Neoconservatives, Evangelicals Join Liberals on Energy

By Marc Perelman

Published February 17, 2006, issue of February 17, 2006.
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Two pillars of support for President Bush’s Iraq policy — neoconservative foreign policy hawks and evangelical Christians — have begun lining up with liberals and environmentalists in challenging the White House’s energy policy.

The issue gained national attention in recent weeks, after President Bush declared in the State of the Union address that the United States needed to end its “addiction to oil.” Bush set what seemed a clear target, but within a day, administration officials were backtracking, saying he had not intended a specific goal. Bush spoke of reducing American dependence on

Middle East oil by 75% by 2025. Critics say the administration is reluctant to anger the oil industry by committing America to a full-bore alternate-fuels strategy. Administration supporters say alternate fuels don’t offer an adequate solution to U.S. fuel needs.

Alternate-fuels advocates got a big boost last month from Sweden, whose government set up a commission, chaired by the prime minister, to oversee a transition by 2020 to an economy that functions without petroleum.

With the Bush administration seemingly unwilling to move away from oil, some of the president’s backers have begun issuing their own calls for national energy independence, in what some observers say amounts to a direct challenge to the powerful oil lobby and its supporters within the administration.

The promised push comes at a time when European countries, led by Great Britain, are pressing Bush to accept scientific evidence supporting the existence of global warming that often has been rejected by conservative businessmen and pundits.

About 85 evangelical leaders launched a new initiative and issued a “call to action” last week, in which they endorsed research claiming climate change was “mainly human induced” and urged the administration to stop questioning the science on the issue.

Pro-war hawks have also been rallying to the energy cause.

“We’ve got a coalition of tree-huggers, do-gooders, sodbusters hawks and evangelicals,” said James Woolsey, the Clinton administration’s first CIA director and a leading advocate for the Iraq War, in an interview with the Forward. “Whether you want to end oil dependency for this reason or that reason, it’s perfectly fine as long as we do it.”

Woolsey is one of the leading hawks, along with former Reagan administration officials Robert McFarlane and Frank Gaffney, who are part of the Set America Free coalition, which advocates a blueprint for energy security. The coalition also includes a few liberal groups and two Jewish organizations: the right-leaning Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and, since last week, the more centrist American Jewish Committee.

“AJC has been raising the dangers posed by oil dependency for decades, and we understand we can only be successful if the effort is carried out by a broad coalition,” said Richard Foltin, the organization’s legislative director and counsel. “The agenda is very much in line with our concern that our national interest requires cutting oil imports.”

In recent months, several major Jewish organizations have issued statements declaring the need to curtail oil dependency. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, has put the issue on the agenda of its upcoming annual policy conference for the first time since the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s.

Gal Luft, coordinator of the Set America Free coalition, said that the renewed concerns of the Jewish community amounted to a “sea change.”

“They realize that oil is within one degree of separation with terrorism, global antisemitism and Iran nukes,” said Luft, who is also co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.

Woolsey, a staunch critic of Saudi Arabia who prides himself of owning two hybrid cars, said that his main impetus for supporting alternative energy was national security rather than environmental protection.

In his interview with the Forward, Woolsey stressed the “peculiarity” of America’s ongoing “long war” with radical Islamic movements.

“It is the only one where we pay for both sides, importing oil from Saudi Arabia, which then uses it to export its deathly Wahhabi ideology,” Woolsey said.

Luft expressed similar misgivings about the oil-rich kingdom and acknowledged that it still had strong support in Washington. “There are people in high places with Saudi ties, but more and more people disagree with the over-reliance on them,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough battle.”

Luft’s coalition is pushing two bipartisan bills in Congress that would reduce reliance on foreign oil. The United States currently imports two-thirds of its oil; one-third of imports come from the Middle East. The coalition’s “blueprint for energy security” calls on the federal government to invest $12 billion to encourage carmakers to build more efficient vehicles and to develop facilities to produce plant-based fuels such as ethanol.

The coalition’s efforts have been bolstered in recent months by the record price of oil. In addition, those pushing for energy independence say that their case has been made stronger by the potential instability facing two other major exporters of oil to the United States: Venezuela and Nigeria.

Pro-war hawks say that they see Bush’s recent decision to apportion more funds to alternative energy research as a clear indication that their advocacy is bringing results.

Woolsey noted the key role played by former secretary of state George Shultz in swaying leading Republicans to back the goal of reducing oil imports. “He’s been talking to the administration and Congress, and they listen to him,” Woolsey said.

Shultz, who is co-chairman with Woolsey of the hawkish Committee on the Present Danger, could not be reached for comment.

In addition to prominent neoconservatives, the Bush administration is having to deal with a split among evangelicals on the issue of global warming.

Several prominent evangelicals, including Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land, Focus on the Family founder and chairman James Dobson and Prison Fellowship founder and chairman Charles Colson did not endorse the so-called Evangelical Climate Initiative, pointing to the lack of consensus among evangelicals about the extent and cause of global warming. The initiative calls on the federal government to enact laws to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and urges businesses, churches and individuals to do their part.

“This is God’s world, and any damage that we do to God’s world is an offense against God himself,” the evangelicals said. “Climate change is the latest evidence of our failure to exercise proper stewardship” of the planet.

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