Terrorism, unfortunately, is inexpensive. "Al-Qaida," said the 9-11 commission staff report on terrorist financing, "funded a number of terrorist operations, including the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa (which cost approximately $10,000), the 9-11 attacks (approximately $400,000 to $500,000), the Oct. 18, 2002, Bali bombings (approximately $20,000) and potential maritime operations against oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz (approximately $130,000)."
Even with "overhead" factored in, the commission said, al-Qaida's annual budget was only $30 million per year. Some Major League Baseball players earn as much in a six-month season as Osama bin Laden needed to run al-Qaida in the six months before 9-11.
If Americans gave up oil, Islamist fanatics could still afford mass murder.
Poor countries can build nukes, too. The CIA's World Fact Book says North Korea's "industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years of underinvestment and shortages of spare parts." Its total government budget in 2006 was $2.2 billion, about one-twentieth the value of the oil revenue John McCain attributes to Iran for 2005. Yet, in 2006, North Korea tested a nuclear device.
This leaves the question of whether impoverishing the Persian Gulf would foster positive political change there. Well, one oil-dependent economy in that region is Iraq, where American troops are now giving their lives to prevent -- not cause -- a civil war.
Aside from Shiite Islamist revolutionary Iran, which has been antagonistic toward the United States ever since the overthrow of the Shah in the late 1970s, all the rest of the major oil-producing states of the Gulf -- Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates -- are Sunni Arab emirates or monarchies with Shiite minorities. All are un-free -- and all have a history of military cooperation with the United States.
Are we anxious to see how revolution unfolds in these places? Would political change sparked by economic dislocation bring them closer to, or further from, al-Qaida's ideology?
The presidential candidates may want to compel Americans to use alternative fuels because they believe the world is overheating, but suggesting this will help protect us against terrorism is solid evidence their rhetoric is overheating.
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