Bud McFarlane served in the Marines and, years later, as President Reagan's national security adviser.
So I listened up when, at a Foundation for Defense of Democracies
workshop on energy security, he said of Saudi Arabia's oil facilities:
"Any self-respecting suicide-bomber could take them out. Any artillery
man could do it, too."
Not only that: Two years ago, Mr. McFarlane
wrote an article noting that al Qaeda terrorists had attempted to blow
up a major Saudi oil-processing facility. Had the attack succeeded, he
wrote, "it would have taken the terminal off line for weeks if not
months and raised the price of oil to more than $150 per barrel."
The price of oil today is nearing that level anyway. So just imagine
what a terrorist attack on the global oil supply network would mean
now. Mr. McFarlane articulated it clearly: "If oil flows from the
Persian Gulf were disrupted [as al Qaeda has promised and which could
easily happen], we would see oil at more than $200 per barrel
overnight. ... The global economy would likely fall into deep
You would think politicians would be making it a top priority to
ensure against such a dire possibility. You would think the
presidential candidates would be seriously debating policies that could
protect us should this strategic commodity - lifeblood of our economy,
essential to our military - stop flowing or continue to soar in price.
But you would think wrong.
The slogan on Newt Gingrich's
www.AmericanSolutions.com Web site: "Drill here. Drill Now. Pay Less."
Certainly, it makes sense to tap America's proven energy reserves and,
as Mr. Gingrich says, "reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources
from unstable countries."
In early 2001, I was an adviser to Interior Secretary Gail Norton.
Using energy resources in Alaska and off our coasts - while
scrupulously protecting the environment - was among her top priorities.
But even with a Republican in the White House and a Republican majority
in both houses of Congress, she could not get the job done.
Now Democrats control Congress and most of them continue to oppose
drilling just about everywhere. If they were to change their minds
tomorrow, it would have an impact on the futures market, but it would
be years before you could fill your tank with gas from new American
The fastest way to begin protecting ourselves from supply
disruptions and price hikes: Congress could establish an Open Fuel
Standard, requiring that every automobile sold in America be capable of
burning a variety of liquid fuels. The technology already exists and
the cost is only about $100 per vehicle.
The prospect of many Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) coming into the
market would provide an enormous incentive to entrepreneurs to compete
for consumers' dollars by producing alternative fuels more abundantly
and more rapidly. (Leveling the playing field among fuel-makers also
should be on Congress' to-do list.)
If incentives for automobile manufacturers are required to open up
the fuel market to competitive forces, provide them. Consumers, too,
should be encouraged to trade in their old, high-polluting, mono-fuel
vehicles for FFVs.
Mr. Gingrich has pointed out that the government - not least the
military - drinks oceans of oil. Creating a free and competitive fuel
market could bring the price of that oil back down to $90, $70 or even
$50 a barrel. That would translate into enormous savings - enough to
pay for the incentives.
Longer term: Accelerate the production of both plug-in hybrid and
pure electric cars. In America today, we've just about stopped burning
oil to generate electricity. In America tomorrow, we should use
nuclear, coal, wind and solar power to make more electricity and give
Americans additional transportation choices.
Plug-in hybrids have flexible fuel engines that power the car when
it would be inconvenient to re-charge the battery by plugging into a
wall socket. Pure electric cars may have engines that simply recharge
the battery when you can't plug in.
There is more that can be done, but by starting with the policies
outlined above, foreign oil can be stripped of its strategic status.
Terrorists targeting oil facilities in Saudi Arabia would no longer be
a major concern. Iranian mullahs couldn't threaten to cut off exports
to teach Americans a lesson - as Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei
did just this week. The price of fuels will be determined - and
disciplined - by market forces in a competitive environment.
Less money will end up in the hands of terrorists. And the mobility
we Americans prize will not be sacrificed. If the politicians you've
sent to Washington have a better way to ensure our future, by all means
let's hear about it.