Hawks for hybrids

Environmentalists get a big boost from an unlikely source: national security hawks, who say a thirst for foreign oil puts America at risk.

Published April 1, 2005 11:52PM (EST)

If the U.S. doesn't invest in hybrid cars, the terrorists have already won. Or so says a group of national security hawks, who have formed an unlikely alliance with enviro-friendly outfits like the Energy Futures Coalition and the National Resources Defense Council to call for reduced dependency on foreign oil. In an open letter to the President on Monday, such unlikely Prius advocates as former CIA director James Woolsey, Reagan administration national security advisor Robert C. (Bud) McFarlane, and Center for Security Policy head and Reagan-era Defense Department official Frank Gaffney, asked that the Bush administration pledge $1 billion over the next five years for hybrid technology research.

The hawks acknowledged that they haven't always been so hip to the environmentalist agenda. "I don't often find myself in agreement with those at the Natural Resources Defense Council," Gaffney noted. But according to Woolsey, reducing U.S. oil consumption has moved from a conservationist priority to an area of strategic concern: "[It's] no longer a nice thing to do. It's imperative."

Americans are all too familiar with the high consumer cost of depending on foreign fossil fuels. But, McFarlane argued, the total costs are even higher. "The price at the pump is not all we're paying right now. We are also paying $400 billion for a defense budget," he said.

Defense strategists finding common cause with environmental advocates is strange and cheering news in and of itself. But the bipartisan alliance also offers a useful foreign policy critique of the Bush administration's approach to the Middle East. In a telephone press conference Monday, some of the letter's signers laid out the manifold dangers of maintaining our current energy dependency. Woolsey identified terrorism as one such danger: "The petroleum infrastructure is very vulnerable to terrorists and other attacks. Bin Laden has called for [such] terrorist attacks in the Middle East." Furthermore, he said, the U.S. investment in foreign oil perpetuates terror by funding terrorist-supporting regimes: "The wealth that has gone to the greater Middle East for oil has been used to fund terrorism and its ideological underpinningSaudi Arabia has spent some 85 to 90 billion dollars in the last thirty years spreading [fundamentalist] beliefs throughout the world."

Woolsey suggested that instability in the Middle East could bar U.S. access to the region's relatively cheap and plentiful oil supply: "There is a possibility, particularly if there is turmoil in the Middle East, [of] a regimes coming to power that would not be conducive to selling a lot of petroleum to the West."

Gaffney raised concern that such a reduction in available petroleum would send oil prices soaring. And, he said, mushrooming prices have far graver consequences than pain at the pump -- including the potential for war with China: "The demand that China has already exhibited, let alone what it may seek in the futurecould give riseto sources of conflict with the United States or others in the West. And potentially violent conflict at that."

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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