President Bush's domestic energy policy is as wimpy as his foreign policy is strong.
Two of the most important points announced this week foreshadow environmental disaster: expanding oil production in coastal waters and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge of northern Alaska, and loosening the rules that control construction of nuclear power plants and nuclear waste disposal sites.Exxon Valdez. Three Mile Island.
The reasons for opposing those plans are so fully understood by Americans that it's only necessary to invoke the names of catastrophes in order for everybody to remember what we're talking about.
What seems sorely lacking in the debate is the meshing of foreign and domestic policy; that is, incorporating as a goal the guarantee of a dependable Mideast oil supply.
We are fighting a war that is costly in terms of Americans killed and wounded, billions of dollars of expenses, families disrupted. Beyond that, the Persian Gulf war obviously extracts a terrible price from hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the Middle East.
When the conflict began, our policymakers repeated that oil was involved. But then the peace advocates began chanting "no blood for oil."
At that point, the government's goals seemed to change. Suddenly, oil had nothing at all to do with the conflict. Every effort was strictly from an idealistic standpoint, that we were only fighting to protect the Saudis from aggression and to liberate Kuwait.
Once the change was made, the Bush administration shrank away from talking about oil. It made the mistake of allowing the doves to call the shots in foreign policy. It conceded part of the agenda to them and launched our attacks on the basis of some pretense about the need to be the world's policeman.
"No blood for oil." What a slick and misleading chant. It tarred the war effort with the brush of exploitation. Suddenly, it was as if any connection between oil and foreign policy was somehow dirty or beneath contempt.
Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against the stated war aims that remained: The rape of Kuwait is an infamous crime, equal to what Germany did to Belgium when World War I started. Saddam must be punished and his military machine must cease to be a threat to peace in the region.
Establishing the United States as a force to be feared by would-be aggressors is a laudable goal.
But among our other aims, Bush should not forget the legitimate interest that civilization has in preserving the oil market. Considering only the countries that Saddam either took over or threatened, Kuwait has nearly 100 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, while Saudi Arabia has more than 250 billion.
Those two countries alone warehouse at least a third of the world's oil supply. Add to that Iraq's own 100 billion barrels, and it's about half of the oil in the world. Allowing a madman to control that much is unthinkable.
What if it were the world's supply of water we were talking about? Or air? Would anyone be crazy enough to argue that we should let Saddam take over as much as he can grab? Would they chant, "No blood for air?" It's preposterous.
Yet oil is crucial to our continued well-being as an industrial civilization. That's civilization with all of the life-saving, mass-produced plastic syringes, the ambulances that run on gasoline, and the trucks that deliver the bicycles the anti-oil people say they ride to work.
Oil is the lifeblood of the world's economy. It fuels the whole structure, directly or indirectly. Like it or not, the world has been dependant on petroleum for decades. There was nothing ignoble or poorly conceived about that; the invention of the internal combustion machine made it inevitable.
And what's wrong with depending on the Middle East as a main source? With the exception of the odd maniac who deliberately spews oil slicks into the Persian Gulf, production there is amazingly benign. It's not much more destructive than sticking a pipe into the sand.
International cooperation among willing sellers and buyers isn't wrong, either. Ensuring that the market functions properly, that countries are trading partners in the development of these resources, is nothing shameful. A policy of fair trade benefits all parties.
That's why it's unfortunate the policymakers allowed anti-war activists to co-opt the oil issue.
Instead of couching the debate strictly in the form of helping out countries that are under attack, the Bush administration should say we are doing that, but we are also acting in our own best interests in preserving the free flow of oil. Fortunately, it happens to be true that we can defend against aggression at the same time that we protect the world's legitimate interest in the peaceful, cooperative development of oil reserves.
If the oil aspect of our war goals were acknowledged and made a cornerstone of domestic energy policy, we wouldn't have to fight about wringing the last drop of crude out of Alaska, building nuclear plants or drilling the continental shelf.