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The War on Terror: The Energy Front By: James Woolsey
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, May 02, 2006


The following speech was given as part of Restoration Weekend 2006, at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Feb. 23-26, 2006 -- The Editors.

I’m honored to be invited but, to tell you the truth, since I was a Washington lawyer for 22 years and then I was with the CIA during the Clinton administration, I’m pretty well honored to be invited into any polite company for any purposes whatsoever.

I was not the originator of the phrase “World War IV.” As far as I know, that was my friend Elliot Cohen in Wall Street Journal op-ed immediately after 9/11. I have mixed feelings about it. Sometimes I use that phrase and sometimes “the long war,” which a lot of people are now starting to use.

 

The main point is that we should regard this war we’re in as a long one. If you call it the World War IV, the analogy in a sense is to the Cold War, which I call World War III.

 

But the main idea is that this is a long contest of decades, not years, and it’s one that’s going to require us to do some very innovative and different things, just as the Cold War required us to do some things very differently than we had done in either World War I or World War II.

 

Just to give you a quick idea of how different things are, let me list seven more or less pieces of conventional wisdom about the Cold War, at least from today’s perspective, and how different it was from this long war we’re in now.

 

In the Cold War, the overarching struggle with our principle enemy, the Soviet Union, was a struggle with a large and very rigid bureaucratic empire. Today, our struggle is far more confusing. Instead of a single empire, we have at least three different types of groups with relationships to governments. In the case of Iran, we have the fanatic Ahmadinejad regime with its nuclear weapons program and its ties to the world’s most professional terrorist organization, Hezbollah.

 

Al-Qaeda, quite a bit different from being an empire, has twice had relationships with states: Sudan for a time and then Afghanistan, in which one had more or less a terrorist-sponsored state, as distinct from a state-sponsored terrorism. Both al-Qaeda and the Islamists had a lot more resources available to them than either Sudan or Afghanistan at that time.

 

Wahhabis call themselves Salafists, which suggests allegiance to the very old forms of Islam. Salafism is the state religion of sorts of Saudi Arabia, but the Salafist relationship with some parts of the Saudi state is tense from time to time. They buy off the staet with phenomenal amounts of money, which they then use to run madrassas in Pakistan and the rest, teaching hatred of all things Western and all things non-Wahhabi.

 

So in contrast to dealing with a Soviet Union, what are we deterring? What are we holding at risk? How does one deter an Ahmadinejad whose objective is to bring the Mahdi back as soon as possible and, in his view, hopefully then the end of the world? How do we deter an al-Qaeda terrorist who is willing to die with a suitcase nuclear weapon in his hand? By threatening what? By holding what at risk?

 

There’s a second major difference from the Cold War. During the Cold War, some people, in particular Daniel Pipes’ father, understood that, by the ‘50s or ‘60s and certainly by the ‘70s, Soviet Communist ideology was dead. There was not fire in the minds of young men as there was in the streets of Petrograd in 1917. Soviet Communists were not getting ideological converts. It was a rigid bureaucratic movement that stood as a justification for thuggery.

 

Today, however, the ideology of our enemies is vibrant, strong, and religiously rooted. It presents a very difficult problem for us, because the Islamist-Salafist ideology, in the Middle East particularly and some other parts of the Muslim world, it is attracting some of the more talented and able young men and occasionally young women of those societies. There is, in the Salafist world, fire in the minds of men.

 

In the Cold War, we didn’t believe there was any real likelihood of attack on the United States by our enemy. In this new long war we’re in, of course, we’ve already been invaded. Not occupied, but attacked in New York and Washington. The chief of strategy, Mr. Hassan Abbasi, for Ahmadinejad in Iran, says that he has already had “spied out” 29 sensitive sites in the U.S. and the West and that he is ready to attack them.

 

During the Cold War, we felt that any hot wars that took place would generally have very short periods of combat. For example, Panama, Grenada, Korea were a few years at most. Vietnam, yes, was an exception. But in this long war we’re in, we may have hot wars, as in Iraq.

 

In the Cold War, we did not have to worry about screening the clerics who applied to be prison ministers for their ideological beliefs. Yet today, a fair number of Muslim prison clerics, are Wahhabis who teach the underlying ideology of hatred which is the same as that taught and adhered to by al-Qaeda.

 

We didn’t feel in the Cold War that we needed to deal with terrorism much differently than we did other crimes. Law enforcement would do the job. Terrorists should be prosecuted and imprisoned and that would deter further terrorism. But terrorism of the sort that we see coming from these Salafist movements just simply are not amenable to that type of treatment. To deal with it as a law enforcement problem is effectively not to deal with it at all. Arrest, prosecution, imprisonment mean very little to someone who is not only willing, but eager to die.

 

During the Cold War, the older among us remember the duck-and-cover drills that we went through in school, to get under the desk to protect yourself from flying glass in the event of a nuclear detonation. Once those were over, we more or less lived our lives during the Cold War secure in the idea that any need to deal with actuqal violence would take place in the world overseas and we wouldn’t have to have any security concerns particularly impinging on our daily lives.

 

Today, of course, the world in which we are living is one in which we come in contact every day with limitations of one kind or another. Some are major, most are minor, such as removing your shoes at the airport. Limitations that affected our liberties and our behavior during the Cold War were very rare.

 

Finally, we didn’t understand this well during the Cold War, but during its aftermath, we’ve come to understand how much better and more effective our economy was than the Soviet economy. There were those who over-estimated the Soviet economy during the Cold War, but almost everyone now understands what an inefficient and ineffective way of producing wealth it was.

 

The war we’re in now is a war in which, if you take the 22 Arab states plus Iran, their population approximately equals that of the United States and Canada together: 340 million, give or take 10 million. That area, those 23 states, other than gas and oil, export to the world less than Finland, a country of 5 million people. But the oil and gas earns a very great deal. Saudi Arabia alone earns $160 billion a year from its oil sales. We borrow approximately a billion dollars every working day, $250 billion a year, just for our oil imports. The rest of our imports that we have to borrow to finance because we don’t save enough and don’t export enough. The rest of what we have to borrow, including oil in toto, totals about $2 billion every calendar day; about $740 billion a year.

 

As we pull into the gasoline pump, we need to look in the mirror and realize who is financing not only our side but also the other side in this war. Then we begin to see what the role of the relative wealth capabilities of the different societies are. We had no real Achilles heel with respect to our economy in the Cold War. We have a huge one right in the hands of our enemy in this current war we are in and it is a three-letter word: oil.

 

I think the most important thing about the war we are in is the variety of the responses that we have to change our views about and come to terms with. Everything from how we manage our ports to how we manage intercepts of communications between terrorists and abroad and someone who knows them in the United States. All of these are important and difficult policy matters.

 

There are two aspects of this war that I think go often undiscussed, although the President mentioned the second one, oil, in his State of the Union address. The first is ideology. Americans are people who don’t like to talk about ideology all that much. Americans think someone is crazy if they have views such as, “Hey, let’s all get together and kill billions of people so we can get the Mahdi to return and then that will be close to the end of the world.” Or, “Hey, let’s establish a worldwide caliphate in which a union of mosque and state governs the entire world.” Or, “Going back a bit in time, how about a thousand year Reich or how about world Communism?”

 

Any of those totalitarian views of the future strike us as so strange that they’re crazy and who can deal with crazy people? Yeah, we may have to fight them some day but we don’t get into ideology that much. We’ve got a very special problem in this war, though. We’ve only fought one enemy in modern times whose totalitarianism had an important religious component, and that was the Japanese empire during World War II, with its distortion of Shintoism. But these enemies that I’ve described in this long war we’re in now have roots that are I think far deeper and far more involved in the history of Islam than the Japanese distortions about Shintoism.

 

Certainly as a result of the Cold War, we are not used to dealing with religiously motivated fanatical totalitarian enemies. We tend to think that everybody’s religion is his or her own business. We don’t challenge one another much about our religious beliefs. And we’re accustomed, in this open and democrat society, to a pretty wide range of religions. “Oh, you’re a Zoroastrian! Well, have a beer!” Our way is not the way of even examining, much less being critical, of something someone calls his or her religion.

 

That has to change. These enemies and their totalitarianism are rooted in a distorted version of a minority view of their religions. Take Shi’ite Islam. Our image of shi’a, much of it dating from the late 1970s with Khomeini’s takeover in Iran, was formed in part by the festival of Ashoura, where people lash themselves. Given what has happened in Iran since 1979, we think of Shi’ite Islam as a theocratically inclined religious group.

 

In fact, the history of Shi’ite Islam, other than a brief period in the 10th century in Egypt, has generally been one of separation of mosque and state. Khomeini introduced a craziness and a totalitarian and theocratic feature into Shi’ism that is not part normally of its mainstream beliefs. But you see what has occurred with Muqtada al-Sadr and some of the behavior in Iraq, as well as in Iran with Ahmadinejad, and their views, the views of the minority group and the group that is not representative as I think for example Ayatollah Sistani is in Iraq. The group in Iran and some groups in Southern Iraq that are fanatically theocratic totalitarians are not generally representative of the history of Shi’ite Islam. But they are no less dangerous for that because, at least in Iran, they have a nuclear weapons program. They have ties, as I said, to Hezbollah and we have to pay attention to the religious roots and the implications of that for what they are doing.

 

One implication of religiously rooted totalitarianism is that they are unafraid—and sometimes eage—to die and that opens up tactics and strategies for them, as Mr. Abbasi has said, in terms of the possibility of destroying sites in the West that make things very difficult for us.

 

It also means that they’re patient. I think one of the reasons we have not seen attacks in the United States since 9/11 is that, with a totalitarian religiously rooted enemy, they really don’t care that much whether or not an attack occurs in 2003, 2004, 2005, or 2006. I think they would very much like for an attack to be more devastating than 9/11. But whether it occurs in their lifetime or not I think is probably not a high priority.

 

So if we look at, not only the Shi’ite side of the ledger, with theocratic totalitarians such as Ahmadinejad, but also on the Sunni side and the situation that we face with both the jihadis such as al-Qaeda, and the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, we see a similar problem. We see a religious view rooted in only a corner of the religion, only a minority view of what it should mean to be a Muslim, but one that is nonetheless there. There are millions of good and decent Muslims in the world. If you want to have an interesting speaker, sometime invite Sheik Kabanni from Detroit, the head of the Sufis in the United States, an absolutely wonderful man. His followers are far from what you would see in some of the organizations like the Counsel of American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America. Those organizations leaning toward the Wahhabi view of things tend to ostracize Sheik Kabanni and his Sufis and keep them on the sidelines, because they’re far too moderate from the point of view of those who lean in a Wahhabi direction.

 

But the underlying views of the Sunni Salafists or Islamists are at least as much a problem for us as those of Ahmadinejad and those on the Shi’ite side of the ledger.

 

The underlying views of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis and the jihadis such as al-Qaeda are essentially the same. They are explicitly genocidal with respect to Shi’ite Muslims, Jews, and homosexuals. They are fanatically hostile to pretty much everybody else: Sufi Muslims, Christians, women, democracy, music, across the board. The Saudis, out of their $160 billion oil income annually, take 3 or 4 billion and give it to the Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia. By the way, that’s about 3 or 4 times what the KGB had available to it for active measures in the West during the height of their funding capability during the Cold War.

 

When those $3-4 billion go to the Wahhabis and the Wahhabis use them to help put prison chaplains into American prisons or to teach hatred in the madrassas of Pakistan, they are spreading essentially the same underlying ideology that is held by al-Qaeda. The substantive views are not different. What they disagree about is who should be in charge. They hate each other with the same kind of hatred that the Stalinists and Trotskyites hated one another during the 1930s. But the Stalinists and Trotskyites agreed, underneath it all, that we should have a dictatorship of the proletariat and the vanguard should rule and exterminate the bourgeoisie and so forth and so on.

 

So when you see those dollars you spend at the fuel tank heading over to fund the other side in the war, it might give you pause and give you some thoughts about what we should do about it. Let me mention two things. One with respect to ideology, the other with respect to oil.

 

With respect to ideology, I am of the view that we are going to need to treat the Wahhabi or the theocratic Shi’ite form of Islam somewhat the way we treated Communism during the Cold War. Congress in the late 40s tried to make it illegal to be a Communist. Supreme Court struck the Smith Act down. So the U.S. government turned in another way. They turned to making Communists’ lives as miserable as they possibly could by having everybody register every time they turned around, by infiltrating their organizations with FBI agents. Communism was still present in the United States as the Cold War went on but it was hobbled as an active combative force affecting our ability to wage the Cold War. David knows far more about this than I. We were doing some effective things in putting limitations on what American Communists could do.

 

I think we have to look at both the Wahhabis and the Shi’ite theocratic totalitarians somewhat the same way. We cannot make it illegal for an American imam in a mosque to be a Wahhabi. But if that set of views is what is being taught and what is being disseminated, I think we have a similar kind of problem to what we had in the Cold War with Communism and should be treated similarly.

 

The other side of this is the economic power in the hands of our adversaries and that is, as I said, entirely derived from oil. There are a couple of problems about oil. It is obviously a useful way to carry energy. For over a century, it has been a useful way to provide the feedstock for creating gasoline and diesel fuel for powering automobiles. It’s going to be around for a long time.

 

But there are some ways that we can move a lot more expeditiously than many people believe to make it a good deal harder for oil exporting states, whether it’s Russia or the states of the Middle East, to get political power out of their position as oil and gas suppliers. To make it harder for them to shove the rest of us around. Because once the curves of oil consumption and use that I’m about to describe begin to turn, the people in these oil-exporting nations who control and govern their countries’ behavior will begin to see the handwriting on the wall.

 

Now, what am I talking about? Am I talking about a hydrogen highway to the future? No, no and no. Hydrogen has a bunch of problems. It is an interesting R&D project and hydrogen fuel cells are an extremely useful way to create stationary power. Power from hydrogen fuel cells for a number of different applications, other than automobiles, makes some real current economic sense.

 

But those vehicles you see out there advertising a hydrogen future cost each about a million dollars to make and that’s because the fuel cells themselves are something like a thousand times more expensive than they can be in any economic structure and even if we get on top of that. I have some confidence in the next 20 years or so that that might work out. If you’re talking about hydrogen, you’re looking at needing to completely restructure the energy infrastructure of the country. You’ve got to have hydrogen pumps at filling stations. You’ve got to make the hydrogen there. So you’ve got to get natural gas, let’s say, into every filling station. Hydrogen’s extremely explosive. You’ve got to find a way to store it without blowing things up.

 

You’re talking about massive changes in our energy infrastructure.

 

We have spent a good deal of money on hydrogen and some of it has been well spent. But my view is that what we need to concentrate on are ways to replace petroleum-based fuels that one can use to quickly, within the existing infrastructure and as inexpensively as possible. The reason we don’t want to go for really high-cost solutions is that the Saudis are capable of doing the same thing they did in 1985, when they turned on the spigot and dropped the bottom out of the oil market. It went down to $5-7 a barrel. The good news is that it bankrupted the Soviet Union. That may have been one of the reasons that they did it. Part of the bad news is it bankrupted the Synfuels Corporation and, indirectly, my home state of Oklahoma which was not good.

 

But the Saudis had enough control over the spigot to be able to do that. And I think in spite of the notions of peak oil and the rest, OPEC and particularly the Saudis will have some of that type of capability for some years to come.

 

So we want fuels that are alternatives and today, for all practical purposes, there are none. The difference between petroleum for transportation use and almost any other kind of energy or other issue is that you’ve got alternatives. If natural gas goes through the roof, as it has, people are going to work really hard on clean coal and on nuclear and on wind turbines and so forth. But, for transportation fuel, there’s nothing else to move to unless we make some changes in the way our infrastructure operates.

 

Should you think that the oil infrastructure is not vulnerable, like me, you’ll be pleased at the Saudi repulse yesterday of the attacks on oil fields and oil transshipment facilities in Saudi Arabia by the al-Qaeda terrorists. But that’s not the last time they’ll try.

 

Bob Bayer’s book, Sleeping with the Devil, opens with a scenario in which hijackers fly a hijacked aircraft into the sulfur clearing towers up near Rastanura in northeastern Saudi Arabia. Take them out of operation, thereby taking about six million barrels a day of Saudi crude off line for a year or more and send oil prices to well over $200 a barrel.

 

So the vulnerability of the oil infrastructure, as well as this business of our funding the other side in the war, is yet another reason I think that one needs to concentrate on these suggestions about utilizing inexpensive feedstocks, using the existing infrastructure and moving as quickly as we can.

 

Now, what might one do? The President has, over the course of the last week or two, been mentioning two alternatives time and again and I think he’s right on those. The only thing I would say is that I think he is focused entirely on research and development and these are fields in which the Wright Brothers have already flown. What we really need is not so much invention, but some type of encouragement one way or another to have things move into the market quickly.

 

One possibility is cellulosic ethanol. The word “cellulosic” is important because it means making ethanol not from corn, which has to be cultivated and fertilized and is expensive to grow and so forth. But rather, as the President mentioned, from things such as switch grass, which is a variety of prairie grass. Or, for that matter, kudzu or corn cobs or any other waste agricultural products.

 

What’s new is that people have now succeeded in inventing genetically modified microorganisms that can take the place of the enzymes that break cellulose down in cow’s stomachs every day and turn it into sugar that the cows live on. It’s doing that with genetically modified biocatalysts and fermenting the different types of sugar there with genetically modified yeast.


That is now being done commercially by a company called Iogen in Canada with Shell Oil backing it. It does not need to be invented. It needs help to be moved promptly into the marketplace into E85—85% ethanol. But it does not need to be invented.

 

The same is true of the other way to use inexpensive fuels that the President’s been talking about, which is plug-in hybrids. A plug-in hybrid is a hybrid electric vehicle which, of course, goes back and forth between electric power and gasoline, while the battery’s being charged by the deceleration and by the use of the gasoline motor. My Prius gets about 50 miles to the gallon: a little worse on the road, a little better in town. It likes start/stop driving.

 

Hybrid gasoline electrics are fine, but what is really interesting is if you can increase the capacity of the battery by about a factor of 6, and today that’s about a $6-7,000 cost, but it ought to be less as time goes on and batteries get cheaper. But if you increase the capacity of the battery, let’s say, in a Prius by a factor of 6, plug it in overnight, top it up fully and then drive for 20-25 miles as an electric car on your overnight power before the hybrid back-and-forth feature cuts in, you turn that 50-mile-a-gallon Prius into about a 125-mile gallon of petroleum-based fuel Prius.

 

By the way, in most of the country, the average cost of off-peak nighttime electric power is 2-4 cents a kilowatt hour which is the rough equivalent of 25-50 cent a gallon gasoline. So if you have two cars, one kind of stays around the neighborhood and drives less than 25 miles a day, while the other maybe goes on long commutes. The one that goes on long commutes will be getting about a 125 miles per gallon of petroleum as it goes. The one that goes around the neighborhood and around town may go to the gasoline station once every six months or so because it’s running on off-peak overnight power the rest of the time.

 

Again, the Wright Brothers have already flown. This has been invented. It’s being assembled in kits to modify cars in California beginning next month. People will lose some of their warranties and different car companies are wringing their hands and there’s much Sturm und Drang. But it is not something that needs to be invented. If you have 125-mile-per-gallon, because it’s a plug-in hybrid car and it is running on 85 percent ethanol and only 15 percent gasoline, you have something in the ballpark of a 500-mile-per-gallon car with existing technology.

 

You want to get the Wahhabi’s attention, that’s the way to do it.

 

Thank you.


James Woolsey is a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.


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