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Energy Independence as a Bipartisan Agenda

Why does U.S. national security depend on alternative energy sources?

November 28, 2006

Why does U.S. national security depend on alternative energy sources?

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 the United States remains so dependent on imported oil, even a successful exit strategy will not prevent a third Gulf war.

Oil will remain a precious commodity. It is 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 U.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 U.S. trading policies. At present, oil imports account for more than one-third of the trade deficit, at a level 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 U.S. soldiers in harm’s 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 satisfy the needs of the United States 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 maintaining the status quo must remember that the future well-being of the United States 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 installations in the Middle East over the years to protect America’s strategic oil interests?”

The Iraq war will end up costing the U.S. taxpayer in excess of $1 trillion. One-fifth of that amount invested over two decades would virtually eliminate U.S. vulnerability to foreign oil.

Energy independence would 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 the United States’ own self-interest.

In addition, more than one million jobs would 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 law and Social Security.

In other words, an energy-independence bill must top the agenda of the newly elected Democratic Congress and also be seen as an integral piece to ending the war in Iraq.

This is the single most critical challenge that faces the nation. The United States 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 U.S. 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 the United States’ future.

If the President 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 vastly reducing the United States’ addiction to foreign oil, then the sacrifices made by America’s finest men and women will perhaps not have been entirely in vain.