December 5, 2004
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Of all the irresponsible aspects of the 2005 budget bill
that the Republican-led Congress just passed, nothing could
be more irresponsible than the fact that funding for the
National Science Foundation was cut by nearly 2 percent, or
Think about this. We are facing a mounting crisis in
science and engineering education. The generation of
scientists, engineers and mathematicians who were spurred
to get advanced degrees by the 1957 Soviet launch of
Sputnik and the challenge by President John Kennedy to put
a man on the moon is slowly retiring.
But because of the steady erosion of science, math and
engineering education in U.S. high schools, our cold war
generation of American scientists is not being fully
replenished. We traditionally filled the gap with Indian,
Chinese and other immigrant brainpower. But post-9/11, many
of these foreign engineers are not coming here anymore,
and, because the world is now flat and wired, many others
can stay home and innovate without having to emigrate.
If we don't do something soon and dramatic to reverse this
"erosion," Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of Rensselaer
Polytechnic and president of the American Association for
the Advancement of Science, told me, we are not going to
have the scientific foundation to sustain our high standard
of living in 15 or 20 years.
Instead of doubling the N.S.F. budget - to support more
science education and research at every level - this
Congress decided to cut it! Could anything be more idiotic?
If President Bush is looking for a legacy, I have just the
one for him - a national science project that would be our
generation's moon shot: a crash science initiative for
alternative energy and conservation to make America
energy-independent in 10 years. Imagine if every American
kid, in every school, were galvanized around such a vision.
Ah, you say, nice idea, Friedman, but what does it have to
do with your subject - foreign policy?
Everything! You give me an America that is
energy-independent and I will give you sharply reduced oil
revenues for the worst governments in the world. I will
give you political reform from Moscow to Riyadh to Tehran.
Yes, deprive these regimes of the huge oil windfalls on
which they depend and you will force them to reform by
having to tap their people instead of oil wells. These
regimes won't change when we tell them they should. They
will change only when they tell themselves they must.
When did the Soviet Union collapse? When did reform take
off in Iran? When did the Oslo peace process begin? When
did economic reform become a hot topic in the Arab world?
In the late 1980's and early 1990's. And what was also
happening then? Oil prices were collapsing.
In November 1985, oil was $30 a barrel, recalled the noted
oil economist Philip Verleger. By July of 1986, oil had
fallen to $10 a barrel, and it did not climb back to $20
until April 1989. "Everyone thinks Ronald Reagan brought
down the Soviets," said Mr. Verleger. "That is wrong. It
was the collapse of their oil rents." It's no accident that
the 1990's was the decade of falling oil prices and falling
If President Bush made energy independence his moon shot,
he would dry up revenue for terrorism; force Iran, Russia,
Venezuela and Saudi Arabia to take the path of reform -
which they will never do with $45-a-barrel oil - strengthen
the dollar; and improve his own standing in Europe, by
doing something huge to reduce global warming. He would
also create a magnet to inspire young people to contribute
to the war on terrorism and America's future by becoming
scientists, engineers and mathematicians. "This is not just
a win-win," said the Johns Hopkins foreign policy expert
Michael Mandelbaum. "This is a win-win-win-win-win."
Or, Mr. Bush can ignore this challenge and spend the next
four years in an utterly futile effort to persuade Russia
to be restrained, Saudi Arabia to be moderate, Iran to be
cautious and Europe to be nice.
Sure, it would require some sacrifice. But remember
J.F.K.'s words when he summoned us to go to the moon on
Sept. 12, 1962: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade
and do the other things, not because they are easy, but
because they are hard, because that goal will serve to
organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,
because that challenge is one that we are willing to
accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we
intend to win."
Summoning all our energies and skills to produce a
21st-century fuel is George W. Bush's opportunity to be
both Nixon to China and J.F.K. to the moon - in one move.