As he did with his probably illegal “recess” appointments, President Obama picked a politically advantageous time to cancel the Keystone pipeline project — while the media is obsessed with the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich’s second wife, and Mitt Romney’s investments. Yet it is hard to remember a presidential decision that had as many negatives as this one:
a) Jobs in tough times? Anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 high-paying jobs were lost. These were shovel-ready and private-sector, and they would have led to the real creation of wealth — the antithesis of Solyndra. How strange — we pay tens of millions of dollars for a few hundred subsidized, money-losing jobs, while passing over thousands of money-making ones.
b) National security? While we ratchet up the pressure on Iran, as gas prices climb, and as our subsidized wind/solar alternatives fizzle, we hope that, in extremis, the Saudis can reroute their exports through the Red Sea. How strange — we cancel our own pipeline while expecting others will never do the same.
c) Environment? If the Keystone project raises environmental issues, then every other comparable one would too. It is not as if the route bisects Yosemite on its way to Big Sur. How strange — we assume that the Saudis or the Turks can build pipelines across their own lands without environmental problems, but that we, the apparently less technologically advanced, cannot. We hear that oil is “fungible”; if so, each barrel that we pass on, someone else less green won’t.
d) Financial solvency? We are now almost $16 trillion in debt, and we import over $500 billion in fossil fuels per year. The more energy we produce, or the more cheaply we can import it, or the more our export dollars stay in North America, where they can be easily rerouted into the U.S. economy, the less we, the near-insolvent, must borrow. How strange — we keep passing on projects that would increase gas and oil production and availability and earn us money, but not on wind and solar counterparts that produce little energy and lots of debt.
e) Symbolism? President Obama and his supporters recently have talked of “big” ideas and projects, as if our generation fears to gamble on a Hoover Dam or man-to-the-moon project. Yet the president passed on the one chance that he’s had in his presidency to match reality with his empty rhetoric. How strange — our elites expect unstable regimes overseas to provide us with oil (Air Force One and Warren Buffett’s jet are not powered by solar panels), and to risk their own environments to do so, and for others to lend us the money to pay for our imported oil, and for the world to insulate itself from the blackmail of oil-exporting monstrosities like Iran, but we ourselves will do little of what we advocate or expect for others.
A footnote: This administration has a bad habit of taking credit for things that either occur despite its opposition or are entirely irrelevant to it. Thus it is now bragging that gas and oil production is up since 2009; this is, of course, not because the Obama administration has tabled thousands of leases offshore, in the Gulf, in the West, and Alaska, but because, as yet, it has not cancelled hydraulic fracking, a private-sector breakthrough that is bringing all sorts of unexpected wealth to the U.S. in the brief window before a dubious Obama administration decides what to do about it.
— Victor Davis Hanson is Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in classics and military history at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His latest book is The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.