Addicted to Oil

The war in the Gulf, for many, symbolized a newly found American strength. But the Gulf war also revealed American weaknesses at home, particularly the disastrous lack of an energy policy that has caused U.S. oil imports to skyrocket. Unless this problem is dealt with in the "window of opportunity" provided by the end of the Gulf war, the next Middle Eastern oil crisis may be only a short time away.

Ironically, the Bush administration has been at work on its national energy strategy since its first few months in office, but to little effect. That strategy was announced just a week prior to the end of the Gulf war, and it turned out to be strikingly ineffectual. The Bush approach is a mild variant of the now-discredited Reagan plan: subsidizing favored industries, allowing others to choke in a distorted energy market, and letting the country's oil imports soar.

Yet even before Saddam Hussein sent his tanks into Kuwait, the world oil situation was deteriorating steadily. The Middle East's share of the market has been rising at more than one million barrels per day each year, and the world is again as dependent on the Persian Gulf as it was in 1980.

Indeed, in the 10 years since, the Middle East's share of world oil reserves has risen from 59 percent to 68 percent. Meanwhile, production in the United States and the Soviet Union, two of the leading producers, is falling. Steep oil price hikes during the 1990s were a virtual certainty, even without Saddam Hussein's assistance.

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