Manhattan Project 2.0

Why energy independence is nothing less than the most important national security issue we face.

At the dawn of the 21st century, American politics were a much more nuanced and diverse affair than the grueling partisan tedium it has become since. While the burning sensation of post-Lewinsky animosity lingered on as a testament to our politiciansâÄô collective childishness and egoism, debates about government were substantive, and there existed no single issue driving public dialogue. Some people were worried about social security. Some were worried about the future of an economy still wobbling after the dot-com bubble burst. Others talked about civil liberties or sought to find politicians who would restore dignity and character to the halls of Washington. And then came 9/11. The trauma and shock of that national disaster collapsed all other political interests and created a singularity within our politics. All the old issues were thrown out, and national security was thrust to the fore. After 9/11, your ideas counted for nothing unless you were plainly up to the challenge of protecting America. Considering that, it seems a bit strange that America has yet to responsibly and honestly confront its greatest national security challenge of all. Not the kind of security problems that can be solved with bomb-sniffing dogs or âÄúno flyâÄù lists. There is no border fence or unmanned aerial drone that can snuff the danger that most threatens America. ThatâÄôs because this danger stems from a consumer-driven self destruction necessitated through reliance on a resource whose cost in American blood and wealth is inestimable: oil. As proof, consider American history since 1970. In 1973, AmericaâÄôs support of IsraelâÄôs efforts during the Yom Kippur War put us under an oil embargo from the Arab members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries âÄî better known as OPEC âÄî quadrupling its price while shredding the stock market and forcing gasoline rationing. A similar crisis six years later caused by the Iranian Revolution led to the institution of the âÄúCarter Doctrine,âÄù which stated that any interference with the American oil supply coming out of the Persian Gulf was to be considered an act of war. It took a short 10 years for us to visibly put this directive into action, but upon launching Gulf War I in 1990, we made it clear that we intended to maintain our oil with the bullet and the bayonet. Of course, the story doesnâÄôt end there. Our dogged desire to maintain our lifeline of oil has led us to prop up the autocratic and unpopular Saudi royal family, station troops throughout the Arab world, and offer our unquestioning loyalty to Israel, all of which were cited by terror groups like al-Qaeda as motivating reasons for war against the United States and its people. To this day, our nation is held captive to the tyranny of the oil well, burying soldiers and building radical movements across the globe, all while pumping billions of dollars out of our wallets. For Americans, this is a balance of power that cannot continue, because it is weighted heavily against us and leaves us in a vulnerable position. Unless we are willing to wage perpetual war to protect our resources, the only way out is to redefine our national security priorities when it comes to oil. We must drop the outmoded and foolish doctrines that struggle to maintain supply lines and instead focus on dropping dependence on foreign oil entirely. In short, we need to see energy independence for what it is: AmericaâÄôs most vital national security concern. Historically, it seems that Americans have been sold on the view of energy problems as an issue to be resolved by business, not government. After all, is it really the governmentâÄôs place to be doing work like this? ShouldnâÄôt our leaders simply worry about the complexities of the battlefield and leave the rest to private industry? Contrary to free market revisionist philosophies, if a project like this were left to business, it would be the exception in American history, not the norm. Many of our nationâÄôs greatest legacies have their root in government-run projects assembled under the rubric of âÄúnational security.âÄù For instance, next time you get on the interstate, take a moment to realize that youâÄôre on a military roadway. Our nationâÄôs interstate highway system (or, in its full name, the âÄúDwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways âÄú) was not only the largest public works project in world history; it was designed and built by the government to facilitate the movement of troops or supplies in the event of disaster or invasion. If youâÄôre reading this column on a computer, you owe a significant debt to the American government. The brilliance of Cold War defense scientists catapulted humanity out of the age of typewriters and telegraphs, bringing us supercomputers and the Internet. Furthermore, the nuclear reactor that likely powers your computer has its roots in one of the earliest triumphs of the Manhattan Project. Similar credit is due for the satellite and the slinky. So what are we waiting for? If it were not for our interest in oil, America would have no interest in occupying Muslim nations, dealing with autocrats, or taking sides in ancient tribal grievances. We wouldnâÄôt have to worry about how much gas prices would rise if we were to institute a trade embargo on an uncooperative Iranian leadership, or the inevitable economic and social blowback that comes with issuing carte blanche to an increasingly reactionary Israeli government. Although eco-king Al Gore has compared the lofty goals of energy independence to the space race, his analogy is a poor one and indicative of our failure to recognize the existential threat posed by AmericaâÄôs oil lust. In reality, energy independence is a latter-day Manhattan Project, an essential aspect of national security, because soldiersâÄô and civiliansâÄô lives depend upon its successful resolution. And until another superpower rises to challenge us, there can be no greater issue. Chris Benson is a member of the editorial board. Please send comments to [email protected].