Calling the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan "the most serious threat" to the United States since World War II, President Carter has brought the nation dangerously close to war. He has ordered reinstatement of draft registration (for both sexes), announced plans for new military bases in Oman and Somalia, and promised to send US troops into Pakistan, Iran, or Saudi Arabia, should any of them face a Soviet invasion.
The new Carter militarism poses major threats to the lives and liberties of Americans. To begin with, Carter has revived the obscene concept of the military draft—the idea that the lives of young people belong to the State, to be commandeered at will to carry out its leaders' foreign policy dictates.
He has also increased the risk of nuclear war. A two-year old Defense Department study, "Capabilities in the Persian Gulf," found that, with limited ability to move large quantities of troops and equipment into the area, the United States "might have to threaten or make use of tactical nuclear weapons" in order to prevail.
Nor are those the only dangers. Already, little-noticed in the hostage seizure crisis, Carter has invoked a state of national emergency in order to freeze Iranian bank accounts. Under that authority, he could close the banks, commandeer the airwaves, order military production to take precedence over civilian, etc. The Department of Energy has published its standby gasoline plan, calling for a compulsory four-day work week, a once-a-week driving ban, and other interferences with people's basic freedom of movement. Attempting to go Carter one better, Edward Kennedy now calls for immediate gasoline rationing and full-scale wage and price controls.
Seven months ago on this page I wrote, "If 'war is the health of the State,' the 'moral equivalent of war' seems to be a pretty good substitute" for increasing government power. Apparently it was not good enough. Carter now seems determined to give us the real thing.
And, tragically, Americans are being flim-flammed into going along. An AP/NBC poll after the State of the Union address found 64 percent agreement with the idea of sending US troops to repel a Soviet invasion of the Persian Gulf. Americans are naturally concerned about threats to their energy supplies; energy is vital to operate our factories, ship our goods, grow our food, heat our homes, and power our vehicles. So it may be understandable that many people are so quick to back military action to prevent the loss of oil imports.
But why do we import 50 percent of our oil? As recently as 1971 the figure was only 15 percent. But in that year Richard Nixon gave us wage and price controls. Several disastrous years later, controls were removed—from everything but oil. In response to OPEC, the government kept controls on domestic oil prices and set up a huge energy bureaucracy—DOE.
What DOE has given us is an "entitlements" program that subsidizes oil imports, price controls that reduce incentives for finding and producing domestic oil, and ever-shifting directives on which fuels should be produced and used. The Interior Department, meanwhile, has locked up vast reserves of coal in Alaska and the West, preventing any significant substitution for oil. And the administration's vacillation on nuclear power has delayed that source, too, as a substitute for oil.
In short, it couldn't have been smoother if it has been planned that way. A decade of government control over US energy production and use has locked us into ever-increasing dependence on imported oil. That is the reality, regardless of the rhetoric out of Washington.
Thus, the most important step toward avoiding war—and all the assaults on our freedom that go with it—is to remove the underlying excuse for it: our extreme dependence on oil imports. And as we've made clear many times in these pages, that can most readily be done by massive, immediate decontrol of all energy pricing and the opening of federal lands to large-scale exploration and production. That, combined with abandonment of the nonsensical "windfall profits" tax, will enable us to produce our way back to energy self-sufficiency.
As for our foreign policy, the wisest course would be to avoid any commitment of American forces to the Persian Gulf or Southwest Asia. It is the wealthy OPEC countries that are being threatened, after all. A promising unity is developing among the Islamic governments, 35 of which—including even Libya and the PLO—unanimously called for withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and set up a mechanism to channel aid to the Afghan rebels. Iran's Khomeini has pledged aid for the rebels, as well. If the oil-rich Saudis and Iranians won't come up with the money and manpower to defend the Persian Gulf, why on earth should American taxpayers?
The Soviet Union is increasingly being recognized as the international outlaw that it is. A 104-18 UN General Assembly vote; the 40 to 50 governments in favor of an Olympics boycott; the Islamic conference declaration; recent Soviet expulsions from Somalia, Guinea, and Equatorial Guinea; and the militant anti-Sovietism of former allies Egypt and China represent a fundamentally new phase in international affairs. The US government should not rush headlong into battle against this foe when those actually threatened are increasingly facing the need to provide for their own defense. Based on past history, they can hardly do worse than "we" would, anyway.
Americans must not be stampeded into war—whether hot or cold—over our government-imposed dependence on imported oil. We must insist, instead, on a crash program to end that dependence, by ending the controls and bureaucracy that created it.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "War for Oil?".
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