Monday, June 2, 2008

Drill for Oil: Caribou Won't Mind; But OPEC Will

On Caribous and Freedom
From National Review Online (June 21, 2002)

An important opinion poll published this past week corroborates the revealing lyrics of the most important country music song of the past year. The implications are scary and underscore that we have nothing to fear but the knowledge of nothing itself. This national “knowledge of nothing” threatens our vital homeland security interests, our energy independence, and the future of freedom.

I fell in love with country music in 1993, during a trip from Los Angeles to Louisville. By Nevada, I was hooked on Garth Brooks. By Cheyenne, I was buying my first pair of cowboy boots. By Kentucky, I was fixated on George Jones. Through the years of my country music epiphany, Alan Jackson consistently has produced extraordinary works, mixing gorgeous melodies with down-home lyrics that speak to the soul of Middle America and reflect her character. Perhaps better than any other balladeer, he captured the essence of September 11 in his blockbuster “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” In that song, he repeats a chorus that says more than he may realize:

I’m just a singer of simple songs.I’m not a real political man.I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I can tell youThe difference in Iraq and Iran.

The lyrics in Jackson’s chorus are striking. If there were something embarrassing in Middle America about not knowing the difference between Iraq and Iran, Jackson and his record company presumably would have omitted his confession -- or affirmation -- of ignorance.

There is particular irony in the lyricist’s choice of countries. Although Iran and Iraq are spelled almost identically, and therefore may have seemed confusingly alike to Americans forty years ago, they have emerged as two of the most evil Moslem countries. Along with Saudi Arabia's government, which raises its children to hate America viscerally and which supplied 15 of the 19 suicide bombers of September 11, Iran and Iraq despise America. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sponsored the Iranian “students” who held 52 Americans hostage for fourteen months, and Saddam Hussein has challenged our national security for a decade. Both Saddam and the deceased Khomeini symbolize Islamist hate of America. Therefore, despite the similarity in spelling Iraq and Iran, it would seem that Americans by now would know their Ayatollah from their Saddam.

Yet this past week, the Pew Research Center reported new polling results finding that only 21% of Americans follow international news closely, while fully 65% respond that they lack the background to follow overseas news. Despite September 11, Afghanistan, Arab Moslem suicide terrorists, and Kashmir, it seems that most Americans, like Alan Jackson, are not sure they can tell the difference between Iraq and Iran.

The social critic H.L. Mencken wrote that democracy is the theory that the people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard. However, Alan Jackson’s soul-searing song provides impressionistic confirmation that the American people do not even know what we want outside our borders and possibly lack the critical background to participate in the great debate over foreign policy. That ignorance of what lurks outside -- the knowledge of nothing -- imperils our nation. Such ignorance allowed the Democratic leadership this spring to deter legislation that would have opened a minuscule part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWAR) region to oil drilling. Now, that same national knowledge of nothing passively abides a new suggestion in Washington to establish a “temporary” Arafat terror country in the Middle East.

We Americans consume a quantity of fuel for our home comforts, our travel, and our industry. Whether the oil is drilled in Alaska or Saudi Arabia, Venezuela or Russia, it will be demanded and therefore drilled, causing what pollution it will cause. In ANWAR, oil exploration may -- or may not -- disrupt the Porcupine caribou, an elk-like animal, but such drilling would be intensely scrutinized and legislatively regulated. By contrast, drilling for the same quantity of demanded oil in any other oil-producing country would proceed with ecological abandon. For example, Saudi Arabia may ban Christian oil drillers from setting foot in Mecca or celebrating Christmas, but they will not enforce EPA standards.

As our nation compromises aspects of our financial and political independence, by standing on line for overpriced Saudi oil, in deference to the caribou, too many among us know preciously nothing about why we risk aspects of our security and financial independence. Ask your neighbor whether “caribou” is animal, vegetable, or mineral. Yet, by passively delimiting exploratory access to our expansive domestic oil sources without concomitantly reducing our energy demand to accommodate Tom Daschle’s concern for the caribou, we partly finance the economy of a country like Saudi Arabia that breeds in its children a deadly hatred against our civilization of freedom.

Ironically, Porcupine caribou herds have increased three-to-seven-fold since oil drilling first was authorized in the Prudhoe Bay area of Alaska. Proposed new drilling would take place only on 2,000 acres of land - an area less than 0.01 percent of ANWAR’s 19.6 million acres. The new oil production could replace thirty years of American imports from Saudi Arabia . And that is why, with Congressional by-elections set for this fall, the Bush Administration should be educating the public to understand what the Senate blocked this spring.

At the same time, maybe Washington itself needs to learn more -- about oil, about terror and freedom. It is terribly disturbing that a Republican conservative Administration, with such ostensibly sensible instincts against terror after September 11, now contemplates a proposal for creating a “temporary” terrorist country in the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria. If we give Arafat a country, after two years of choreographed suicide bombings starring the children he has educated with his schools, textbooks, summer camps, and communications media, we deliver to him and to all Islamists the message that suicide bombings work. That they get our attention, and they get results.

With a country of his own, Arafat would train thousands more children to murder Americans, to aspire for the glory of death while butchering a Christian or Jewish infidel. With a “temporary country,” Arafat would get a military. He could import the kinds of fifty-ton boat shipments of explosives that have been barred until now. With hundreds and thousands of pounds of C-4 plastics explosives, for example, Arafat would have enough to blow up American targets, too.

In a world of Islamist terrorist regimes like Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Libya, is the State Department concerned that we don’t have enough of them already? Do we need to create a new base for harboring and training Al Qaeda murderers? And for a President Bush who essentially warned the world to read his lips -- that, if you are not with America in fighting against terror, then you are with the terrorists -- well, haven't we learned that Americans want their President George Bushes to stand by their most solemnly uttered pledges?

For those of us Americans who merely are hummers of simple songs -- but who darn well “know the difference in Iraq and Iran” -- it ultimately devolves on us to overcome the nation’s greatest threat to homeland security: a national ignorance of foreign affairs and the blissful knowledge of nothing.

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