Is energy a key element in the war we are fighting against the onslaught of Islamist terror and subversion? Does America need energy independence to really win this war? The American people seem to think so. The last time a Rasmussen poll asked them if the development of new homegrown energy sources was “an urgent national priority,” 81 percent said yes. Only 9 percent disagreed.
In NRO last month, I argued that the great American majority is right, on this fundamental policy question as on a heartening number of others. I said we need a commander-in-chief who will “insist on an all-out effort to increase our own supplies of energy as rapidly as possible,” focusing especially on the game-changing potential of the natural gas that is buried in the shale rock layers that lie beneath vast stretches of America, from Texas to New York.
Last week — after the failed Islamist terror bombing over Detroit — President Obama took a few belated baby steps in our direction. He reaffirmed, at long last, the fact that we are at war, and progressed from pretending that our enemies are “isolated extremists” to naming one of our Islamist enemies — al-Qaeda — though he pretended it is our only
Islamist enemy. More progress: He re-endorsed energy independence as a goal, and unveiled a new program to fund various energy projects. However, the only types of energy he named were solar and wind; he failed to even mention nuclear power, let alone natural gas. For Americans who see energy independence as a national-security imperative, this is late, and much too little.
Kevin Williamson doesn’t see it that way. He sees us as dumb. Calling our concern “‘foreign oil’ alarmism,” he brands it “one of the dumbest themes in American politics, a yardstick of stupidity.” He offers three reasons for this cocksure assertion, which quickly collapse into two. First, he flatly asserts that American energy independence is impossible, unless we revert to the living standards of the 19th century. Second, he states that “the largest share of our ‘foreign oil’ comes from those perfidious Canadians, not from the perfidious Arabs”; therefore, he argues, “Our dependence on imported oil is no more dangerous than our dependence on imported steel . . . or T-shirts.” A paragraph later, he acknowledges that if we stopped buying so much foreign oil, the Saudis would be in “a world of hurt” because “no other player in the market is positioned to replace American demand.” Hardly a surprise, since we consume some 25 percent of the world’s oil, and currently produce only about one-third of what we need here at home. But, third, Williamson tells us, it’s dumb to worry, even if our great and growing demand does, after all, serve to enrich Islamist states like Saudi Arabia — not to mention Iran. No harm done, he says, because “oil touches terrorism only tangentially: Box-cutters and underpants-bombing misfits are not expensive.”
Let’s treat Williamson’s reason number two like the self-refuting irrelevance it is, and focus on his two main arguments, starting with his claim that there is no realistic possibility of our achieving anything close to energy independence in the near future. We can begin by acknowledging that he’s right if, like our president, you pin all your hopes on solar and wind power. Someday, American ingenuity probably will achieve the technological breakthroughs that can make these sources yield substantial amounts of energy, but counting on breakthroughs that haven’t happened yet is a dream, not a workable plan to deal with the terribly real problems facing us right now.