I’m a little bit confused about Dan Senor, one of Mitt Romney’s closest advisors on foreign policy. Is he an enthusiastic backer of clean energy and electric cars, as well as a prescient Cassandra who warns about the dangers of over-reliance on oil drilling in the Arab world? That’s the impression you get from reading the book he co-authored, "Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle," a bestseller over there.
Or is Senor in line with the recently announced Romney/Ryan energy policy plan, which is heavily focused on opening up federal lands, offshore locations and Alaska to drilling? The plan barely mentions renewables, and ignores electric cars completely.
"Start-Up Nation" makes interesting points about how the Arab world’s oil riches have dulled initiative there. Entrepreneurship, Senor and his co-writer, Saul Singer, write, “has played only a negligible part in Arab world economies ….The vast majority of the region’s economic activity is driven by the production and refinement of hydrocarbons. The non-oil GDP exported by the entire Arab world — with a population of approximately 250 million people — is less than that of Finland, with a population of five million.”
That position seemed to bookend remarks that got Romney in trouble during his Jerusalem swing, with Senor aboard. The Republican nominee said that that Israeli “culture” was responsible for the country’s high standard of living compared to the Palestinians. But if the U.S. takes a giant step towards drilling our way to energy independence, don’t we risk dulling the American initiative that led to the creation of myriad solar and wind companies in the last few years?
The question is actually academic, since the U.S. has a fraction of the oil reserves of the Arab world, but you wouldn’t know that from reading the Romney/Ryan energy plan, which says that more than 3 million new jobs could be created through an enthusiastic drilling policy. But Senor looks at the Arab world and doesn’t like the oil dependence. “The real economic growth is coming in biotech, medical devices, cleantech, greentech, IT,” he said in a speech at the University of Rochester.
Dan Senor with his wife, journalist Campbell Brown. (Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
None of this is to denigrate "Start-Up Nation," which has a lot to say about Israeli entrepreneurs. The introduction is all about Israel-based electric car company Better Place, which quickly raised $200 million to become what the authors say is the fifth-largest start-up in history. Better Place's technology includes quick-swap battery stations.
As it happens, I met Senor’s co-author, Saul Singer, in Jerusalem during a visit to Better Place. “Israel has more start-ups than anywhere outside Silicon Valley — 500 every year,” he said. “Israel gets 2.5 times as much venture capital per capita as the U.S. The whole country is a start-up.”
Singer described Better Place, whose goal is basically to wire the world for electric cars, as “audacious” and “in its own category” with “big ideas.” He added that it’s “a model for how a tiny country can tackle a global mission. There’s a lot riding on Better Place right now.”
Interestingly, Singer (an Israeli columnist and based in Jerusalem) is Senor’s brother-in-law. Senor’s sister and Singer’s wife is Wendy Senor Singer, who’s the Jerusalem bureau chief for the hugely influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Senor himself is married to Campbell Brown, the television personality who was on CNN until 2010. "Start-Up Nation" was a big book in Israel, so it’s safe to say that both Singers and Senor are disproportionate in their influence on U.S. policy to Israel.
Singer didn’t come off as hugely partisan during our meeting, but Senor makes his insider Republican views known through think pieces in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. “Why Israel Has Doubts about Obama,” was one such posting.
According to the New York Times, Senor’s “presence in the tight orbit of advisers around the Republican candidate foreshadows a Romney foreign policy that could take a harder line against Iran, embrace Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move away from being the honest broker in the conflict with Palestinians.”
But will Romney be listening when Senor talks about the importance cleantech and greentech? Maybe, but not until after the election.
Here's Senor on CNBC, talking about "rebooting our innovation economy." Note how he speaks approvingly of spending government money on R&D:
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