Buy a hybrid

Changing the way oil drives US policy

By , Saturday 9 July 2011 21.10 BST

Twenty years after we went to war over oil and ten years after 9/11, America has still not connected the dots. This is not about the intelligence community, but American politics, policy and behaviour. We still don’t see the interconnections of daily realities, like the car we drive, what that means for the price of gasoline and how that affects our national security.

When prices surged north of $4 per gallon this spring, the political response was to search for someone or something to blame. Members of Congress targeted oil speculators, while the Obama administration focused on the turmoil in Libya. The administration also floated a proposal to double the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks to 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025.

Interestingly, having aggressively fought such proposals in the past, Detroit’s reaction this time was constructive. We can build more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, automakers made clear, but questioned whether consumers would buy them.

The answer is, we should. It’s connected to our national security. Say what?

In a world of global markets, networks and challenges, the divide between global and local is largely gone. The choices we make as individuals affect broader policies. And all the major issues being debated today – OK, not Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner, but the price of gasoline, military operations, the Arab Spring, Osama bin Laden, government spending, the debt ceiling and economic recovery – have national security implications.

Exaggerated? Stay with me as we review the history of the past 20 years and how war and peace are linked to the next car we purchase.

At the end of this year, the last American troops will leave Iraq after a conflict that started not in 2003, but in 1990, when we deployed combat forces to protect Saudi Arabia’s oil fields. We achieved an overwhelming military victory, but did not eliminate the threat Saddam Hussein posed to Saudi Arabia and other regional energy producers. Military forces stayed in the kingdom.

Osama bin Laden resented the presence of infidels in Saudi Arabia and declared war on the United States. His 9/11 plot killed nearly 3,000 people and inflicted heavy security costs on our economy. US combat forces eventually withdrew from the kingdom.

We invaded Afghanistan and destroyed bin Laden’s safe haven, but he escaped. We then decided to finish off Saddam, democratising Iraq and its oil fields, but at tremendous cost.

The trillions spent in direct and indirect costs in these wars, all borrowed money, could have cushioned the impact of the global economic crisis, but the economy went into recession and jobs evaporated. To work our way out of this mess, we now want to balance the federal budget.

This spring, while Washington debated how to cut spending, we started another war (along with Nato) to democratise Libya and its oil fields, even though the Obama administration – for political reasons – pretends it is not a war.

While fighting Muammar Gaddafi, we knocked off bin Laden. Congress now wants to declare “mission accomplished” in Afghanistan and bring troops home ahead of schedule to save money. Meanwhile, the administration keeps floating the idea of keeping troops in Iraq because the job of democratising its oil fields is not yet done. Iraq is now one of our leading oil exporters.

Across the Middle East, the Arab Spring is facing resistance. Syria has a little oil. Its leader is also killing his people. Saudi Arabia, our third largest exporter, does not want to democratise its oil fields. It is using $93bn in oil revenue we gave them to bribe its population, preserve the monarchy and prevent women from driving.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, we can’t balance the federal budget without cutting defence spending. To cut defence spending, we must change our foreign policy, shifting away from costly military interventions to protect sources of oil. To do that, we must reduce our dependence on and consumption of foreign oil. That should lower its price, taking money out of the pockets of autocratic countries that complicate our foreign policy and necessitate expensive military interventions.

Oversimplified? Sure, but it brings us to the car dealer showroom. You are looking at two cars. One has a hybrid engine, is more fuel-efficient but costs a couple of thousand more. The other has a standard engine, is less efficient and cheaper. Which car – and what national security policy – will you purchase?

Buy a hybrid, save fuel, promote democracy, save a soldier, protect the planet and balance the budget. A virtuous policy circle liberals and conservatives should support. or or

Painting by Khalil Rabah, from “BIPRODUCT,” 2010. or or

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