Friday, July 15, 2011

Oil: America's Kryptonite

This article originally appeared on PolicyMic on 15 July, 2011

The pace of change in America is slow and the larger the change the slower the pace. Eliminating oil dependence is a change we’ve been talking about for forty years. Much of the discussion on the issue revolves around economics. But this ignores another, arguably more important side of the issue. America’s continuing dependence on oil is an enormous strategic liability. If you look up the term strategic liability in the dictionary, there should be a picture of oil under it. There are many reasons why this is so.

Oil costs are prohibitive and unpredictable. Gas costs us $400 a gallon in Afghanistan. We pay $88 per soldier per day in Iraq for fuel. Defense spending has long been a sacred cow, but now it is on the chopping block. A smaller military budget means a smaller military where every dollar counts. Even small increases in fuel costs translate to thousands of dollars. As oil prices continue to trend upward and remain volatile, this may put our commanders in the position of having to worry if they can afford the gas to conduct operations or using a smaller force than necessary for the job due to the cost. This may put our troops downrange and our security at home in jeopardy.

Oil creates soft targets for our foes that can directly affect us. Experts have long been concerned about the liability of oil transport by land and sea to militant attacks. NATO convoys in Pakistan and fuel convoys in Iraq have been constant targets. There have been attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, India, and Indonesia. The thousands of oil wells and miles of pipelines throughout the world are impossible to be adequately secured. There have been attacks on oil infrastructure in Nigeria, Turkey, and even Mexico among other places. Any interruption in supply causes prices to shoot up and costs us billions every time it does.

Oil puts us in partnership with people that oppose our values or even with our enemies. America is the world’s largest consumer of oil. There is no question that our need for oil causes us to look the other way when our suppliers step on human rights, equality, and democracy. We also sell them arms and give trade concessions to keep them happy. If we didn’t need oil we wouldn’t need to do this. Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain are examples. Our need has put us into bed with regimes we have later fought. Think Iran, Iraq, and Libya. Dependence on oil has caused us to surrender our freedom to act.

Continuing to depend on oil is an enormous strategic liability, limits our freedom of action, and is harmful to our security. Eliminating our need for oil will make us independent again and take a weapon out of the hands of those who oppose America. We’ve been debating the issue for forty years and it is finally time to act. Breaking our dependence on oil is vital to our national security.