All Writings
June 20, 2004

Defeating Terrorism 2

To prevent a new catastrophic terrorist attack and ultimately defeat terrorism, the next administration must develop a comprehensive strategy comprised of 10 distinct domestic and international policy agendas which must be acted on simultaneously. The following is the second of the 10 policy agendas:


There seems to be a growing consensus in the United States about the need to enact and fund an energy-independence plan because our future national security interests may depend on it. Successive Democratic and Republican administrations have failed to develop a national energy strategy to free us from our dependency on outside sources. There is no more opportune time for the next administration, especially in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, to move swiftly to develop a comprehensive energy strategy that will free us completely from foreign oil within the next 8 to 10 years, a time frame considered doable by many industry experts.

The current events in the Middle East and fluctuating but steep hikes in gasoline prices are a reminder, not only of our vulnerability, but of our shortsightedness and negligence regarding our most critical national security concern. It is baffling that our nation with all its human, technological, natural, and economic resources continues to depend on Middle-Eastern oil and thus make itself hostage to the turmoil in that region as well as to the whims of the rulers of oil-producing countries. Two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves are located in the Middle East, and at some point, because of our dependency, we may find ourselves in a crippling crisis. Currently, we import more than 55 percent of the oil used for our domestic oil consumption. This dependency not only undermines our national security, it adds tens of billions to a trade deficit already exceeding $1/2 trillion a month. Since the 1973 oil embargo, Americans have spent $7 trillion more for oil products due to OPEC’s regulation of production. Under the pretext of the war on terrorism, we invaded Iraq at a cost of more than $200 billion–and our expenditures are still rising–when, in fact, the administration was motivated largely by oil considerations.

Al Qaeda has long since discovered that America’s dependency on oil is a major vulnerability that can be exploited to the detriment of both the United States and its major oil suppliers, especially Saudi Arabia. The series of bombings in that nation, beginning in May 2003 and continuing up to the most recent violence in Riyadh and the spree of killings of foreign contractors, including the attack in the city of Khobar, signal a deliberate escalation of violence, with a focus on the oil industry. Al Qaeda’s determination to undermine the Saudi regime is based on a four-part strategy: to shake the kingdom’s economic base, demonstrate the government’s vulnerability and subservience to the United States, spread fear and horror that will eventually force foreign nationals out, and capitalize on public discontent to develop a much broader resistance movement. Even now, the Saudi government, which had been in denial and thus generally ignored the gathering threat, has not come to grips with the magnitude of the problem. Fearing further public alienation, unwilling to heed the cries of the nation’s young people (70 percent of the population age 25 or under) for greater openness, and freedom and terrified of losing control of the country, the Saudi regime is still reluctant to take sweeping actions against the militants. The government now finds itself between a rock and a hard place. A battle for the people’s hearts, minds, and beliefs is underway, perhaps marking the beginning of a revolution with profound consequences not only for the future stability of the kingdom and the region but for the supply of oil.

The situation in Saudi Arabia is a foreshadowing of what could become the reality for other Arab oil-producing nations, a reality that should give pause to the next administration when it comes to continuing our dependence on Arab oil. The U.S. predicament is multiplied because our addiction to cheap oil has blurred our thinking, causing us to resist for too long a sound long-term strategy to free ourselves from this dependence. Still, as we watch the horror of another American being beheaded in the Middle East, we must ask ourselves: how much longer can we continue to delude ourselves and pursue the same failed policy of merely trying to kill or capture terrorists (albeit necessary) rather than dealing with the root causes of terrorism itself? An energy-independence strategy is not a luxury; it is of a paramount importance and a critical part of a comprehensive strategy we must urgently pursue to defeat international terrorism. Here is why:

First, dependence on oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia compels us to protect their governments in order to maintain political stability, no matter how corrupt, rigid, and undemocratic they may be. As long as we continue to be perceived as the protector of regimes that walk on the backs of their people and as long as the prospects for real reform remain elusive, we will continue to suffer the disdain and hatred of the region’s masses. If these perceptions remain unchanged, we will be the target of choice for al Qaeda whose public support in Saudi Arabia, for example, is currently higher than 50 percent and whose main agenda there is to destabilize the country. As long as we remain beholden to the oil-producing states, we inevitably compromise our overall strategic interests and limit our policy choices in the region, thereby severely impeding our chances of ever winning the war on terrorism. Second, as long we remain dependent on Arab oil, we can count on al Qaeda to even more systematically target anything related to oil–for example, in Saudi Arabia, its oil facilities, pipelines, tankers and wells, both to undermine the U.S. economy and weaken the Saudi government’s economic power base, which is oil. Perhaps even more importantly, frequent attacks will have a devastating psychologically effect throughout the region and on oil-consuming countries impacting not only other industries but their stock markets. To be sure, the future economic stability of the Western hemisphere and Japan will be put in jeopardy.

Third, to protect the supplies of Middle-Eastern oil, the United States may sooner rather than later find itself once again acting unilaterally, further alienating the global community, especially in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Our experience in Iraq has demonstrated the high price to be paid for acting unilaterally; we have undermined our relations with much of the international community and precipitated a serious schism within the international system that is unhealed to this day. It is not an unbelievable scenario that a future major disruption in oil supplies could tempt the U.S. to act preemptively or take other extraordinary measures to protect its national interests. But the Iraq debacle has shown the folly of such responses, and a repetition must be avoided. For example, another confrontation with our Western allies will only deepen the current rift, further impeding our war on terrorism outside the Middle East. What we must take from our experience in Iraq is that protecting oil supplies in the future may increasingly become politically and militarily untenable.

Fourth, 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 our continued dependence on Middle-Eastern oil. Time and again, we have placed our men and women in uniform in harm’s way and spent hundreds of billions to protect our oil interests in that region. The tragedy is that our soldiers have died in Iraq for oil, not for the freedom of the Iraqi people as the administration would like us to believe. There are billions of people in Africa and Asia subjected to lives of perpetual misery, and we have not lifted a finger to free them from the bondage of corrupt regimes. Fifth, our dependence on Arab oil often forces us to operate according to the whim of the oil- producing nations; under the best of circumstances, this makes us vulnerable to the needs and greed of their governments. In addition, our dependency, and the often the cozy relationships we cultivated with the leaders of countries like Saudi Arabia, continue to prevent us from committing to a real energy-independence strategy. That is, as long as these governments keep the price of a barrel of oil relatively cheap, we will do very little to develop alternate energy sources. Leave it to fragile regimes like those of the Saudis and other OPEC nations to manipulate oil prices, hold families “hostage” at the gas pump, and keep the levers controlling oil flow in their hands, all to inhibit us from acting independently in our own national interest.

Finally, our dependence on oil makes it impossible to change the perception of the Arab and Muslim masses about America and its goals in the region. The U.S. efforts in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East to promote democracy and freedom are seen as nothing more than smoke-screens to hide our real agenda, the exploitation of Arab oil and wealth for our sole benefit. There is not much that the United States can say or do to change these perceptions as long as we depend on Arab oil and continue to be perceived as less than even-handed in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our actions and policies in the Middle East, especially the war in Iraq and its aftermath, enforce rather than dilute such beliefs.

To be sure, if we continue to support current Arab despotic regimes, the hatred and scorn toward America felt by the Arab masses will not only continue unabated but grow. Terrorism, as the most forceful way of expressing that resentment toward us, will continue to escalate. The sooner we become less reliant on Middle-Eastern oil by adopting a specific and comprehensive energy plan, the sooner we can develop a more independent policy to deal with terrorism and other regional issues. The development of such a policy does not mean that we need to abandon oil as a tradable commodity like any other industrial or natural resource that we can buy and sell; it means that we no longer depend on it for our survival. Only when oil loses its potency as a resource on which our entire economic national security depends, will we take from al Qaeda the ability to threaten our national interests, by using oil as a weapon against us.

There is a legitimate discussion between various government agencies and energy experts about the kind of energy plan that could best serve our nation’s needs. But the bill the administration sent to Congress, which failed to pass it, was based largely on the old premise of generating greater supplies of fossil fuel, while providing few incentives for the domestic development of renewable energy–the technology for which has existed for years. The Senate rejected the president’s energy bill because, among other things, it made oil and gas drilling into the dominant use of public lands, weakened the Clean Air Act, would have given billions of dollars to polluting coal, oil, and nuclear industries, failed to decrease our oil dependence, and contained no incentives for fuel-efficient cars.

We must at last acknowledge that increasing the supply of fossil fuel is not the answer to our energy problems. We must change our national psychological disposition from that of relying on fossil fuel. As Mike Bowlin, the CEO of ARCO oil, said: “We are in the last days of the age of oil, perhaps I would say the last decade, but clearly this is going to be the century of new technology of renewable resources.” But this shift will not occur in a decade or even two by itself. We need a bold new energy initiative that adequately responds to the dangerous times we live in, and we must commit ourselves to seeing it through, regardless of the difficulties and the financial resources required. As the largest consumer of oil (Asia, with 3.6 billion people, consumes approximately 20 million barrels a day, compared to 22 million consumed in the United States), with or without terrorism, we may run out of oil much sooner than we think. Many noted geologists suggest that oil reservoirs are grossly exaggerated by the oil-producing nations in order to enhance their international standing. Prudence dictates that we act before it is too late to avoid disaster.

A new energy-independence plan may require the expenditure of upward of $100 billion, a small amount compared to the importance and the enormous implications on our international standing and economic well being. Monies should be allocated primarily for investment in new plants, the commercialization of existing technologies, and the development of new ones. In addition, the amount spent will provide tax incentives, subsidies, and conservation strategies to help consumers and to stabilize prices so that within the 8 to 10 years estimated earlier we may become independent of foreign oil supplies.

To this end, we must focus on energy sources like fuel cells, whether these are hydrogen, natural gas, or methanol. These sources are more efficient because they turn fuel directly into electric energy. 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 our domestic energy consumption. We should harness clean and inexhaustible sources like wind power, solar power, bio-fuels such as wood and crop wastes, along with geothermal and hydroelectric energy, as well as develop new natural gas plants. Ethanol, for example, can be produced in abundance. We also have the technology for auto manufacturers to make dual-fuel vehicles that run on gasoline or ethanol blends. Another powerful energy source is hydrogen which is found in waters; it can also be produced from ethanol in great quantities in the corn-belt states. President Bush’s $1.7 billion “Freedom Car” initiative promises economically viable hydrogen fuel cells in 20 years; this may or may not be possible, nevertheless we can still have “a freedom car” using alternate energy in half that time if we put its development on the fast track with adequate funding.

The advantages of an energy-independent plan, besides reducing our vulnerability to reliance on imported oil, are potentially huge. For example, it could create more than a million jobs in the next few years, save consumers billions of dollars, cut pollution dramatically, and of course, determine our own destiny. The hallmark of any new energy plan must be renewable, domestically produced, sustainable fuels that conserve our natural resources while protecting the environment. We must ensure that no outside interests ever obtain the majority interest, control our energy projects, or dictate our policies or priorities.

Time is not on our side, but it will probably be left to the next administration to act hopefully in a bold and visionary manner to free us from our slavery to oil. Only then, and in conjunction with our taking other critical measures, will the war against terrorism be fought in earnest rather than used as the pretext to wage a war for oil, a war that has undermined rather than enhanced our national security.