Just what we needed: In the midst of a global war to defend the West from radical Jihadists, we get a global financial crisis caused by the incompetence and/or corruption of Washington and Wall Street bigwigs.
The economic cloud has a threadbare silver lining: The price of oil has been falling. But that does not mean Tehran will slow spending on nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, terrorist groups -- and the sundry ways these elements can be combined to threaten, intimidate and perhaps inflict damage on those it views as its mortal enemies.
Speaking at the UN last month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted that the "American empire is reaching the end of the road." You can be sure that he, Osama bin Laden and others of the militant Islamist persuasion will be attempting to speed that journey through whatever means - military, political and economic - they can devise. Leftists such as Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez and autocrats such Russia's Vladimir Putin will lend a helping hand.
Middle East sheiks also are unlikely to tell the terrorists they've been funding to do more with less. They know it's not just America's 401k plans that have taken a hit: It's also America's confidence. How would a devastating, new terrorist attack affect the national mood? You can bet this question is being discussed in various palaces and caves.
Also, don't expect the Saudis to slash the funds they give to their many agents of influence in Washington, on American college campuses and in the growing number of mosques taken over by Wahhabi clerics. Wahhabism is, of course, the extremist strain of Islam that has been imposed as the official and exclusive state religion/ideology in Arabia since its conquest by the House of Sa'ud. Given time and Saudi oil money, Wahhabism is likely to become the dominant form of Islam throughout much of the world.
For these reasons, if slightly lower prices at the pump lull us into thinking that developing energy sources not controlled by hostile regimes is no longer an urgent matter, we'll be making yet another disastrous mistake.
We all reeled when we were told that the government's rescue plan or bail out or whatever it's called would cost $700 billion. Coincidently, $700 billion is also the sum we send abroad in a single year in exchange for oil. This historically unprecedented transfer of wealth, Texas tycoon T. Boone Pickens says in his television ads, is "wrecking our economy."
Should a global recession lead to oil falling below about $60 a barrel (it's just under $80 as I write this), we ought to break out the bubbly (French vintners will need the business) and then use taxes to set a floor on gasoline prices so that the development of alternative fuels is not undermined again, as it was following the oil shock of the 1970s.
Other taxes can -- and should -- be lowered to compensate. Such an energy policy, would reduce future fuel price volatility (you may never again fill up for $1.50 a gallon but you won't pay $5.00 either) while strengthening America's energy security and national security -- two concepts now firmly joined at the hip.
A story was told during the Cold War: Two businessmen visiting Moscow spot a man with binoculars atop the Kremlin. They ask what he's doing. "I'm watching for the coming of communism," he says. The businessmen huddle and then approach the man again: "Whatever they're paying you, we'll double it. We'll give you an office in the Empire State Building. You'll watch for the coming crisis of capitalism." The man considers, then demurs. "Sorry," he says. "I have a family. I require permanent work."
Indeed, the promised communist utopia never arrived. And capitalism seems to be suffering no end of crises. Most Americans - military personnel excepted -- have enjoyed the fruits of capitalism coupled with freedom while doing little to earn these blessings and less to defend them. To protect the American way of life for future generations will require a recovery of vision, courage, determination and energy (both liquid and moral). I'm not confident the crises we are now experiencing will produce that but, if they do, they will turn out to have been just what we needed after all.