Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Seemingly unrelated events of last week suggest considerable trouble ahead for U.S. vital interests. As President Bush puts the finishing touches on his plans for a new strategy for waging the War for the Free World, he had best make sure he focuses not only on Iraq and Iran (as recommended in this space last week) but on energy security, as well.

Consider the following developments:

On the eve of last week’s United Nations Security Council vote on sanctions supposed to isolate Islamofascist Iran over its nuclear weapons ambitions, Communist China agreed to invest an additional $16 billion in the Iranian North Pars natural gas fields (on top of the more than $100 billion already committed by the PRC to other energy projects in the country). The latest memorandum of understanding, signed by Tehran and CNOOC, China’s biggest offshore oil producer, would involve the exploitation of the North Pars fields and the construction of Iranian liquefied natural gas facilities, whose products would then be exported to China.

This deal was of a piece with other actions taken by Moscow and Beijing to water-down the U.N. sanctions resolution to the point where it was virtually a dead-letter even before it was adopted. The president can expect many more such pyrrhic victories now that his faithful lieutenant, John Bolton, has been forced to leave the Turtle Bay portfolio to the tender mercies of lowest-common-denominator-minded State Department diplomats like Under Secretary Nick Burns.

Last week, the Financial Times of London reported that Gazprom — the government-owned gas company that epitomizes the increasingly fascistic character of Vladimir Putin’s Russia and serves increasingly blatantly as an instrument of state power — “cement[ed] the Kremlin’s grip on the country’s energy resources.” It did so by euchring several foreign oil companies, led by Royal Dutch Shell into ceding majority control over Siberia’s lucrative Sakhalin 2 oil and gas project.

The cynical way in which this shakedown was accomplished is typical of Mr. Putin’s heavy-handed behavior on other matters, from the protection racket he and his Chinese allies run for the North Koreans, Sudanese and Iranians at the United Nations to the liquidation of his enemies at home and abroad. After the Kremlin maintained for months that environmental concerns precluded necessary approvals from being issued to Shell and its Japanese partners, the moment Gazprom secured its controlling majority, such concerns miraculously disappeared.

According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. law enforcement officials are attempting to unravel the myriad, complex and deliberately confusing ties between one of the FBI’s most wanted men, Russian mafia kingpin Semion Mogilevich, and “multibillion gas deals between Russia and Ukraine.”The Journal reports American concerns about such ties have “only grown as Russia has tightened its grip on the vast oil and gas resources of Central Asia and shown a growing willingness to brandish energy as a political weapon. The European Union gets a quarter of its natural gas from Russia, most of which is shipped by pipeline across Ukraine.”

What these events have in common is the danger the West’s energy security will be ever-more at the mercy of foreign governments hostile to freedom and its friends. As the Communist Chinese and fascistic Russian regimes move to forge close relations with energy-rich nations like Iran, Libya, Sudan, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Saudi Arabia, and as the Kremlin consolidates its control over Russia’s own vast resources, America and her allies will find themselves increasingly imperiled by their dependency on such sources for oil products and/or natural gas.

As a result, President Bush needs to make increased U.S. energy security a central part of the overhauled war-fighting strategy that he is set to announce next month. To do so, he must clearly go beyond the lip service that he paid to our “addiction to oil” in last year’s State of the Union speech by taking steps that will make a difference.

Done properly, energy security could be one of the most promising areas for cooperation between the Bush Administration and Democrats in Congress. By concentrating on areas where considerable progress is possible (rather than on such neuralgic issues as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or increased CAFE fuel-efficiency standards), America — and in particular its gas-guzzling transportation sector — could be made significantly less reliant on oil supplied by unstable or hostile regimes.

Such a course of action has been laid out in a blueprint produced by the Set America Free Coalition — a group spanning the political spectrum — that forms the basis for the bipartisan, bicameral Vehicle Fuel Choices for American Security Act (introduced in the last session of Congress as S.2025 in the Senate and H.R. 4409 in the House). It entails two principal steps: (1) ensuring all cars sold in America will be Flexible Fuel Vehicles, capable of burning not just gasoline but ethanol and methanol (or some combination thereof); and (2) assuring the availability of substantially increased quantities of such alternative fuels.

This legislation would also help make electricity a true transportation fuel, by promoting the manufacture of plug-in hybrid vehicles. Since scarcely any electricity is generated in America by burning oil, the widespread use of such vehicles could greatly reduce our dependence on foreign sources of petroleum. To realize the full potential of this option, however, President Bush and the Congress will need to join forces on one other important initiative: assuring large-scale U.S. production of advanced lithium ion batteries, an essential ingredient for our future energy — and national — security and the competitiveness of our auto industry.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy, a member of the Set America Free Coalition and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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