In late October I attended a luncheon briefing in New York sponsored by the Middle East Forum. The speaker was R. James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and currently a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton. The room was filled with men who represent a class of citizenry known as “influential.” Woolsey’s topic was “Energy Alternatives and the War on Terror.”
Normally, I give men like Woolsey a lot of respect because they’ve earned it. However, it didn’t take long before I began to hear views that made me begin to question, not just the wisdom of what Woolsey was saying, but why he was saying it.
“The way strategically over the long run to weaken the enemies of Israel, such as Ahmadinejad, is to weaken the role of oil,” said Woolsey. “Oil makes it harder to avoid genocide in Darfur because the Sudanese have a deal with China, and it makes it harder to deal with Iran, because China and Iran have an oil deal.”
Say what? Weaken the role of oil? Genocide in Darfur has something to do with China? Iran will not pursue its lunatic Islamic apocalypse because it has an oil deal with China?
A lot of what Woolsey told the attendees is fairly common knowledge. He noted that natural events such as hurricanes can affect the amount of oil available and that terrorism—he called it “malevolent interference”—could provoke a war that would interrupt the flow of oil out of the Middle East.
If the availability of Iraq’s huge reserves of oil wasn’t a component of the reason the U.S. and its coalition invaded that nation, than we have wasted a lot of national treasure and lives for no good purpose. If a recent, failed al Qaeda attack on Saudi Arabia’s largest refinery wasn’t about oil and the power that flows from it, then we are ignoring an unspoken objective of the Islamic Jihad.
Granted, there’s no joy in knowing that a portion of our oil dollars is going to a handful of nations in the Middle East, but that is where, like Russia, a lot of oil exists. However, the U.S. purchases quite a bit of its oil from Canada and Venezuela, and secures a significant portion from national reserves in the Gulf of Mexico. No matter with which Middle East oil potentates we must make deals, the oil—a global commodity—is going to flow.
So, when I heard Woolsey suggest that the United States needed to make “substantial changes in our transportation”, i.e. begin to massively move away from gasoline to alternatives like ethanol, he really got my attention. Ethanol’s price competitiveness as an energy source is protected by U.S. subsidies. It takes more energy to make, generates far less energy than gasoline, and is not kind to auto engines.
I kept waiting for Woolsey to recommend that the United States open up the massive oil reserves in Alaska’s ANWR or for States to increase access to the massive, untapped reserves of oil and natural gas that lie off the U.S. continental shelf on both coasts. What I heard was “hybrid cars.”
Woolsey’s main contention was that, if we reduce our use of oil for transportation needs, the U.S. could have a substantial impact on events in the Middle East by reducing the dollars that flow there. This ignores the growing oil needs of China and India, and other developing nations. Money will flow to the region no matter what steps the U.S. takes. Competition for oil will increase. The answer is to find more oil because vast, untapped reserves are known to exist.
And I thought to myself, gee whiz, we could save billions if we just pulled all our troops out of the Middle East, along with that huge naval task force that is parked off the coast of Iran. What this ignores is the fact that our major export to that region is defense, security, and for most of its nations, stability.
In the 1980s Saddam waged an eight-year war with Iran with the intention of getting his hands on its oil. That war ended in a stalemate. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, he was after its oil. Later, when enough nations became concerned about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction (recall that everyone thought he had them and he probably did), we invaded again.
Saddam the tyrant who had killed millions of his own people was not the issue. Saddam who wasn’t content to skim millions in oil revenue and live a quiet life of luxury was the problem.
Granted the whole region wakes up screaming “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”, but even the Saudis have put forth a quite rational plan to end the conflict with the Palestinians. What is happening in Iraq scares the Sunni Saudis and what Shiite Iran is saying these days scares them even more. Do we want to keep Saudi oil flowing? You bet!
“We could, with systems that have been invented and are on the market in different ways, begin before long to move decisively away from oil as our principle transportation vehicle,” said Woolsey.
The environmentally-correct pipedreams of Woolsey and others who are trying to conjure up an economy in which most of our cars get to plug into electrical outlets or maybe a nation of drivers in cars with batteries the size of bathtubs sound to me about as realistic as the typical ranting about global warming or the horrors of nuclear power.
I admire R. James Woolsey for his service to this nation. I just wish he didn’t want to join hands with Al Gore to sing folk songs. I wish he would take our enemies more seriously than suggesting “alternative” energy options.