Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and National Security

I’ve had a good night’s rest. I was up early this morning and I must say I feel good. A physiotherapist will come to the house later this morning to help me with my exercises. I still have trouble lifting my arms. She has to help me use them again without opening the wound on my chest.

I also have to start exercising my legs. I bought an exercise bike, but I haven’t used it yet. Apart from that I also have to follow my new diet. Basically I can eat everything I want, after its cooked in water. I’m basically eating potatoes and vegetables and occasionally chicken without the skin and boiled in water. I haven’t eaten fish for a long time. I love fried fish, but I can’t get fish boiled in water through my throat.

I’ve been reading the newspapers this morning. What interests me most today is whether the Senate will vote for or against the bill allowing oil companies to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

I think president Bush has the votes he needs to pass the bill in the Senate. I personally am a bit ambivalent about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. As a former president I know the difficult decisions, which have to be made for our country’s national security’s sake.

On the other hand the Arctic Refuge is home to some of the rarest birds and mammals, which you won’t find anywhere in the world.

These are the two basic truths about the ANWR (ANWAR) project. Now I would like to dissect the political dimensions of this bill in front of the Senate.

The Democratic party leaders didn’t do a good job fighting against the bill. Their only reason not to drill in the Arctic Refuge is their fear that it might harm the environment. Republicans crossed out this objection by saying new technologies would make drilling safe and wouldn’t cause the environment any harm, which is probably true, since we are also able to dril in the middle of oceans without harming the environment.

Since the Democrats had no other reasons for keeping oil companies out of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, the Republicans kept pounding them with reasons why drilling should be allowed.

One of the most persuasive reasons is the oil price. It’s more than 54 dollars a barrel, which Americans will soon notice at the gas pumps. Another reason the Republicans used to persuade voters was to say, look at the size of Alaska, it could swallow several New Englands, the animals living on the Arctic Refuge could move to another place without much difficulty.

These might not be the most intellectual of reasons to drill in the Refuge, but average Americans understand them.

I’ve learned a good lesson in 1994, when Americans voted for Newt Gingrich and his Contract With America. It is not enough for a political party to be against something, they must also offer an alternative.

Americans know we have a problem with our oil supplies. They want the problem solved. If all we Democrats can offer them is, don’t do it, because birds won’t have a home, that just doesn’t cut it.

I’ve said this many, many times to my friends in the party. Our candidate for president John Kerry was rejected by the voters, because he didn’t have any concrete plans for the future, but still we make the same mistake every time. We say no to what the other party wants, but we offer no clear and thoughtout alternative. That will do us in each and every time, because it supposes, you don’t need to explain to your constituents, why you are against a bill and what your alternatives are for solving the problem.

I want to come back to the national security issue involved in opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It’s about oil independence. Read this carefully. It’s not about oil supply independence, but about oil shipping routes independence.

You have to look at the map. Most of the oil we use in the US comes from the Middle East, Nigeria and Venezuela. The routes oil tankers take to reach the East Coast of the US are pretty much secure. The problem is the West Coast. To reach the West Coast oil tankers have to either go through the Panama Canal or sail around the southern most tip of South America.

The latter route is much longer than the route through the Panama Canal. Apart from that it is also a very dangerous route, because two oceans meet exactly at the southern tip. This means there is a perpetual storm raging in this area, making sailing very dangerous.

The Panama Canal route, which would be the first choice to ship Venezuelan oil to the West Coast has become less reliable, because the US doesn’t own the canal anymore. Jimmy Carter made the decision to give it back to the Republic of Panama. What’s more, the ports on both sides of the canal are owned by a company named Hutchison Whampoa. It’s a company based in Hong Kong and is owned by a billionaire businessman named Li Ka-Shing. He is closely connected to the Communist leaders in China.

Opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska means the West Coast isn’t as dependent on the Panama Canal as it is now. As a former president I know you must take this into account, when you make a decision involving oil and national security.