U.S. reliance on oil continues to fund terrorism

  • Froma Harrop / Providence Journal Columnist
  • Saturday, July 9, 2005 9:00pm
  • Opinion

It is oil’s fault. The London bombings are almost surely Al Qaeda’s work, which means oil paid for them. Oil keeps the Mideast backward. It funds the madrassas that fill heads with anti-West poison. And it pays the terrorists who plant bombs on European trains and drive airplanes into American buildings. It is time we did something about oil.

The United States accounts for 25 percent of the world’s oil consumption. We could crush oil’s power to hurt us with a serious campaign to kick our fossil-fuel habit. But we don’t, because we have an administration and Congress that care more about the oil industry than about us.

That said, not everyone in Washington is craven to the god of petroleum. The Senate has just passed an energy bill that provides real incentives for conservation and alternative sources. But little of the good stuff made it into the House version. And so, the Senate must now reconcile its modern vision with the House’s primitive worship of fossil fuels.

We’re in Iraq because of oil. That’s not to say our intentions were ever to take over Iraqi oil fields. Our interest is to transform Mesopotamia and the rest of the Mideast into stable democracies. The theory is that angry theologies and genocidal tyrants frustrate economic advancement and breed dementia. Change all that, and the Mideast will become a peaceful and prosperous region.

But were it not for oil, that part of the world would have long ago moved toward modern economies. The people would have had no choice. They would have done it themselves. Americans would not be sending their soldiers to build democracy for them.

But the corrupting influence of oil goes on because the United States hasn’t had the discipline and courage to end the oil game. The Bush administration’s only energy policy is to provide new tax breaks to the drillers and open up wildlife refuges to energy companies. As national policy, it’s a sideshow: The amount of oil that could be economically taken from the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge is miniscule next to our energy needs.

This approach damages us because it maintains the myth that America can somehow reduce its dependency on foreign oil without giving up oil consumption. World supply and global demand ultimately set the price of oil. China’s mushrooming economy alone will keep it rising. The idea that U.S. oil companies would give Americans a break on the world price because the crude came out of Alaska is utter fantasy.

The lack of will to tackle the problem lies not in the American people but in their leadership. An Associated Press poll in April asked this simple question: “Do you think George W. Bush is or is not handling the nation’s energy problems effectively?” Two-thirds answered, “Is not.”

Every time someone suggests programs to reduce America’s oil consumption, the president says “can’t do.” It would harm the economy, he argues. But empowering terrorists with oil money also damages the economy.

For further reference, study the recession that intensified after the Sept. 11 attacks. Look at our limp response to something as simple as applying fuel-efficiency standards, now required on cars, to light trucks. The president and Congress quickly squelched that idea. Why? It would raise the price of SUVs, and that is purportedly more than Americans can stand.

The civilized world’s struggle against terrorism is a fight against oil. We must fight it everywhere and with every weapon. That means fuel-efficient appliances, wind turbines, solar panels, nuclear energy and hybrid engines. And yes, throw in ethanol. Thanks to improved production techniques, corn-based fuel now produces more energy than is required to make it. Ethanol is a player.

The awful bombings in London – no matter who did it – remind us that terrorist attacks on the West are not one-time deals. There will be more of them, and some will happen here. And when they do, there will be more hand-wringing about our addiction to oil.

But instead of wringing hands, we could start applying elbow grease. Americans really do want to reduce their dependency on oil. They are willing – even eager – to make short-term sacrifices for this longer-term good. But they need leaders who are with them and serious about taking America out of the oil quagmire and into an enlightened age.

Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Contact her by writing to fharrop@projo.com.

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