- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2000

In America's collective consciousness, 10 years is a long time. After all, a lot can happen in a decade. Ten years ago, in the summer of 1990, our government ran deficits, not surpluses; the Soviet Union was our dominant foreign policy preoccupation; Bill Gates was a mere millionaire; and if you got "on line" to check out "the Web," you were waiting to see "Arachnophobia," a hit movie that year.

Yet the more things change, the more they stay the same. Then, as now, the high cost of gasoline was a major topic for public discussion. Ten years ago, our dependence on foreign oil rose above 50 percent for the first time. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), by far our largest supplier, raised its target price on crude oil by 17 percent, and prices at the pump topped $1 a gallon for the first time in six years.

On Aug. 2, 1990, newspapers were warning in editorials that the U.S. energy situation was "looking ominous." Overdependent on imports and subject to the price-fixing whims of the oil cartel, the United States was increasingly vulnerable to external factors beyond its control, papers were suggesting.

Almost on cue, Saddam Hussein and his tanks rolled into Kuwait. This outrageous act of naked aggression was our worst nightmare: a dictator bent on domination of the Middle East; a tyrant anxious to acquire and willing to use the most fearsome weapons against even his own people; a man willing to stop at nothing to achieve his twisted visions.

The ostensible reason for the invasion was Saddam's displeasure that Kuwait refused to raise oil prices. Higher prices would have meant greater revenues for Iraqi oil exports and more funds to fuel Saddam's nuclear, biological and chemical ambitions. The day after the invasion, Amer Cohen and Marvin Miller stated in a newspaper column that the two fundamental U.S. interests in the Middle East were (1) ensuring the flow of oil and (2) preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. In one stroke, Saddam had challenged both of our fundamental interests in ways that, even more fundamentally, threatened American and international values alike. Saddam's invasion of Kuwait could not be left to stand.

Yet 10 years later, despite the hundreds of lives and billions of dollars that have been expended to contain him, Saddam is far from gone from the scene. He still threatens our two fundamental interests in the Middle East in ways that are as profound now as they were 10 years ago. In early 1999, with the price of oil hovering at around $12 a barrel, OPEC began a run-up in oil prices to reach a target price of about $25 a barrel. At the same time, the United Nations authorized increased production for Iraq under the "oil for food" program to 2.5 million barrels a day, from almost nothing at the end of 1996. In September of last year, Saddam abruptly cut production of oil by 1.2 million barrels a day, sending shock waves through the global economy and sending the price of a barrel of oil above $30, from which it has yet to recover.

Ten years after invading Kuwait to force a higher price for OPEC crude oil, Saddam has his wish at last. The higher crude prices have enabled him to undertake clandestine weapons purchases and renew his desire for domination of the Middle East. In every speech, Saddam closes by urging death to Israel. Almost daily, our airplanes are fired upon by Iraqi guns. Almost every week, new reports surface of Iraqi purchases of new weapons technology. Every month, Saddam receives some $50 million from oil smuggling, which he directly channels to his military ambitions.

Incredibly, Iraq is not only our most proven enemy, it is also our fastest growing supplier of imported oil. The United States today purchases some 700,000 barrels of oil from Iraq a day nearly twice as much as we did before the invasion of Kuwait. We rely on Saddam to heat our homes, deliver our mail and help us get to work in the morning. The very ships and planes that enforce sanctions against Saddam are fueled with his oil. This horrifying paradox suggests a foreign and energy policy in disarray.

Meanwhile, international public sympathies seem to be swinging in Saddam's favor because of the hardships the Iraqi people suffer from economic sanctions and Saddam's grotesque strategy of placing weapons batteries in populated areas to lure allied fire onto Iraqi civilians. The United States and our allies may have won the Persian Gulf war, but Saddam is winning the peace.

The United States imports nearly 60 percent of its oil today and is on track to import nearly two-thirds of its oil 10 years from now. If our energy situation looked "ominous" in 1990, it has reached crisis levels in 2000.

Before the Gulf war, our reliance on imported oil was ill-conceived. The Gulf war should have driven this point home. Instead, our victory made us believe reliance on imported oil was sustainable, reliable and secure. Saddam, apparently, knew better.

We are on a collision course. By increasing our energy dependence on Iraq, we place our lives in the hands of our most impassioned enemy. With each day that passes, Saddam's influence on the Middle East grows, and our energy security is imperiled.

The Department of Energy predicts that in the next decade we will be two-thirds reliant on imported oil. We have the tools today to correct our energy policy and become more self-reliant. To do so, of course, will require difficult choices. I, for one, would rather face difficult choices now than be faced with no choice at all in another 10 years.

Frank H. Murkowski is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Alaska.

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