11, but 11/9 — November 9, 1989 — the day that the Berlin Wall fell, signaling that, soon enough, after its seventy-odd year life, that Reaganesque Evil Empire, the Soviet Union, was heading for the door. In 1991, it disappeared from the face of the Earth without a whimper. Until almost the last moment, top officials in Washington assumed it would go on forever; and, when it was gone, most of them couldn’t, at first, believe it. Soon enough, however, the event was hailed as the greatest of American triumphs — “victory” not just in the Cold War, but at a level never before seen. Finally, for the first time in history, there was but a single superpower on the planet.
At the dawn of a new century, the administration of George Bush the younger, packed with implacable former Cold Warriors, came to power still infused with that sense of global triumphalism and planning to rollback what was left of the old Soviet Union, an impoverished Russia, into an early grave.
Almost seven and a half years later, as Michael Klare so vividly indicates below, an observer might be pardoned for wondering whether there hadn’t been two super losers in the Cold War. Had the Soviet Union, the weaker of the two great powers of the second half of the last century, simply imploded first, while the U.S., enwreathed in a cloud of self-congratulation, was almost unbeknownst to itself also slowly making its way toward an exit? And, as a final irony, Klare — author of the not-to-be-missed new book Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet — points out, energy has refloated Russia, even as it’s sinking us. Tom
Portrait of an Oil-Addicted Former Superpower
By Michael T. Klare
Nineteen years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall effectively eliminated the Soviet Union as the world’s other superpower. Yes, the USSR as a political entity stumbled on for another two years, but it was clearly an ex-superpower from the moment it lost control over its satellites in Eastern Europe.
Less than a month ago, the United States similarly lost its claim to superpower status when a barrel crude oil roared past $110 on the international market, gasoline prices crossed the $3.50 threshold at American pumps, and diesel fuel topped $4.00. As was true of the USSR following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the USA will no doubt continue to stumble on like the superpower it once was; but as the nation’s economy continues to be eviscerated to pay for its daily oil fix, it, too, will be seen by increasing numbers of savvy observers as an ex-superpower-in-the-making.