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Want to Defeat Putin? Deliver the Green New Deal

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GUEST COMMENTARY - The rhetoric of a war on Russian oil and gas would be powerful and would expose congressmen and senators who dragged their feet to charges of aiding the enemy. 

President Joe Biden, at the end of his impassioned address in Warsaw, said:

“A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase a people’s love for liberty. Brutality will never grind down their will to be free. Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia — for free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness

We will have a different future — a brighter future rooted in democracy and principle, hope and light, of decency and dignity, of freedom and possibilities.

For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

It should be obvious that Biden was not making a threat to carry out regime change. but expressing a wish for a juster world in which a leader like Russian President Vladimir Putin could not survive his own public after committing war crimes in Ukraine,

But if Mr. Biden wants to do something practical to make it less likely that Putin can survive, or can be the leader of a medium power on the world stage if he does, he should frame the green energy transition as emergency legislation needed to combat the Russian oil and gas giant. If the US develops the technology and infrastructure to electrify transportation quickly, it will defund states like Russia and Iran, who punch above their weight in world affairs largely because of their production of pricey fossil fuels. Russia’s ruble has rebounded as it has become clear that the world will go on buying its oil and gas.

The United States imported 8% of its petroleum products from Russia in 2021, though Biden is going to end those imports. That won’t matter, because the US will just buy from somewhere else, and the old customers of that producer will be forced to turn to Russia. Unless demand is taken out of the market, Putin goes on getting rich. Moreover, Europe cannot as easily cut Russia off as the US, because it has little oil or gas of its own. A full court press for electrified transportation in the US will have a devastating effect on investment in the industry and will throw up new technologies that will help revive US industry and help other countries go green as well.

Washington State has shown how this can be done. Governor Jay Inslee has just signed a game-changing law that requires all vehicles bought, sold or registered in the state with a model year of 2030 or later to be electric!

Eleven other states intend to ban internal combustion engine vehicles (ICE) vehicles by 2035, including California and New York. Since there won’t be much point manufacturing cars just for small states like Alabama, these laws are likely ICE-killers.

But these states want Mr. Biden and Congress to step up and put the federal government’s muscle behind such laws.

Biden is positioning clean energy and climate measures to be part of his budget this year. It might be harder for Republicans and two Democrats in Congress to obstruct the president’s plans if he framed them as a war measure to take on the menace of the Russian rogue state.

The rhetoric of a war on Russian oil and gas would be powerful, and would expose congressmen and senators who dragged their feet to charges of aiding the enemy.

Biden gave a powerful and historic speech in Warsaw, but he addressed the front end of the problem. He needs to give a similarly powerful and historic speech in Detroit, supporting an acceleration of the plans Ford, GM and other US automakers have for transitioning to electric vehicles– and needs to tie that transition to the defeat of Vladimir Putin.

(Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His newest book, "Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires" was published in 2020. He is also the author of  "The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East" (2015) and "Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East" (2008).  He has appeared widely on television, radio, and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. This story was featured in Common Dreams.)