It's strange, and very frightening, to watch how human history repeats itself. I've been thinking about this a lot recently as we gear up for a possible war with Iraq — again. This isn't to say we shouldn't face Iraq again. Some of the same dangerous conditions exist today as they did before the 1991 Gulf War. Specifically, Saddam Hussein is attempting to produce weapons of mass destruction, both nuclear and chemical.
Destroying Saddam's ability to produce and use such weapons is paramount, despite the risks to American soldiers. If he does develop them, millions of innocents will die. He has already demonstrated his willingness to do so after killing thousands of Kurdish civilians in northern Iraq with mustard gas in the late 1980s. And he has medium-range missiles in his possession, too, enabling him to destroy targets throughout the Middle East, Europe, and even America.
But let's not forget that oil is the reason we are facing down Saddam and putting our troops in harm's way again. Iraq holds the second largest amount of proved oil reserves in the world, giving Saddam the money and power to fuel his war machine. His immediate neighbors — Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Iran- make up the top five holders of oil reserves in the world. And they are all in easy reach of his armies.
As much as we'd like to ignore Saddam and his neighbors, we can't — because we depend on their oil. The reality is that our transportation infrastructure — especially trucking — cannot exist without the gasoline and diesel fuel derived from oil. It relies on oil for 97% of its fuel needs, consuming 70% of the 20-million barrels of oil used each day in the U.S. Unless we change the fundamental nature of our transportation infrastructure, we cannot survive without imported oil anymore.
When Saudi Arabia led the 1973 oil embargo against the U.S. in retaliation for our support of Israel during the Yom Kippur war, gasoline rationing created miles of backups at filling stations. And at that time, we imported only 36% of our oil. Today we import 54% and are on track to import 64% by 2010. Can you imagine what an embargo would do to us now? Even the Strategic Petroleum Reserve couldn't prop us up for long. At the current level of demand, it holds only enough for a little over a three-month supply.
Our need for oil also confounds our foreign policy. Saudi Arabia, technically an ally of the U.S., is a country we often treated with kid gloves. Over two-thirds of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens, and the Saudis openly provide funding to radical Muslim groups that espouse terrorism against the U.S. Saudi Arabia has also forbidden the U.S. to use bases on its land to launch attacks against Saddam, even though it was the armed might of the U.S. that stopped him from rolling over the Saudis after his forces invaded and conquered Kuwait in 1991.
Then again, the Saudis saved us last year from a full-blown economic meltdown following the Sept. 11 attacks by rushing 9-million barrels of oil to the U.S., abandoning oil production cuts promised to OPEC. This action cut the price of oil from $28 to $20 a barrel, preventing a worldwide economic depression from materializing. But this love/hate relationship we have with Saudi Arabia doesn't bode well for the future.
So here we are again, facing the prospect of war in Iraq, a war we will need to fight at some point if only to prevent Saddam from launching weapons of mass destruction against us. But it's a war that won't end with Saddam's downfall. As long as we rely so heavily on oil to fuel our economy, we will continue to be drawn into such dangerous conflicts.