Jewish World Review Nov. 9, 2001/ 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Charles Krauthammer

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War and the Polar Bear -- SO you thought that Sept. 11 changed everything, that the era of game-show frivolity, "Survivor" silliness and general self-indulgence had given way to an era of seriousness. Well, not quite.

Here we are, for the second time in a decade, risking American lives in a war against an enemy fueled and fed by oil money. Here we are again decrying our dependence on oil from a particularly unstable, unfriendly part of the world. Here we are in desperate need of both energy conservation and new energy production.

And here we see (in the Oct. 30 Post) that we may be prevented from drilling in the single most promising area on this continent because of a . . . polar bear treaty: "New Species Enters Debate on Arctic Oil; Polar Bear Agreement Cited by Drilling Foes."

Now, I like polar bears as much as the next guy. I like pandas and caribou and all the furry cuddlies on God's good earth. But I also like people, particularly Americans, and particularly American soldiers. And I do not like seeing them shot and killed in wars that would be both more avoidable and more winnable were we not so disastrously dependent on energy supplies from a nasty part of the world with nasty people who use our oil money for nasty purposes.

At a time when Washington should be working on a crash program of conservation and new drilling, a six-year-old report from the Fish and Wildlife Service is leaked in the hope that a 28-year-old polar bear treaty might derail drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The outrage! "This is a classic Bush administration strategy of running roughshod over international agreements," charged Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity and leaker of the report.

The Interior Department stoutly maintains that the polar bear agreement does not prohibit oil exploration. Alaska's Sen. Frank Murkowski points out that the 25,000 or so Arctic polar bears that he represents seem to be quite happily lolling around the existing oil drilling in Alaska.

I too have little doubt that the polar bears will do fine, just as the caribou have thrived around the Prudhoe Bay field. But the whole debate is surreal. We are at war, are we not? Americans are fighting. In Washington and New York, nearly 5,000 have already been killed. Fifteen of the 19 murderers were Saudi. Their leader is Saudi. Most of their money is Saudi. And that same Saudi money funds the madrassas, the fundamentalist religious schools where poor Pakistani, Afghan and Arab children are inducted into the world of radical Islam and war against the American infidel.

And yet we bow and scrape to the Saudis. We beg and borrow. We tolerate their deflecting onto America the popular hatred that would otherwise be directed at their own corruption. Why? Because we need their oil.

The war on terrorism will be fought in many places. Alaska is one. We have known since 1973 that we need to reduce our dependence on Persian Gulf oil. But we have never been serious. It was assumed that Sept. 11 would make us serious. Instead, we are engaged in exegeses on polar bear mating habits and a ridiculous debate that pits conservation vs. drilling. Why one and not the other is beyond me.

Of course we need conservation. I have been an advocate of a dollar-a-gallon gasoline tax for 20 years. Whatever it takes: auto efficiency standards, higher taxes, incentives for new fuels.

But why stop there? We need more oil still. Every additional barrel that substitutes domestic oil for foreign oil is a victory. Drilling in the Arctic will involve less than 1 percent of the Arctic Refuge. It might produce an additional million barrels a day. The sea of natural gas beneath could be the largest in North America.

And yet the Luddites stand firm, as if Sept. 11 never happened. Sen. John Kerry vows a filibuster if anyone dares legislate Arctic drilling.

Imagine where we would be if those railing against Arctic drilling today had prevailed 30 years ago and stopped Prudhoe Bay. The million barrels a day we now get from Alaska would be coming from Saudi Arabia. We would be even more in their debt and under their thumb.

A concerned citizenry is yearning to do something significant for the war effort on the home front. But this is not World War II. We do not need rubber. We do not need war bonds. We do not need Rosie riveting.

We desperately do need energy independence. And that is a home-front battle: conservation -- and a willingness to disturb a few acres of snow in a vast wilderness as remote as Afghanistan.

There's a war on, senators. Let's get serious.

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