As U.S. forces roll toward military victory over Iraq, President Bush's high approval rating seems unlikely to be shaken by his cool response to the Soviet peace plan.
When combat ultimately winds down, however, and patriotic fervor begins to fade, the U.S. public may begin to recall two circumstances, among others, that helped bring on the Persian Gulf war:For 10 long years before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, with Ronald Reagan in office for eight and George Bush for two, their administrations actively assisted the now-hated Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran and his rise to a position of dominance in the Middle East; in the last days before he attacked Kuwait last August, the Bush administration gave him a green light by specifically informing him that the U.S. had no interest in Middle East border disputes.
For the same 10 long years, the Reagan and Bush administrations systematically dismantled the extensive energy conservation and other policies instituted by Presidents Nixon and Carter following the oil shocks of the 1970s; as a result, when Saddam Hussein posed a new threat to Middle East oil supplies, the U.S. in the Reagan-Bush years had achieved nothing approaching energy independence and had hardly even tried.
Carter, with largely unrecognized prescience, had called the effort for energy independence ``the moral equivalent of war.' Reagan and Bush, with largely unrecognized myopia, pursued a course that gave Bush one reason - oil supplies for the West and Japan - for engaging in real war.
Now, in the midst of a war at least partially fought for foreign oil, Bush has produced an energy policy that demands no energy conservation, asks no consumer sacrifice, imposes no energy taxes, sees no threat in heavy reliance on imported oil, pursues little real reduction in oil consumption, makes only faint efforts to achieve cleaner air and puts at environmental risk the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which would be opened to oil drilling and production.
Yet, all the oil likely to be found in the wildlife refuge is far less than could be realized from strong U.S. conservation measures. Worldwide, in the next decade, enough energy could be saved by higher automobile gasoline mileage alone to double agricultural production in the third world - a savings that can't possibly be realized unless the U.S. takes the lead.
Based on the record of a foolish decade, and Bush's proposals for the next, that's not likely. U.S. oil consumption has increased, and imports have doubled, from 4.3 million barrels a day in 1985 to more than 8 million just before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. That increase alone almost equals the total lost by the world market owing to the invasion and the embargo on Iraq.
Even with additional domestic oil production - the Bush administration's shortsighted substitute for conservation and alternative fuels - the president's proposed new policy would rely on imports for 45 percent of the gargantuan U.S. oil consumption that he would permit.
No wonder Sen. Albert Gore of Tennessee termed the Bush plan ``breathtakingly dumb.' No wonder Wilfrid Kohl, director of the energy program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, termed it ``terribly mistaken.'
An energy bill offered in the House by Rep. Leon Panetta of California and 25 other Democrats is both more demanding and more promising.
It would raise automotive fleet mileage targets, increase federal energy research spending, particularly on alternative and renewable sources, offer inducements to utilities and their consumers to promote energy conservation and impose an innovative gasoline tax that would take effect only as crude oil prices might decline.
A conservation ethic would be maintained and domestic producers would be protected from oil-import price declines by a $16 per barrel floor price.
Experts no doubt can find fault with the Panetta bill; some may demand additional or tougher measures. But it's at least an attempt to make up for what Panetta called the ``sad and frustrating example of a nation ignoring the lessons of history.'
In sharp contrast, President Bush's continuing energy myopia raises the hard question whether the sacrifices and bloodshed of Desert Storm may have to be undertaken anew, when some future oil crisis finds the U.S. still dependent on hostile potentates, far-off sheikdoms and its own gas-guzzling addiction.
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