08/15/2008 08:54 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Offshore Oil: What Would Sun Tzu Do?

President Bush is mounting an election-year initiative to end the federal ban on offshore drilling and oil exploration in ANWR. While high prices at the pump making any panacea attractive, drawing down those resources now irrevocably weakens America's long-term strategic resource positioning without even the benefit of a price break at the pump. Let's keep our oil safe in the ground or under our oceans for the time in the future when the price of oil is, well, nationalized and, hence, priceless.

Petroleum is a finite resource and, as such, will one day not be available on the open market. And after that, it will not be available at all. In 1998, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah pronounced
that "The oil boom is over and will not return." Estimates of when the world will reach peak production vary widely -- many experts say that it is occurring right now. But clearly, at some point in the foreseeable future, the world's oil wells will not meet demand -- not just for energy but also for industrial agriculture -- for food production! Long before oil disappears, prices will skyrocket and the world's oil-producing fields will be nationalized for domestic consumption. Hopefully, renewable energy options will mature by then - but right now that is somewhat speculative. Now, you have to ask yourself, if your sitting on a reservoir of oil in your own backyard why would you possibly tap into that resource while prices are relatively low and you can still buy oil on the open international market?

Even as we must turn our full attention to developing renewable energies, petroleum will remain a baseline requirement for industrial and post-industrial economies. It's not an optional commodity and future conflicts will almost certainly be fought over access to oil. We need only look back for examples. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a response to U.S. actions blocking their access to oil fields in the South East Asia, which they desperately needed to fund their economic and imperial agenda. Regardless of one's position on our Iraqi adventure, it's clear that access to oil was a primary, if largely unspoken, justification.

Forget for the moment the environmental concerns that Bush and McCain are willing to ignore. We must demand that our leaders consider America's long-term strategic interests. We must demand that they factor the real politick questions implicit in our use of resources -- "shouldn't the last drop of oil on earth be drilled in the United States? Shouldn't that be our goal?" If that is so, we must not drill our oil now. Japan had to initiate a hopeless war seventy years ago because it desperately needed oil and could not buy it. America must hold onto its oil so that we aren't forced into the same mistake.

President Bush and John McCain base their oil policy on two pillars -- buy more oil to add to our Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) and to open coastal areas and/or ANWR to drilling. The SPR is located at four underground sites in the Gulf of Mexico and contains 727 million barrels of oil - or a mere 58 day stockpile based on the current rate of consumption and import. This supply amounts to no more than a shield against a temporary disruption in worldwide oil markets. In the permanent oil pinch to come, this will amount to nothing more than a drop in the bucket.

The prudent course is to protect our true Strategic Petroleum Reserve -- which is not located along the Gulf Coast. Our true Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the untapped oil fields in ANWR and along our others coasts. While we should continue to explore new oil fields on American territory and develop the means to safely extract it, accessing these resources now is a grave mistake -- it won't lower the cost that we pay at the pump and squanders a resource that - one day soon, we won't be able to buy elsewhere. Let's conserve our only true petroleum reserve.