A National Travesty
For the United States not to urgently adopt a sound energy-independence policy would be tantamount to a national travesty. The increasing dependence on oil does not simply undermine America’s economic health, it could seriously threaten national security. There is no greater legacy that President Bush could leave behind than committing the United States to such a policy. Failing to do so, his administration will be remembered for mortgaging America’s future to the whims and greed of the oil-producing nations, mostly in the Middle East, with ever-growing U.S. vulnerability to terrorist attacks.
According to several energy experts, including Guy Caruso, the head of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the recent hike in oil prices reflects not only the substantial increase in demand, particularly from the United States and China, but also concern over disruption in supplies resulting from political upheaval and terrorist attacks. Regardless of how well oil installations, tankers, pipelines, and refineries are protected, the risk here or abroad of a terrorist attack, with the potential of causing international havoc, remains extremely high. The various terrorist groups, especially Al-Qaeda, are keenly aware of U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil and will exploit the vulnerability associated with it. There is absolutely no way this administration can register real progress on the war against terrorism while America’s appetite for Middle Eastern oil grows. In reality, continued dependency will invite terrorist attacks, which may be only a matter of time.
That the rising income level in the United States may offset for now the hike in oil prices for many consumers does not mitigate the problem of the nation’s growing dependency on imported oil. This reality, coupled with the ever-growing consumption, is unlikely to lower the price of oil anytime soon. (U.S. oil consumption grows by nearly 2% annually; in 2004, it increased by 2.7 million barrels a day.) In fact, some energy experts speculate that prices for a barrel of oil may sooner than later reach $100! The increasing importation of oil (currently, the United States imports 60 percent of the oil it consumes) has widened the trade gap by tens of billions of dollars a year and the increase due to oil importation is rising. In addition to this escalation in costs, the United States spends billions more on many military installations in the Middle East for the express purpose of protecting the flow of oil. However we slice it, America is falling deeper into an economic black hole, with the national debt hitting a record high. And there is no exit from this hole unless the addiction to fossil energy dependence is contained.
Reliance on Arab oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia also compels Washington to protect regimes in the region so that political stability is maintained however corrupt, rigid, and undemocratic these regimes may be. As long as the United States continues to be perceived as the protector of a regime like that in Saudi Arabia, which walks on the backs of its people, and as long as prospects for real reform remains elusive, the Arab public will continue to hate America. This will make the United States the target of choice for Al-Qaeda, which, for example, enjoys the support of more than 50 percent of Saudis, and whose main agenda there is to destabilize that country. Moreover, as the United States remains beholden to Arab oil-producing states, this inevitably compromises America’s overall strategic interests and limits its policy choices in the region, thereby severely impeding the chances of ever winning the war on terrorism.
Very few people doubt that either the first Gulf war in 1991, or the war in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, would have occurred had it not been for America’s continued dependence on Middle-Eastern oil. The United States has repeatedly placed its military in harm’s way and spent hundreds of billions to protect its oil interests in that region. The tragedy is that American soldiers have died in Iraq mostly for oil and not, as the administration would like people to believe, for the freedom of ordinary Iraqis. Billions of people in Africa and Asia are subjected to a life of perpetual misery and the United States hardly lifts a finger to free them from their burdens.
American dependence on oil makes it impossible to change the perception of the Arab and Muslim masses about America and its goals in the region. U.S. efforts in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East to promote democracy and freedom are seen as nothing more than a smoke-screen to cover up for an agenda of exploitation of Arab oil to gain wealth for the sole benefit of Americans. There is not much that the U.S. government can say or do to change this perception as long dependence on Arab oil continues to set the agenda for the administration’s actions and policies in the Middle East, especially with the war in Iraq and its aftermath enforcing rather than dispelling such beliefs.
The Bush administration must finally realize that increasing the supply of fossil fuel is not the answer to the energy problem. The national psychological disposition of relying on fossil fuel must change. The United States needs to shift to resources that are domestically available and inexhaustible. This shift, however, will not happen in one decade or even two on its own. The nation needs a bold new energy initiative that adequately responds to these dangerous times, and America must commit itself to seeing the process through, regardless of the difficulties and the financial resources required.
Although we have witnessed a substantial increase in the use of alternative energy in recent years, it still accounts for only 6.4 percent of the U.S. domestic energy consumption. Americans can harness clean and inexhaustible energy sources such as wind power, solar power, bio-fuels like wood and crop wastes, use of geothermal and hydroelectric energy, and development of new natural gas plants. Ethanol, for example, can be produced in abundance. Another powerful energy source is, of course, hydrogen which is found in water.
A new “energy independent” plan may require upward of $200 billion and over 10 to 15 years, a small amount considering the importance of energy sources and the far-reaching implications for America’s global standing and economic well-being. Such funding will be primarily allocated for investment in new plants, commercialization of existing technologies, and development of new ones. In addition, the money will go toward tax incentives, subsidies, and conservation which helps consumers and stabilizes prices. An energy-independent plan could also create more than two million jobs in the next few years, save consumers billions of dollars, and cut pollution dramatically. The hallmark of any new energy plan must be that it is renewable, domestically produced, sustainable, conserves America’s natural resources, and protects the environment.
Time is not on America’s side. Mr. Bush, who demonstrated boldness in waging two wars, against terrorism and the promulgation of freedom, must muster the political will to wage a war for energy independence to free America from the shackles of foreign oil. The people will be behind him if the plan is sound, above party politics, and domestically produced. Short of adopting such a strategy, the administration will be betraying the next generation of Americans and rob them of their right to freely determine their own future. Shortchanging them, would be nothing less than a national travesty.