Cliff May

Bud McFarlane served in the Marines and, years later, as President Reagan’s National Security Advisor. So I listened up when, at a Foundation for Defense of Democracies workshop on energy security, he said of Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities: “Any self-respecting suicide-bomber could take them out. Any artillery man could do it, too.”

Not only that: Two years ago, McFarlane wrote an article for The National Interest noting that al-Qaeda terrorists had attempted to blow up a major Saudi oil-processing facility. Had the attack succeeded, he wrote, “it would have taken the terminal off line for weeks if not months and raised the price of oil to more than $150 per barrel …”

The price of oil today is nearing that level anyway. So just imagine what a terrorist attack on the global oil supply network would mean now. McFarlane articulated it clearly: “If oil flows from the Persian Gulf were disrupted (as al-Qaeda has promised and which could easily happen), we would see oil at more than $200 per barrel overnight. … the global economy would likely fall into deep depression.”

You’d think politicians would be making it a top priority to insure against such a dire possibility. You’d think the presidential candidates would be seriously debating policies that could protect us should this strategic commodity – lifeblood of our economy, essential to our military -- stop flowing or continue to soar in price. But you’d think wrong.

The slogan on Newt Gingrich’s website: “Drill here. Drill Now. Pay Less.” Certainly, it makes sense to tap America’s proven energy reserves and, as Gingrich says, “reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources from unstable countries.”

We should have started years ago. In early 2001, I served as an advisor to Interior Secretary Gail Norton. Utilizing energy resources in Alaska and off our coasts – while scrupulously protecting the environment – was among her top priorities. But even with a Republican in the White House and a Republican majority in both houses of congress she could not get the job done.

Now Democrats control Congress and most of them continue to oppose drilling just about everywhere. If they were to change their minds tomorrow, it would have an impact on the futures market, but it would be years before you could fill your tank with gas from new American sources.

The fastest way to begin protecting ourselves from supply disruptions and price hikes: Congress could establish an Open Fuel Standard, requiring that every automobile sold in America be capable of burning a variety of liquid fuels. The technology already exists and the cost is only about $100 per vehicle.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.