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by Charles Cutter
Saturday, Jun. 05, 2004 at 5:42 PM
"If people who criticize the president can be accused of aiding and abetting the enemy, couldn't the same be said of a single passenger in an SUV making a daily forty-mile commute?"
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Jun 4, 2004
The Abrams tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Predator drone might have to take a back seat as primary weapons in George W. Bush's New World War. The Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight--gas/electric hybrid cars running 50+ MPG in city driving--may represent the next generation of weapons we'll ultimately need to successfully defend the United States.
You didn't hear it here first, but it bears repeating: It's the oil, stupid.
The recent terrorist attacks at Khobar, Saudi Arabia--targeting international oil workers--did not directly impact oil production; nonetheless, the reaction was immediate. "In New York, light sweet crude closed at a record high of .33 per barrel on Tuesday, with the jump attributed to the weekend attack in Saudi Arabia..." (CNN, 6/02/04). For its part, ABC World New Tonight was kind enough to point out the most valuable targets in Saudi Arabia should terrorists be seeking maximum disruption. (Granted, this probably was not news to our enemies.)
So consumers pay the "terror premium," the added cost-per-barrel resulting from risk speculation. This variable will fluctuate with the course of events, but it serves to illustrate two key economic points: Risk itself has a price tag; a successful attack could be devastating.
Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil exporter; the United States is the world's largest oil consumer. Anyone seeking to inflict damage on the U.S. need not cross our borders to strike at the very heart of our lifestyle. (This, too, is not news to our enemies.) Reportedly, both countries are at the top of Osama bin Laden's hate-list; such an attack would be a colossal win-win for him.
It's a brutal question, but--putting aside any humanitarian instincts--which would have a greater practical impact on our country: Another attack similar to 9/11, or a long-term disruption in the oil flow from the Middle East? The former would produce another scar on the national psyche, but the latter would send incalculable shockwaves through not only this country, but much of the world. (This is not to discount the domestic political and societal fallout of another attack; our reactions generally exceed the appropriate response.)
It's not inconceivable that, given a significant attack on oil producing facilities, the U.S. might find itself facing a massive deployment of troops and equipment to protect such operations in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates...
In such a case, the new military draft cards would be easy to burn, because they'd be soaked in oil.
There's an old saying that the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago; the second best time is today. Consider where we might be today if--beginning with the oil embargo of 1973--we had continued with the public spirit of conservation, coupled with government mandates for increased fuel efficiency. Imagine an America that had not embraced the SUV culture; an America increasingly weaned from its desperate dependence on the buried treasure of other nations.
We can't change the past, so the time to plant this particular tree is now. The most immediate impact could be generated through government programs that both educate and encourage the public in methods of energy conservation. Instead of an ad campaign that claims all drug users are funding terrorism, we might see an ad campaign that stresses the patriotism of carpooling. (If people who criticize the president can be accused of aiding and abetting the enemy, couldn't the same be said of a single passenger in an SUV making a daily forty-mile commute?)
In conjunction with this program would be an organized structure of tax incentives designed to reward conservation practices. This should appeal to Mr. Bush, since he so dearly loves his tax cuts; he could suggest increasing tax breaks for energy efficiency rather than, say, just for being wealthy. (It should be pointed out that consumers purchasing such cars as the Prius and Insight in 2004 qualify for a "Clean-Fuel" vehicle tax deduction of ,500. Before rushing out to trade in your Hummer, double-check with the IRS or your accountant; tax codes in this country change faster than Mr. Bush's rationale for the Iraqi war. Okay, almost as fast.)
Finally, another idea that has been suggested and ignored many times in the past--a massive funding of research seeking technological breakthroughs in renewable energy sources, sort of a Manhattan Project for the 21st century.
Unfortunately, we can't count on any of this from the Bush administration. Let's not forget the oft-quoted statement from Dick Cheney: "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."
Bush & Co.'s road to America's energy independence starts at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ends in the boardroom of Halliburton.
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