According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the war in Afghanistan is comparable, and might take as long to win, as the Second World War. Explaining the lack of progress in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld said (N.Y. Times, 11/4) "Consider the historical perspective. After the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, it took four months before the United States responded to that attack....[and] three and a half years, until August 1945, before they accomplished their objectives."
Yes, letís consider the historical perspective: Japan, at the time of Pearl Harbor, was an imperialist power that had already invaded China. It had a huge, modern army, navy and airforce with an industrial infrastructure to supply its military needs. Afghanistan, by contrast, is an impoverished country with small, warring, tribal armies and no airforce or navy. Lacking industry, it gets its weapons from other countries, most notably the USA. At the beginning of the war, Rumsfeld said that Afghanistan has few "high-value" targets; i.e., there is very little of military significance to bomb. In this he was right; yet, we keep on bombing.
In order to wage war successfully, governments need credibility. The Bush Administration is losing that battle. Itís not just the shameless comparison with World War II that is undermining its effort. World War II required a national mobilization that included, on the economic front, higher taxes, price controls, rationing, resource allocation, and government-imposed corporate and labor cooperation. By contrast, despite the real threat of terrorism and the heated rhetoric of war, the Bush Administration is promoting a domestic agenda as if the events of 9-11 had never happened.
The energy issue is one of any number of examples. Shortly after the inauguration, Vice President Cheney met with the Administrationís financial supporters in the oil industry and, in secret, drafted an energy bill that passed in the House of Representatives on party lines. Efforts by Democrats and others to get full disclosure about who specifically took part in these meetings have been stonewalled by the Bush Administration.
The House bill calls for oil drilling in Alaskaís National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the expanded use of coal. Money for research into solar, wind and other clean alternative energy sources was slashed. Renewable energy, according to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, is "a failed effort."
According to Public Campaign, the Bush Administration received $2.9 million from traditional energy sources as campaign contributions for the 2000 election. The Center for Responsive Politics, documents the fact that Bush himself got more money from the oil and gas industry during the 1999-2000 election cycle than any other federal candidate over the last decade. The coal industry contributed an additional $1.9 million in soft money, 75% of which went to the Republican Party. Combined energy industry contributions for the 2000 and 2002 election cycles amount, so far, to $57.2 million to the GOP and $17.7 to the Democrats. The House bill is properly seen as the payback for its investments.
The Democratic-led Senate has refused to bring up the House bill. Democrats are backing an alternative bill, S.556, sponsored by Vermontís independent Jim Jeffords. The Jeffords bill would ban oil drilling in the ANWR and fund conservation and clean energy projects. It would also move the nation towards the goals of the Kyoto Protocols on global warming, an initiative the Bush Administration has rejected.
In opposing the Senate bill, the Bush Administration has transformed the energy debate into one of national security. "Itís in our national interest that we develop more energy supplies at home," says Interior Secretary Gale Norton. And in a way sheís right. President Nixon first broached the idea of energy independence when, in the early 1970s, the OPEC nations raised the price of oil. But he did nothing. President Carter funded research for alternative energy and passed tax credits for solar and winds projects. President Reagan ended this program. Like his decision to abandon Afghanistan after we helped Afghani fighters defeat the Russians, his abandonment of renewable energy has come back to haunt us.
Two-thirds of the worldís oil resources lie under the desert sands of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries. Bin Laden has denounced the Saudi royal family with the same fervor that he has denounced the United States. Fifteen of the 19 plane hijackers involved in the 9-11 terrorist attack were from Saudi Arabia. American security officials are concerned that bin Laden will target Saudi oil wells in an effort to bring down the Saudi government and cripple the American economy. Energy independence should be a serious goal of the American government. We need the equivalent of the Manhattan Project, this time to develop clean, safe, and renewable energy.
There is no indication that the Bush Administration is really interested in energy independence. Arctic drilling would, if passed, take years to develop and supply us with a six months supply of oil. Simply raising mile-per-gallon standards to 40 miles per gallon for all new cars, including gas-guzzling SUVs, would save more oil per day than weíd get from Saudi Arabia and new Alaskan oil drilling combined.
Instead of giving billions of dollar in tax refunds to energy corporations, we could give industry innovators tax credits for research and development of fuel cell and other high-tech clean energy projects. We could subsidize solar power, geothermal and biomass development (as we currently do the fossil fuel and nuclear industries) and cover the high plains with windmills (which would provide added income to struggling farmers).
Energy independence Ė which is technologically feasible -- would address the terrorist threat, cut pollution, diminish global warming, and provide affordable energy for all. Whatís lacking is political will. The Bush Administration wants to rally Americans around a war on Afghanistan. But itís business as usual when it comes to the economy. The country be damned. Itís "wave the flag and reward your campaign donors" that is the guiding principle behind the Bush Administrationís domestic program.
Marty Jezer used to install solar hot water systems. He writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2001 by Marty Jezer