The matter of Saddam ought to be concentrating the American mind on America's need for energy independence.
Fact is, as the world's largest oil-consuming country, the United States is a hostage of those with extensive oil capacity - most notably the unsmiling Saudis, who have amply demonstrated their ability and willingness to manipulate oil prices by arranging shortages and gluts. Currently, we are most beholden to our semi-sensible No. 1 and No. 2 suppliers, Canada and Mexico. The Saudis are No. 3. Wild and wacky Venezuela is No. 4. And No. 5, even in this difficult hour? Iraq.
United Nations mandates allow Iraq to export 1.1 million barrels per day to raise money, supposedly for food to feed its people; 900,000 of those barrels come to the United States - or about the same number of barrels that would come from the Arctic National Wildlife refuge, were Congress to allow drilling there. But Congress prefers to deny access to ANWR's 8 billion estimated barrels, so the oil companies are exploring on Sakhalin Island. If they are successful in finding oil, that will increase the potential flow from always-stable Russia, which soon will surpass Saudi Arabia as the world's No. 1 oil producer.
The United States finds itself a captive in a strange game that enriches regimes malign and bizarre.
Oil prices already have gone up in anticipation of war in Iraq, just as they did prior to the Gulf War 14 years ago. They went up relative to the 1973 Yom Kippur War; deployment of "the oil weapon" derived directly from Arab oil sheiks' dissatisfaction with American/European policies regarding Israel. Our reliance on any regime for our petroleum needs limits our ability to act anywhere in that regime's sphere of influence.
Exhibit A is the Middle East.
Right now, the United States depends on the Middle East for 13 percent of its overall oil consumption. That oil flows not only from Iraq and several emirates, but especially from Saudi Arabia, which (1) hates all things Israeli and (2) has paid money to families of Palestinian suicide bombers, (3) provided the majority of 9/11 hijackers yet (4) hardly cooperated with American authorities in the post-9/11 investigation, (5) still resists giving the United States basing rights for an assault on Saddam, and (6) year after year has deigned to work with the United States seemingly in accordance with phrenological interpretations and the phasings of the Moon.
And this from a regime (the House of Saud) owing its creation to the West and its continued reign to Western - i.e., American - support.
Periodically the cry goes up for energy independence.
Weighty studies fuel furrowed-brow, deep-voiced, earnest-eyed sincerity in urging that the time for the United States to move is long past. Then the crisis (usually war) ends. Then an unforeseen enabler (e.g., an emergent Russia) suddenly allows us to maintain our foreign-oil dependency - and we retreat back into complacency.
Iraq follows 9/11 and the Palestinian terror war against Israel as the latest reminder of the need for the United States to move resolutely toward energy independence.
President Bush should show the way - as JFK did on the Apollo program to land men on the Moon, as FDR did quietly on the Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb. In addition to rhetorical encouragement, there should be public-private consortiums and, of course, tax credits for such things as....
- Oil exploration and improved extraction technologies.
- Better and more economical technologies to get oil from coal (the U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of coal).
- More efficient gasoline engines for the 17 million vehicles America produces every year.
And all of those might help tide us over until we can develop efficient and affordable engines that run on fuels other than petroleum. On the West Coast, buses are testing hydrogen-fuel-cell engines for the post-petroleum age. Hydrogen may prove to be the answer.
But the United States needs to marshal its resources and know-how. Any country that could do that for the bomb and the moon should be able to do it - with the proper will and leadership - to achieve energy independence. Until then the likes of the unsmiling Saudis will hold us hostage, a gun to our weary head.