Will Ted Koppel's frontal assault on one of Washington's most unspeakable open secrets open the door to a real debate over national security? In today's New York Times , Koppel lays out the argument that if oil wasn't the main element of the "the Bush administration's calculations when the president ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it would have been the first time in more than 50 years that the uninterrupted flow of Persian Gulf oil was not a central element of American foreign policy."
Koppel systematically goes back fifty years to show how the Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush administrations all intervened in the Persian Gulf because of oil. He even has a great quote from then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, explaining the rationale for reversing the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990:
"We're there because the fact of the matter is that part of the world controls the world supply of oil, and whoever controls the supply of oil, especially if it were a man like Saddam Hussein, with a large army and sophisticated weapons, would have a stranglehold on the American economy and on — indeed on the world economy."
Nothing, Koppel notes, has changed.
Two nights ago at a CSIS-sponsored dialogue between Joschka Fisher and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brzezinski called in no uncertain terms for a real debate in America over national security and explicitly blamed the Democrats for not stepping up to the plate. Why have they not engaged on national security? Oil is one of the big reasons.
Essentially, there exists a consensus within the foriegn policy community that oil is a —if not the —major strategic interest of the United States. Therefore, with no strategic contrast, Democrats and Republicans have been left to debate the details of how the U.S. ought to pursue that interest. The remarkable aspect of President Bush's declaration of our addiction in his State of the Union address is that the declaration has opened the door to questioning that addiction, to questioning that national interest and for creating new options. Ted Koppel has now reinforced that bizarre breach by taking the next step, saying our addiction is what led us to war in Iraq. In other words, this bedrock element of bi-partisan foreign policy consensus is threatened.
If Koppel's efforts are successful and entrepreneurial and visionary Democrats seize the moment, the American electorate could be in for a debate on how to beat our addiction to oil, a race to "cold turkey." That's because Americans are inherently averse to empire. It's hard-wired in our breeding. Establishing the obvious but unspeakable fact that, as Bob Dreyfuss writes today, Bush invaded and destroyed a entire nation and thousands of American lives for primarily economic reasons —that would set the stage for an unparalleled debate over America's purpose that could transform America.
President Bush is trying to stem that tide by saying we can end our addiction through a few simple government programs, believing lots of research, subsidies to the nuclear industry, and a few tax incentives for hybrids will do the trick. It won't. As former German Foreign Minister Fischer noted last night, China's economy has to grow at a rate of 10% each year to deal with its problems. Reducing America's oil intake by a few percent over 25 years will not accommodate that stark Asian reality.
Knowing that, coalitions like Set America Free have proposed up to a 30% reduction of oil consumption in 20 years. But still, that won't deal with China or with the threat of climate change. Ultimately, we'll have to get pretty close to no use of oil as a transportation fuel. As I said before, that's quite possible, and already Sweden has announced that it will do so in 15 years.
In contrast, without a national debate that includes oil, we cannot get to the solutions we need to put our country back on track. We will be reduced to a debate along the lines of what we're seeing today: tactical arguments about how to handle this or that crisis in the international order. And all those crises will be driven —in some way or other—by our addiction to oil.
Two thirds of America wants a new direction. Objectively, America needs a new direction. It's up to Democrats to seize this opportunity created —ironically —by President Bush and Ted Koppel.
| Friday, February 24, 2006 12:14 PM