10/14/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Energy, Economy, and Terror in Election 2008

Late in the spring of 2008, the Bush Administration released what it called a "Terror Report." Viewed through the distorted lens of the last eight years, the terror report can be viewed as a gauge of U.S. foreign policy interests.

Indeed, many of the countries listed in the report, such as Venezuela and Iran, are strategic focal points for the United States. But what many of the countries listed in the report have in common beyond their state sponsorship of terrorism (a loosely defined term) is that they are in some way vital to our energy supply. Iran and Venezuela, for example, both fit this criterion.
In this election, the way of thinking that produces a "Terror Report" is key. But unlike in 2004, in the 2008 presidential election most voters don't see the Global War on Terror as the central campaign issue. They are far more concerned about the dire straits in which the economy finds itself. Economic troubles affect people with such painful immediacy that often people don't fully grasp the multiple ways in which the economic situation is connected both to our military excursions and to the energy crisis.

The failure to draw those connections is not surprising given the confusion surrounding the reasons we've got into this mess. Whether or not people count Iraq as part of the Global War on Terror, they don't usually think about the war in terms of interconnections. They don't (or don't want to) think of the war in terms of energy policy and the economy, despite the obvious connections to our oil supply. Afghanistan is both an evident battlefront in the Global War on Terror and a key factor in current energy policy, being so well positioned to pipe Central Asian natural gas across South Asia. Neither campaigners nor voters have treated Afghanistan as a key issue at all. In reality, it is, and moreover it's intrinsically linked to the other core issues of this election.

The current spectrum of presidential-electoral debate is far too simple to encompass the complicated and immense problems the next administration will face. The real central campaign issue is not discrete but, depending on how you look at it, either a trinity or a vicious cycle of three interconnected issues: the conglomeration of economic troubles, our complicated military entanglements, and, at the apex, energy policy. The economic crisis is not just about a burst housing bubble, and it's not just about the price of gas. De-regulation and poor oversight certainly contributed to the housing crisis, but those factors were undoubtedly worsened when a federal bureaucracy sent much of its top talent abroad to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. 9/11 was organized and paid for with money that trickled down directly from American gas pumps. 9/11 brought us to into the war of necessity in Afghanistan. And it's fair to say energy had something to do with the invasion of Iraq, which is - despite the lack of clarity - not part of the Global War on Terror. And it's also clear that many areas of diplomatic tension involve energy policies of one kind or another.

When Barack Obama points out the parasitic nature of our current energy supply paradigm, and describes countries, mainly those on the "Terror Report," who "don't like us" he drastically oversimplifies the situation. But he's definitely on to something. His energy policy is in and of itself very promising; to get elected he needs to make energy the centerpiece of his platform.
What he ought to be arguing is this: The central campaign issue of this election needs to be a single-minded attention to the question of which candidate can provide the best policy for jump starting "Green" industry in the United States. That means windmills and solar panels, hydro-power and tax incentives. Both candidates have agreed, in varying degrees, to off-shore oil drilling. As Senator Obama rightly said, off-shore drilling is a "stop-gap measure" and "not even close" to a serious solution for our energy crisis. In fact, it's hardly more than a faint beginning. We do need to free ourselves from our blood-curdling relationships with brutal, oil-providing tyrants and the terrorists they support; and we do need to get the economy rolling forward again. It's going to require the participation of the Federal Government to accomplish such massive objectives. But if we move in a big way towards energy independence and thereby rebuild and restructure our economy, we won't need to analyze the next "Terror Report" with such a suspicious eye.