Americans believe in their own exceptionalism.  The belief is commonly (though not exclusively) expressed in their refusal to make choices.  Other people make choices.  Americans are smarter.  Properly applied technology alleviates the need to choose.  It really is possible to have and eat the same slice of cake.  From cell phones to suburbs to diet pills, Americans believe that technology can always prevent them having to choose, and not having to choose and prioritize (deal with scarcity, the economists like to say) almost makes one a god.  Americans are like gods. 

So it is with American foreign policy.  Don’t like what’s happening on the ground in Libya?  America needn’t make the hard decision to forcibly impose its will.  It just needs to establish a “no-fly zone” that would prevent Libya’s government from imposing its own.  But Defense Secretary Robert Gates, apparently the only adult in the room at a congressional hearing yesterday on Defense Department funding stated the obvious:

Let’s just call a spade a spade.  A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya.

All the sophomoric congressmen and diplomats (i.e., the Secretary of State) should take heed.  There are occasions when Americans really must make decisions.  Deciding to establish a no-fly zone requires an attack on Libya to shut down its anti-aircraft capability.  Get it?  There’s no pill that will make the consequences of the decision go away.

If my hopes of $20/gallon oil were to actually come to fruition, the temptation to resolve the problem with the applied technology of fighter planes and battle tanks would be huge.  America’s mercenaries in uniform (which is what you call people who kill and destroy things for a paycheck) would no doubt willingly fight to preserve America’s right, by God, to cheap oil.  They have done so at least twice (and I with them one of the times) since the end of the Cold War.  But the limits of military force, even intelligently-applied and technologically-advanced military force, would quickly enough be revealed. 

America has the might to simply go and steal oil.  It could easily appropriate all the oil in Saudi Arabia.  It has the military capability.  Yet while the initial, explicit cost to do so might make it seem cheaper than paying $20/gallon for gasoline, the latent long-term costs would be enormous.  Without the will to kill and destroy until the Saudi people were effectively cleansed from the land (like God instructed the Hebrews to do to the Canaanites), followed by colonizing American loyalists or nationals, the military would be bogged down for years in subduing and oppressing a stiff-necked people half a world away.  Like Afghanistan and Iraq adventures have proved, costs would quickly escalate beyond any reasonable initial estimates.  The very fact of the mercenary military, i.e., that Americans hire out to meet their killing and destroying needs, is indicative of how little stomach American society generally has for such things.  Without the will to conquer and colonize an oil-rich kingdom, America may as well continue paying market prices for the stuff. 

But could domestic production be ramped up to replace imports?

In a word, no.  $20/gallon gasoline would certainly make marginally-recoverable oil reserves attractive.  But America imports half of its oil.  There is no way, even if the political will existed to eliminate all the environmental barriers to exploration and drilling, that domestic oil production could double. 

The only long-term, feasible way around $20/gallon gasoline would be reducing domestic demand and reliance on oil.   If Americans truly are exceptional, finding a way to do so shouldn’t be all that difficult.