During the Vietnam War, the peaceniks often claimed that America’s real interest was exploiting the South Vietnamese oil reserves. Today, Vietnam produces a fraction of one percent of the world’s petroleum supply. But pull out those old bellbottoms and put a flower in your hair, because Ralph Nader has just launched a campaign against an Iraq war, declaring that invading Iraq would be a war for oil.
At a D.C. press conference earlier this month, with more cameras trained on Nader than would be on Nicole Kidman sunning herself on a public beach, the aging activist blasted “the perverse priorities of the Bush/Cheney oiligarchy.” (“Oiligarchy,” get it?) These priorities, he said, “are driving the war against Iraq.”
Bush only wants to give Saddam the boot, Nader insisted, because we are heavily dependent on foreign oil and Iraq has gobs of it. “The surest way” to sustain our fossil fuel appetite is to “control” the “oil reserves that lie beneath the sands of the Persian Gulf.”
But among Nader’s many lapses in thinking is that we already do “control” that oil, albeit not through force but through money. Without the world’s largest oil-import market, that stuff below the sand is mere black goo.
The Arab countries discovered during the 1973 embargo that if they didn’t sell to us somebody else would. If only the Nixon administration had realized that, there would have been no oil crisis.
Nader also took the obligatory swipe at SUVs. To his credit, he did not ask “What would Jesus drive?” Nor did he claim that SUV drivers support terrorism. Instead, he cited safety studies to label the vehicles “weapons of mass destruction.”
Nader also disparaged the hydrogen fuel-cell technology that increasingly is being touted as an eventual replacement for gasoline-powered engines and other energy-using devices.
This is quite strange, given that hydrogen power has long been the darling of the anti-fossil-fuel lobby. Indeed, it’s the subject of a new book by Nader’s fellow radical, Jeremy Rifkin, who claims the technology will usher in utopia. But all that changed the moment Bush threw his support behind developing the technology during his State of the Union Address.
Now, says Nader, hydrogen “will do virtually nothing” for us until around 2020, when “some hydrogen vehicles may be viable.” You’d never know that hydrogen fuel-cell trucks and cars are already on the road, or that it’s widely estimated that they could make up a large part of our vehicle fleet within a decade.
As to measures we could take in the meantime to decrease oil imports, somehow Nader forgot to mention government bans over the last 20 years on oil activity covering more than 300 million acres of federal land onshore and more than 460 million acres offshore. Just one of these reserves, the coastal plain of the Antarctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), is estimated to contain from 10 to 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil. That alone could replace about three years of imports.
But the ultimate problem with Nader’s reasoning is that, if all we wanted was cheap abundant oil, we could get it peacefully by simply lifting oil-export sanctions against Iraq and demobilizing. Petroleum prices would plummet instantly, with the stock market rocketing at almost the same speed due both to cheap oil and the end of war fears. All of this couldn’t fail to spur the economy, putting Bush and the GOP on the path to continued dominance of the White House and Congress.
Nader proffered the seemingly plausible idea that the U.S. could be seizing Iraq to divvy up its resources among some American oil companies. But he immediately contradicted himself when he pointed out that Russia, China, and France already have major contractual interests there. Are we really going to yank all those wells from beneath the noses of three of the world’s most powerful nations?
Consider this, too: Doesn’t U.S. “Big Oil” profit from the sanctions currently in place, since restricted Iraqi exports prop up the price for all the oil they drill elsewhere?
Instead, Bush is about to embark on a very risky move for his presidency and his party. The logical reason is the one Bush gives: Saddam poses a serious regional threat now and a serious worldwide threat in the near future. He will never stop until he gets the Bomb, along with some shiny ICBMs to toss wherever he pleases. Would he use them to kill, or merely to intimidate, the rest of the world? Do we want to wait a few years to find out?
A post-Saddam Iraq carries with it not the promise of secure oil — we already have that. Rather, it carries the guarantee of a more secure world.
By the way, Nader and his cronies at Greenpeace U.S.A. also attempted to stage a demonstration at the downtown headquarters of the American Petroleum Institute. Judging by the turnout, the organizers cannot have been happy. It was even accompanied by an anti-Saddam rally. All that was missing was an anti-Saddam chant — perhaps this would do: “Hell no, we won’t glow!”
— Michael Fumento is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. His next book, tentatively titled BioEvolution: How Biotechnology is Changing our World, will be published later this year by Encounter Books.