Gal Luft is executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington, D.C. He is a specialist on strategic issues and energy policy with a PhD in strategic studies from Johns Hopkins University. A former lieutenant colonel in the Israel Defense Forces, his writings have appeared in Commentary, Foreign Affairs, the Los Angeles Times, Middle East Review of International Affairs, the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Luft addressed the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia on October 27, 2004.
In both World War Two and the Cold War, the side best deploying scientific innovation and technological advancement achieved superiority. The turning point in the war on militant Islam will similarly arrive in the form of innovation that deprives the enemy of its current advantages.
Today, however, the U.S. finds itself in the position of financially supporting both itself and its enemies in the "War on Terror." This is a consequence of the U.S.'s growing dependence on oil, particularly as a transportation fuel. Currently, the United States consumes 25% of the world's oil while possessing only 3% of world oil reserves. The Muslim world, in contrast, depends on oil far less while possessing 75% of the world's oil reserves. As the U.S. continues to invest in the oil economies of the Middle East and the Muslim world, these economies continue to use their oil revenues to spread radical Islam, promote anti-Semitic and anti-American ideas, and in some cases, develop unconventional weapons. Every time an American goes to a gas station, he is sending money to America's enemies.
To complicate the matter, America is not the only country with a growing demand for foreign oil. China and India, hosting two of the largest and fastest growing economies, are also experiencing a steep rise in their demand for transportation fuel. China, for example, will likely enter into Middle Eastern politics in order to meet this demand. It will need to enhance its diplomatic relations in the region and possibly increase its weapons sales to the Muslim world's oil moguls. Foreshadowing this potential development is the Pakistani nuclear bomb, which was built by the Chinese and financed by the Saudis.
Steep rise in oil prices
The steeply rising demand for oil today means that the disruption of petroleum production causes oil prices to rise. America's Islamist foes are aware of this reality and view it as America's Achilles' heel. According to an al-Qaeda spokesman, the October 2002 attack on a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen was a victory against the "Crusader nations." After the terrorist attack against oil employees in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, al-Qaeda leaders bragged that the consequent rise in oil prices caused Americans to suffer. (The website www.iags.org documents terrorist attacks on oil facilities around the world).
Some people believe that an American invasion of Saudi Arabia, home to the world's largest oil reserves, will resolve the oil problem. These people fail to look at the situation in Iraq, home to the world's second largest oil reserve. Due to the instability caused by the invasion, the U.S. is not receiving any Iraqi oil and will not obtain any Iraqi oil in the near future. Results from an invasion of Saudi Arabia would be similar.
The U.S. needs to get serious about gradually reducing the demand for foreign oil and bringing about the turning point in the current war. To do so, it must promote scientific and technological advancement by tapping into homegrown fuel sources that can be used for transportation purposes. These include: electricity, coal, and biomass (agricultural waste). Currently, the U.S. has 25% of the world's coal and billions of tons of biomass. In fact, nearly 60% of the garbage Americans throw away can be used as transportation fuel.
Alternative sources of transportation fuel
Electricity can power vehicles. On an electric battery, a vehicle may drive between 20 and 40 miles before the battery needs to recharge, which can be done easily overnight. New hybrid vehicles will carry both an electric battery and a normal engine. The engine will run on gasoline only after a driver exceeds the mile capacity of the electric battery. This will make possible trips longer than 40 miles. These hybrids will empower electricity companies and end the transportation fuel monopoly held by the oil companies.
Alcohol fuels such as ethanol, made from corn or biomass and methanol, made from coal, can also power a vehicle. Flexible fuel vehicles can run on any combination of gasoline and alcohol, thus reducing the overall amount of oil used. There are three million cars on the road today that are built to use the alcohol-gasoline mixture. Ford Taurus, Dodge Caravan, and Mercedes C-320 are all flexible fuel cars. In addition to decreasing U.S. need for foreign oil, flexible fuel will also aid the economy because it will bring new jobs to the American farmers and the American coal miners.
These alternate fuel vehicles can move the U.S. into an energy era free of dependence on OPEC and other oil exporters. Equally significant, the Europeans, Chinese, Japanese, and others will look to the U.S. as the world leader in this new energy era.
Unfortunately, current U.S. energy policy is looking elsewhere, towards seeking oil reserves outside the Middle East. This is at best a short-term and ultimately shortsighted solution. If we deplete the oil reserves outside the Middle East before we deplete the reserves in the Middle East, we will become in time more dependent on Middle Eastern oil than ever before.
To avoid these outcomes, there needs to be a "Set America Free Plan" that will utilize alternate energy sources. In order to effectively implement its principles, leaders of this initiative must use the conservative political movement in America as its avenue to the American public.
Usually, environmental political groups endorse energy initiatives of this nature as part of environmental preservation or anti-global warming campaigns. These campaigns, however, fail to resonate with the American public because of a general apathy toward the environment and distrust of anti-capitalists causes. Contrarily, if the initiative is presented by the conservatives and linked to the national security agenda, it will gain the necessary public support for implementation. Consequently, liberal political groups will also look to endorse the new energy campaign, further bolstering its appeal. Essentially, America will not be able to win its "War on Terror" if energy security is not at the top of its agenda.
This summary account was written by Ari J. Goldman, a research assistant at the Middle East Forum.