Legacy of 9/11: misdirected focus

Instead of ‘drill, baby, drill,’ it should be ‘innovate, baby, innovate’

If the measure of a nation is how it responds to catastrophe, the United States has largely failed in its response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, seven years ago this week. Yes, there surely have been innumerable individual acts of courage and commitment since then, especially on the part of our soldiers and marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we’re better at fighting terrorists than we were—but so far our response has been largely self-protective and fear-based, rather than proactive and positive.

Think of the results: two wars, more than 4,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis dead, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, the Patriot Act, extraordinary rendition, black sites, the erosion of our Constitution, a debilitating drain on the treasury—the list goes on. As New York Times columnist Tom Friedman puts it, we’ve become “the United States of Fighting Terrorism.”

What we need to become instead, he argues, is “the United States of Energy Technology.” The only way we’re going to break free of the grip of Middle Eastern petro-dictators and the terrorists they support is to free ourselves from reliance on fossil fuels, and the only way to do that is to launch a government-backed program of green energy technology development. As he puts it, instead of “drill, baby, drill,” we should be saying “innovate, baby, innovate.”

The first step would be to put a floor on the price of oil. Investors won’t take a risk on new energy technologies unless they know they can compete with oil. As Friedman says, if we don’t do it, China will, and the U.S. will fall behind in what is sure to become the most significant and lucrative new industry since Internet technology.