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Keep our "addiction" to oil, end our allergy to self-assertion

By Alex Epstein
web posted July 10, 2006

Politicians and commentators from both parties are decrying our "addiction to oil." They exhort us to embrace costly programs to reduce our consumption of oil as quickly as possible. The primary rationale for this is national security. Our oil consumption is dangerous because, in the words of a New York Times editorial, "Oil profits that flow to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries finance . . . terrorist acts." With the same justification, President Bush has called for cutting "more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025 . . . and mak[ing] our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past."

But Americans are not "addicted" to oil. "Addiction" implies an intense desire for something harmful. But we do not desire oil irrationally; we consume it because it is a wonderful, life-sustaining product. Oil is unmatched as an efficient, safe source of portable energy. It enables us to affordably ride, drive, or fly anywhere we wish, and fuels a transportation industry that enables us to trade anything with anyone from anywhere around the world. We are not addicted to oil any more than we are addicted to the myriad values it makes possible, like fresh food, imported electronics, going to work, or visiting loved ones.

The problem we face today is not our love of oil, but oil-rich dictatorships like Iran and Saudi Arabia--who use ill-gotten profits to spread totalitarian Islamic ideology around the world and terrorize us with their minions. The solution is not to punish ourselves by renouncing oil--but to punish our enemies until they renounce their aggression.

As the most powerful nation on earth, the United States has many options at its disposal.

One means of ending the Iranian and Saudi threat would be to issue an ultimatum to these regimes: cease all anti-American aggression immediately, or be destroyed. Many, witnessing the Iraqi quagmire, might scoff at this option. But such a course is eminently practical if America's unsurpassed military forces are committed to the task, not of "rebuilding" or "liberating" these states, but of making their inhabitants fear threatening America ever again.

Another means of addressing the threat would be to remove Middle Eastern oil fields from Iranian and Saudi control, put them in the hands of private companies, and then employ surveillance and troops to secure that oil supply. Contrary to popular assumption, Middle Eastern dictatorships have no right to their nationalized oil fields, which should be private property--the property of individuals who work to find and extract the oil.

Still another option might be a comprehensive, all-out embargo by the United States and its allies to starve the leader of the enemy, Iran, until the regime crumbles and the Islamic totalitarians lose their will to fight.

Which policy is best is for military strategists to determine--but our politicians and intellectuals refuse to consider any of these options. Instead, they decry our "addiction to oil," condemn us for not all wanting to drive Priuses, and urge, as penance, that we cut ourselves from the world oil market. Can anyone honestly believe that such asceticism will protect us from attack--given that Saudi Arabia and Iran both actively sponsored terrorism when oil was $10 a barrel?

Why do our leaders eagerly embrace impractical policies that punish Americans, while eschewing practical options that would punish our enemies? Because the practical policies would involve "going to war for oil," "America imposing its will on the rest of the world," upsetting the "international community," and all of today's other foreign policy taboos--i.e., they are branded immoral because they involve American self-assertion.

Our leaders do not believe that America has a moral right to assert itself in self-defense. This is why we engage in self-effacing, appeasing "diplomacy" with easily defeated enemies like Iran and Saudi Arabia. And this is why, when we actually do go to war (after such diplomacy fails), we pull our punches and declare our purpose to be lavishing the good life on hostile foreign peoples. Now, after over 2,500 American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars put in service of mob rule in Iraq, we are told to give up the lifeblood of our civilization rather than wage real war against our enemies. Could anything be more encouraging to our enemies than the knowledge that America will make Americans, not them, pay for their aggression?

This senseless sacrifice must stop. It is past time to adopt a foreign policy of self-assertion and self-interest--i.e., a truly moral policy.

Alex Epstein is a fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, CA. The Institute promotes Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand--author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." Contact the writer at media@aynrand.org. Copyright © 2006 Ayn Rand® Institute. All rights reserved.


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