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The Real Energy Crisis Is American Addiction to Oil

24 January 2002

Now for the latest news on the nation's energy crisis.

You may not be aware that the nation is suffering through an energy crisis. The winter weather's been peachy. The heating bills are manageable. The price at the pump is dirt cheap.

You might, if you were trying to figure out whether there is an energy crisis, have tried to decipher the Enron collapse and what, if anything, it has to do with your electric bill. Or figure out how it has come to pass that California, a dark and frightened place a few months ago that supposedly foreshadowed dark and frightening things across the land, is sunny again. You might have wondered why President George W. Bush was in West Virginia coal country Tuesday, saying coal is the country's energy future in the 21st century just as it was in the 19th.

You would, though, be looking in all the wrong places. The real news on the energy crisis is not to be found in Houston or West Virginia. It is to be found in Riyadh.

The government of Saudi Arabia is putting out word that it wants us out. It wants to close the American air base we set up there about a decade ago to save that country from the expansionist threat of Saddam Hussein.

This is the same repressive monarchy that condones - has funded - schools of radical Islam that are incubators for terrorists. The same, too, that spawned Osama bin Laden and as many as 15 of the 19 hijackers who turned airliners into bombs and the World Trade Center into a battlefield and burial ground. It is the same regime that supported the Taliban, its ideological soul mate in many ways.

The Saudi rulers want the U.S. military out because of the obvious: They're scared. The radicals in the Saudis' midst, those very young men to whom the ruling family has taught radical fundamentalism and anti-Americanism, don't want their nation in bed with the infidels.

It may well, one day, be wise for the Pentagon to pull up this particular stake. Reconfiguring the military installations that protect Persian Gulf oil may, in an odd and unsatisfactory way, turn out to be easier than most endeavors in the Middle East.

Trouble is, the supposedly special relationship we have with the Saudis exhibits the deeper signs of a doomed marriage. It has never, really, been a true partnership.

The shrinks would call it co-dependent: They give us oil, we give them military protection. The shrinks would say this is profoundly unhealthy. They would, if they went on Oprah, tell us to change ourselves to break the cycle of dysfunction.

And there is, to be perfectly honest, only one way for us to change: End the oil addiction.

So long as Americans continue to guzzle gasoline as if it were so much rum punch, so long as we consume a quarter of the world's oil, we will have to get it from the Persian Gulf and, in particular, from Saudi Arabia.

The White House doggedly promotes the myth that we can drill our way out of this dependency. That is like saying the alcoholic is cured once the drunk switches from bourbon to beer.

The truth is in the math. We have only 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. The Persian Gulf nations - led by Saudi Arabia - have 65 percent. Pumping every drop of U.S. reserves out of the ground would leave us exactly where we are now: trading the promise of our blood for their oil.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is a presidential hopeful who promotes an energy policy based on reducing domestic consumption and advancing new-fuel technology. The details have little chance of enactment. The logic is unassailable. It is to bring about less dependency on oil itself.

"I don't want to have to send a lot of troops over there to secure the fields," said Kerry, a much-decorated veteran of Vietnam.

Neither do I. And neither should you.

But that is the essence of a co-dependent relationship. Nobody professes to want it. But mostly, people stay, for no reason more compelling than complacency. Marie Cocco
Published in the Long Island Newsday (New York) © 2002 Newsday Inc.

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