Open Forum

The Neocons' Version of Energy Security


The phrase “energy security” has joined the likes of apple pie, motherhood and free wifi access as near-to-the-heart things that no one dare speak against.

Indeed, over the past year or so, a group of Washington insiders—led by stalwart pro-Iraq war neoconservatives like former CIA director James Woolsey and ultra-hawk Frank Gaffney—have been beating the drum of energy security, insisting that America must act quickly to end its dependence on imported oil. Gaffney has called reducing our imports from the Persian Gulf “a national security imperative.” Woolsey, who has been talking about energy security issues for decades, drives a Toyota Prius.

Woolsey, Gaffney, and others have helped launch a coalition called Set America Free, which is led by yet more neoconservatives, including the Hudson Institute’s Meyrav Wurmser. (In 1996, she was one of the authors—along with Richard Perle and Douglas Feith—of a strategy paper for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and military assaults against Lebanon and Syria.) A number of environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, have also joined the new coalition.

While the idea of reducing oil imports makes sense, the hard truth about the neocons and their agenda is this: Their “war first” mentality and strident militarism has had one clear result—increased energy insecurity for Americans and tens of millions of other citizens around the world.

There’s no shortage of irony in the fact that the neocons are now the main cheerleaders for energy efficiency and energy security when their own actions have spawned global energy insecurity. But I’ll leave the irony alert aside and instead focus on a few examples of how the Bush Administration has left America more vulnerable to energy supply disruptions. First on the list, of course, is Iraq.

In mid-July, the new Iraqi prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, made his first visit to Iran. One of Jaafari’s first stops was to the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini, on which he laid a wreath. Khomeini, of course, was the Muslim leader who returned in triumph to Iran after the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran.

Iraq, which the neocons assured us would become a bastion of democracy in the Middle East, is, instead, becoming a theocratic regime led by Shiites. During Jaafari’s visit, Iranian president Mohammad Khatami told reporters, “Iran will do everything it can to assure the reconstruction, security, and stability of Iraq.” That includes a new energy alliance. And here again, the irony abounds. Just two decades ago, the Iranians and the Iraqis were enmeshed in a bloody war. During that conflict, the Iraqis bombed one of Iran’s main oil export terminals, Kharg Island. But thanks to their new alliance, the Iraqis will soon be exporting their crude oil through Kharg Island! Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, said that the deal between the two countries would also include “rehabilitating oil and gas facilities in Iraq, and investment in petrochemicals in Iraq and so on.”

Given worries about Iran’s nuclear capabilities, what will happen if the Israelis decide to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites? Could Iran and Iraq decide to embargo oil shipments to the U.S. in retaliation for its support for Israel? Well, the Arab oil producers have done that before, in 1967 and again in 1973. Mike Ameen, who has worked for decades in the Middle East for companies like Aramco and Mobil, says the result of the Iraq fiasco is hard to believe. “We fought and we killed thousands in Iraq to set up another Iran?” says Ameen, who lives in Houston. “I’m worried. I’m really worried.”

What other mischief can the Bush Administration do? Well, it’s opposing the proposed gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan and India. Dubbed the “peace pipeline” because it would unite the economic interests of India and Pakistan, which have been skirmishing for decades, the proposed 1,600-mile line would be a reliable source of gas for both energy-starved nations. The Bush Administration wants to isolate Iran. But Iran has enormous gas reserves?about 970 trillion cubic feet, which makes them second only to Russia in total reserves?and that Iranian gas will find a way to market.

By opposing the pipeline, the U.S. is fostering energy insecurity for two countries that, at least in theory, are our allies in the global war on terror.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is supplying the Indians with nuclear equipment that they can use to build nuclear weapons, and it’s selling F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.

Finally, there’s Venezuela, which provides the U.S. with about 15 percent of its daily crude imports. Now, I’m not here to defend Chavez. The bombastic populist may have good intentions toward Venezuela’s poor, but his administration is poorly run and it appears that his government is squandering (or pilfering) tens of millions of petrodollars.

The Bush Administration has badly bungled its relationship with Chavez, who controls some 77 billion barrels of oil—the biggest oil cache in the western hemisphere. The National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by Congress, provided money to the leaders of a coup attempt in 2002. After the coup leaders took over the presidential palace in Caracas, other Latin American leaders condemned the coup. The U.S. did not. Instead, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer joked that Chavez’s ouster was a result of instability he had fostered. Less than 48 hours after the coup started, there was a countercoup. Soldiers loyal to Chavez returned him to power and the coup leaders were arrested. Since then, Chavez has threatened to sell Venezuela’s refineries in the U.S. (which carry the Citgo brand). He’s also done major energy deals with China, Cuba, and other countries unfriendly to the U.S. Chavez continues to taunt the U.S.—a stance that is politically popular in Latin America.

From Caracas to Baghdad, these are tangible results of the neocons’ version of global energy security. And like it or not, we will be living with these results for decades to come.

Observer contributing writer Robert Bryce is the author most recently of Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate (Public Affairs).