The events of the past year -- prominently, a power crisis in California and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 -- gave the nation many reasons to re-examine its energy strategy. Now comes another: Saddam Hussein's decision to halt oil imports to the United States, at least temporarily, in retaliation for Washington's support of Israel.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, President Bush warned that the recent 20 percent jump in oil prices could threaten economic recovery. While Iraq accounts for about 8 percent of America's imports, according to Washington's estimates, there is spare oil capacity in the system, and thus there should be no petroleum shortage if other Middle Eastern producers refuse to follow Baghdad. Even so, Mr. Hussein's action draws attention once again to America's dependence on imported oil, including oil supplied by the troubled countries of the Persian Gulf. It also points to Washington's sorry failure to devise a balanced strategy to reduce America's reliance on gulf imports and give itself greater maneuvering room in the war on terrorism and other foreign policy issues as well.
The Senate, which has resumed debate on the energy bill, is the last hope for such a strategy. ...
There are several things the Democrats and their moderate Republican allies can do to produce a respectable bill. First, they must defeat any amendment aimed at opening the Arctic refuge to drilling. ...
Next, they must resist efforts to weaken the renewable energy provision, while defending energy efficiency measures that have yet to be voted on -- chiefly a provision that would increase efficiency standards for air-conditioners by 30 percent. The Senate should also preserve a useful provision that would require companies to give a public accounting of their production of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases. On the supply side, it can take steps to improve the reliability of the nationwide electricity grid, while increasing incentives for smaller and potentially more efficient producers of power.
These are modest measures, less ambitious than the Senate's original agenda. But at least they point in the right direction, toward a strategy that includes conservation as well as production.
Dallas Morning News
Saddam Hussein flexed his muscles Monday when he shut off Iraq's oil exports for the next month, or until Israel withdraws from Palestinian territories. The Iraqi dictator evidently believes he has the strength to influence the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which caught a glimmer of hope Tuesday with a new diplomatic push by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
But Mr. Hussein needs to pay closer attention to the events of the last few days. Most notable is the weekend visit of British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Texas. The trip's significance could not have been more clear: Given the chance to back down on facing up to Saddam Hussein, Mr. Blair did not.
During Saturday's press conference with President George W. Bush in Crawford, and again Sunday in a College Station address, the Labor Party leader emphasized the Hussein problem. Declaring "all sensible people" know Iraq is "better off without Saddam Hussein," he could not have been more straightforward. "Doing nothing is not an option," he said during an interview where he appeared somber and Mr. Bush forceful. ...
The horrors in the Mideast certainly complicate the effort. Even more reason for Mr. Powell to insert himself directly into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But Saddam Hussein misreads the situation if he believes his muscular oil moves will spark panic. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice rightly noted in a Texas A&M University speech Monday that other nations can make up for the loss of oil. What's more, the two major leaders of the coalition against terrorism are not blinking.
While Congress pours billions of dollars into bolstering airport security, the nation's seaports remain vulnerable. Adequate security is not likely to be put in place without a concerted effort by the federal government in cooperation with other countries. A worldwide system of inspecting and tracking cargo vessels should be a priority in achieving adequate national security.
Hawaii residents rely on ships for 98 percent of their goods. Nationally, 7.8 million containers holding $480 billion worth of goods arrived at ports last year. Only 2 percent of those shipping containers were inspected, according to the U.S. Customs Service. This link in the nation's security network is deplorably weak.
"The threat of a low-grade nuclear weapon being shipped into a U.S. port is not far-fetched," Customs Chief of Staff David Cohen said last month at a homeland and maritime security conference in Cambridge, Mass. "The impact of such a tragedy would be catastrophic."
Honolulu Harbor may be safer than many domestic ports because most foreign shipments to Hawaii already have entered the United States on the mainland and have been subjected to random Customs and Coast Guard inspections like the additional ones they face in Hawaii. Verifying the contents of all containers at Hawaii's ports would bring the state's economy to a standstill.
Instead, federal maritime officials are working toward a system that includes prescreening of American-bound cargo at the points of origin and the electronic tracking of those ships as they cross the seas. The system includes satellite-based global tracking as effective as the air-defense tracking of incoming planes. Installation of the devices will be required by next year on cruise ships, tankers and ships carrying chemicals. ...
Nearly half of the containers arriving in the United States originate in 10 foreign ports, and three of those are in China, which U.S. officials expect to resist the tracking system. U.S. officials are seeking agreement from other countries with busy ports before approaching China for its assent. Diplomatic pressure at the highest level is in order.
Last weekend saw British Prime Minister Tony Blair where he has been since September 11, close to his friend President Bush. The two leaders spoke again about the less and less intractable problem of Iraq. As they have before, they agreed that Iraq's Saddam Hussein cannot be allowed to continue his production of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Mr. Blair flew back to England on Monday, and into a political squall that may develop into a real storm against British involvement in the coming war with Iraq.
Mr. Blair was careful not to commit Britain to the coming war, but he was firm in his statement that Saddam must allow U.N. inspectors to go anywhere in Iraq at any time. Promising not to act "precipitately," Mr. Blair nonetheless said that, if necessary, military action should be taken and Saddam's regime replaced. He was greeted on his return by a rebellion of about 150 Labor Party "backbenchers" -- junior members of Parliament -- who expressed a "deep unease" about any British involvement in an attack on Iraq. But it was not only the backbenchers who were attacking Mr. Blair's stance. Former Minister Glenda Jackson -- evidently ignorant of a carload of public evidence of Saddam's development of weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them -- called Mr. Blair's stance "irresponsible" without just that evidence. ...
Americans forget the political price our allies often pay at home for supporting our cause. It is to his credit that Mr. Blair -- about whom this page had little good to say before last September -- recognizes that our fight is for freedom, and that it is Britain's fight as well. ...
Britain made a substantial contribution to the war in Afghanistan, committing hundreds of special forces troops to the battle, as well as refueling aircraft and many other ships, aircraft and people. The direct involvement of the British in combat, and in support of our air operations, was both significant and of great value. In the coming conflict, we will need them at our side as they have been since that last little argument in 1812. Mr. Bush should ask his friend if he needs help, and if needed give it quickly, or we may not have Britain at our side when the going gets tough the next time around.
(Compiled by United Press International)