All Writings
November 14, 2006

The Last War for Oil?

There should be no doubt that the United States has waged two Gulf wars largely, if not solely, for oil. To ensure that the Iraq war is the last Gulf war, the administration and the Democratic majority in the new Congress must work together to enact an energy-independence bill to address the root-causes of these wars and free America from the shackles of foreign oil.

Whatever the rationale provided by the Bush administration to justify the war in Iraq, there should be no mistake that oil and securing its sources were the main catalysts of both this war and the previous one. Although the United States must extricate its forces from Iraq honorably and without leaving the country in anarchy, as long as America remains dependent on imported oil, even a successful exist strategy will not prevent a third Gulf war. Oil will remain a precious commodity; a weapon used by authoritarian regimes, such as Iran, against Western interests and a target for scores of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda that are bent on undermining Western economies. Dependency on oil also will continue to compromise America's policies, leading it to accommodate suppliers, and enrich unsavory regimes such as Venezuela, enabling them to oppose the United States with impunity. In addition, importing oil will continue to play havoc with America's trading policies: at present, oil imports account for more than one third of the trade deficit, to the tune of $320 billion. Also, to keep a steady flow of oil, a supply that remains vulnerable at best, the United States will have to stay militarily vigilant at an enormous cost while sending American soldiers in harms' way to protect its national strategic interests. A more ominous but likely scenario is that as oil supplies become increasingly scarce and the price escalates to $200 a barrel or higher, the end to cheap oil could precipitate violent conflicts, even wars, causing severe dislocations within the global economy.

A serious energy bill that can address America's needs and eventually free it from outside energy sources will be extremely complex to initiate and then successfully administer. Energy experts estimate that an energy-independence program could take up to two decades to accomplish its ends and as such would require a resolute political commitment stretching over several administrations and the allocation of upward of $200 billion over 15 to 20 years. To ensure global economic stability during this period, Washington will also need to collaborate with its European allies in the development of new energy sources. This is particularly critical because the European states' dependency on Middle Eastern oil is far greater than that of the United States, which makes them extremely vulnerable to any interruption of oil supplies. None of this is an easy challenge for any administration to tackle. But the nay-Sayers and those who have vested interests in keeping the status quo must remember that America's future well-being and its global leadership are at stake here, not to mention the problem of having to resort to force to protect oil interests. Those who argue that the United States does not have the resources to fund such an enormous undertaking must rethink their opposition. They would do well to ask, "How many billions have been spent, if not wasted on the Iraq war and on military instillations in the Middle East over the years to protect America's strategic oil interests?"

The Iraq war will end up costing the U.S. tax-payer in excess of $1 trillion. One fifth of that amount invested over two decades will virtually eliminate American vulnerability to foreign oil. Energy independence will also substantially enhance Washington's effectiveness in developing policies, including the promotion of democratic reform in the Arab world, which heretofore was seen as nothing more than a smokescreen to cover America's own self-interest. In addition, more than 1 million jobs will be created within the first three years and double that number in five to seven years. For these reasons, energy-independence must supersede all other national concerns, including taxes, prescription drugs, immigration laws, and social security. In other words, an energy- independent bill must top the agenda of the newly-elected Democratic Congress and be seen too as an integral piece to ending the war in Iraq. This is the singular most critical challenge that faces the nation. America has the know-how, the technology, and the financial resources to become energy-independent. It must now muster the political will to act. Not a single American soldier should ever again die for a barrel of oil.

The new Democratic Congress must assume that solemn responsibility and call on the President to join in this critical national effort. Lacking other major accomplishments, he may well heed the call and depart the White House credited for achieving something momentous that will secure America's future. If he refuses to cooperate, the Democrats must press ahead and bring public pressure to bear in anticipation of another Democratic victory in 2008 to complete the task.

If the tragic war in Iraq becomes the catalyst for freeing America from its addiction to foreign oil, then the sacrifices made by America's finest men and women will perhaps not have been entirely in vain.