EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike Breen is Vice President of Truman National Security Project and a former US Army Captain. Breen is a national security expert and the founding director for the Iraqi Refugee Assistant Project.
From Mike Breen, Special to CNN
As a young Lieutenant on my first combat tour, I served on an isolated fighting camp south of Baghdad in an area known as the “Triangle of Death.” My unit was entirely dependent on daily fuel convoys to power our generators and fuel our vehicles. Recognizing this, Iraqi insurgents consistently ambushed the convoys while my infantry company fought to protect them. That meant almost daily firefights which we jokingly called “fighting for our supper.”
The insurgents had recognized a crucial weakness, one that Osama bin Laden referred to as “America’s Achilles heel”: our dependence on oil as a single source of fuel.
Not surprisingly, Iran has identified a similar weakness in our national energy posture. Oil fuels almost our entire transportation sector – and thanks to decades of inaction, we lack comprehensive alternative options to gasoline. This permits Iran to significantly influence the price of gas at the pump. Rising oil prices sap our national strength, driven by U.S. consumption and ever-increasing demand from developing economies. America sends more than $1 billion per day overseas for oil. It should not be a surprise, then, that oil is the single largest contributor to our foreign debt, outpacing even our trade deficit with China.
Iran reaps the benefits of our single-source dependence. For every $5 rise in the price of a barrel of crude oil, the Iranian regime receives more than $7.9 billion annually, a Truman National Security Project analysis found. Over 50% of Iran’s entire national budget comes from the oil sector, according to the CIA world fact book. That’s enough to pay for Iran’s nuclear program, support for terrorism, and aid to dictators like Syria’s Assad. So not only does our dependence make us vulnerable to their whim, it also puts constraints on our foreign policy choices.
Meanwhile, Iran continues to use oil prices – and the threat of price shocks – as a bargaining chip. Over 20% of the world’s oil supply flows through the Straits of Hormuz, a narrow waterway the Iranian military has threatened to close in response to U.S. pressure to end its nuclear program. Each time Iran escalates tensions, fear of supply disruptions drives the price of gas upward, inflicting damage on western economies. Iran knows this, of course – and periodically uses bellicose rhetoric and military posturing to inflict economic pain.
Iran is not America’s only oil-funded security threat. Even Afghanistan’s Taliban benefits from ever-increasing oil prices. According to former Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, the Taliban’s major source of funding is private donations from individuals in oil-rich Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other Persian Gulf states.
We must act to meet this danger, in the only way that makes sense: by developing alternatives to oil.
There is no single solution, no silver bullet, that can break oil’s grip on our economy. Fortunately, we have silver buckshot in our arsenal. At a minimum, we must develop a broad range of alternative fuels and vehicle technologies, support communities across America as they transition their infrastructure to support alternative vehicles, and increase tax incentives for families and small businesses that purchase those alternative vehicles.
My earliest military training taught me to anticipate threats and take action to defeat them. Our military leaders understand this when it comes to the cost of oil – a cost that extends beyond the gas pump and onto the battlefield.