Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) let fly an op-ed in the Wall Street journal today entitled “Why Is Bush Helping Saudi Arabia Build Nukes?” that glides around some very odd desert lands. First, he dings President Bush for going nuclear instead of solar, noticing that the kingdom has lots of sunshine:
Have Ms. Rice, Mr. Bush or Saudi leaders looked skyward? The Saudi desert is under almost constant sunshine. If Mr. Bush wanted to help his friends in Riyadh diversify their energy portfolio, he should have offered solar panels, not nuclear plants.
Second, he doubts that Saudi Arabia has good intentions, especially with Iran nearby:
An Iranian nuclear weapon would radically alter the region's balance of power, and could prove to be the match that lights the tinderbox. By signing this agreement with the U.S., Saudi Arabia is warning Iran that two can play the nuclear game.
And third, those ingrate Saudis are taking advantage of us while they have us over an <ahem> barrel. (Yes, we will be here all week – tip the waitress, she works hard for her money.)
While the scorching Saudi Arabian sun heats sand dunes instead of powering photovoltaic panels, millions of Americans will fork over $4 a gallon without realizing that their gas tank is fueling a nascent nuclear arms race.
Well, where to start? It’s practically a regular feature here at Nuclear Notes that the Arabian peninsula has become a real market-in-the-making for nuclear energy, and America, France, Great Britain and Russia are all up for partnerships. We agree with Markey that Iran has made the atmosphere a trifle thick, and gas prices thicker even. But the goal among the desert regions has been to pursue nuclear energy to free up more oil for export and to prepare for the world that’s coming – one that finds its way away from oil. After all, Markey sees it coming – heck, he wants to hasten it – so why shouldn’t Saudi Arabia?
A larger issue, though, and odd for a Democrat, is the notion that Saudi Arabia or any country should take from America only what we might want to give it. We either partner with Saudi Arabia, offer advice if it partners with France or Russia, or whistle in the dark while it pursue its own agenda. Any of these choices is legitimate; whichever America chooses, Saudi Arabia remains a sovereign nation, an ally America has counted on, and beholden to America’s whim only as far as it suits its own self-interest.
By now, we hope the words nuclear and sinister have lost any quality as synonyms. Markey is looking backwards when he uses nuclear energy as a stalking horse for proliferation. It isn’t and imagining otherwise allows bad actors to seize the debate about nuclear energy through fear rather than logic.
An even larger issue, and odd for any responsible politician, is the lumping of all Arab countries into a ragbag of discontent and incipient bad intentions. It’s like Canada being “blamed” for the Iraq War and tarnished forever because of it. Saudi Arabia and its neighbors Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE are working as a team with the International Atomic Energy Agency to get things rolling and as we reported awhile ago, it looks like Dubai (with Great Britain as a partner) will be the first to get a nuclear energy plant humming. Does Markey want to discuss the sinister intentions of Dubai? Why, it has the second happiest place in the world within its borders.
We respect Rep. Markey quite a lot. He may sometimes roost too comfortably within the nanny-state wing of the Democratic party - one of his big issues currently is childhood obesity, leading to a letter by him to Nestle asking it not to target advertising at children since a study shows a link between advertising and overconsumption of things like yummy Nestle candy bars. Markey might be better advised to ask Birds Eye or a similar company to start targeting children (broccoli can be cool if the ads are made well; Nestle probably has the template for doing that.)
But Markey’s also genuinely grappling with issues of importance in a way that makes sense or at the very least points productive directions forward. His Cap and Invest bill (link to his home page – a bunch of pdfs are there about his bill – we always get annoyed when linked directly to a pdf) would auction carbon permits and reinvest the monies into new technologies. He really likes cellulosic ethanol, though renewables in general suit him.
Picture of Rep. Edward Markey. At least with a cup in his hand, he can’t point, which politicians do more than hunting dogs.