A videotape has surfaced in which a man believed to be Vice President Richard Cheney addresses the American people from an unidentified office. The tape is not dated, but analysts have inferred from the speaker’s comments that it was made sometime this summer. He claims to be making his remarks on behalf of President Bush, but, if the tape is authentic, the fact that it was never offically released suggests that the president did not give the speech his final approval. Following is a transcript. — STAN COX
My fellow Americans:
Tonight I have been authorized by our President to tell you the truth. We have been reluctant to do this, because, as that movie actor once said, we didn’t think you could handle the truth. But we have become concerned that your support for the Iraq effort is wavering, and we cannot let that happen.
So we’re going to tell you the truth, because, to be frank, we’ve tried just about everything else and you still don’t seem satisfied.
In recent years, you, the American people, have demonstrated your toughness. You have shown that you can deal resolutely with horrifying attacks on our country, with terror alerts, and with seeing your sons, daughters, and spouses sent off to war in Asia. You have stoically accepted – most of you – some adjustments in your Constitutional rights. You have tolerated floods, droughts, forest fires, and a massive electrical blackout.
You have worked your way through many difficulties, but there is one blow that has not yet struck you – a blow the full force of which, we are convinced, you simply could not withstand. It is a challenge that we must confront head-on or else be crushed. I am talking about a sharp and permanent rise in the price of petroleum.
Now I don’t mean that we are fighting a "war for oil" in the sense that the anti-war malcontents in our society use that term. This isn’t about which corporations get contracts or how much salary your vice president might have received from one company or another. We are in Iraq and we have to stay there because, in the words of President George Herbert Walker Bush – a man whom I am proud to have been serving at the time our troops began their involvement in Iraq twelve years ago – "the American way of life is not negotiable."
Despite all the rumors, our Iraq policy is not being dictated by think tanks or in the bowels of the Pentagon. You yourselves have dictated it, and we have responded. You want to keep your way of life, you want national prosperity, and you want to believe that when the United States steps into the world arena, we do so only with the noblest of motives. This year, with our victory over Saddam Hussein, you came very, very close to getting all of those things.
But now, as you know, very serious challenges have emerged in Iraq, made worse by the carping of armchair critics. If we are tough this thing out, we have to stop kidding ourselves. To secure our energy future and thereby preserve our way of life, we, as loyal Americans, have to go the distance in Iraq. And that means growing up a bit, letting go of our illusions, and getting down to business. That means securing our supply of oil and natural gas, not just in the immediate future, but for decades to come.
Our country’s production of oil hit its peak in about 1970, and it has been declining ever since. In the late 90s, we began importing more oil than we produce, and that’s the way it’s going to be from now on. And, in this decade or the next, the world’s oil production will reach a peak, level out for some time, and then begin an irreversible decline.
Geologists and economists certainly don’t agree on the precise year when the peak will pass. Some say world oil production could begin declining by 2010. Some say it’s already falling. Some hold out the hope that we’ll find miraculous, huge new reserves of oil, but even they admit that we’ll pass the peak before 2030. And when the world’s oil consumption begins its decline, we will never again see a period of increasing oil supplies.
World demand for petroleum is accelerating, thanks largely to increased consumption in countries like China and India that want to emulate our way of life. When world production starts heading downward, and world demand for oil continues to strain upward, the shock to the global economy will be devastating. But note that I am talking about worldwide production and consumption. A large, powerful nation that has secure access to a generous share of Middle Eastern oil (two-thirds of the world’s remaining oil, and the easiest to pump) will be able to continue meeting its own needs and even prospering for decades, leaving the rest of the world to worry about declining supplies.
That lucky nation will be the United States of America, thanks to our decisive action in Iraq. We have secured Iraq’s enormous oil and gas reserves (the second biggest on the planet), we continue to work with our friends in Saudi Arabia (the biggest), and if we remain resolute, we will have shown the rest of the world who calls the shots in the Mideast. At this stage of the game, we simply cannot afford to falter.
Those of you over the age of 40 or so may think that you saw catastrophic oil shocks in the 1970s. But those were Sunday afternoon picnics compared to what we would be facing had we not secured Iraq. We recovered from the stagflation and long gas lines caused by that earlier crisis, as soon as the flow of cheap oil resumed and increased. A future oil shock would be much nastier, and it would be permanent.
Let me paint you a picture of a future in which we’ve reached the far side of the world oil peak with the Middle Eastern wellheads still in foreign hands:
A full tank of gas whenever you want it, that comfortable ride to work with only your stereo system for company, cheap flights to Grandma’s at Christmas, a camping trip in your RV – with the next oil crisis, these would become only fond memories, or at best occasional luxuries. That big, beautiful, three-ton investment parked in your garage? How would it feel to have to let it just sit there, day after day, except when you have to haul something?
Today, the average American travels more than 17,000 miles by car and plane every year, and every mile of that is powered by relatively inexpensive fossil fuels. We can keep that way of life. But if we were to let Iraq slip away, your life could start to seem like one long ride on a crowded bus or maybe an eternal carpool, trapped in the backseat of a Neon with your loudmouth neighbor.
If we were to stumble blindly over the oil peak, everything – and I mean everything from fresh vegetables in the winter to trash pickup – would become much more expensive. Look around your house. How much plastic do you see? How much came from China? Most of your household goods are shipped from abroad, and even the average American-made item travels about 300 miles before you buy it and drive it home. Moving people and goods from one place to another accounts for 11% of our entire economy. Almost all of that transportation depends on petroleum (and, of course, most of those goods are at least partly composed of petroleum products.) Let oil go to $50 or $100 a barrel, and Wal-Mart can take down its "Always Low Prices" signs.
And to those of you who recycle and drive those little 40-mile-per-gallon cars: Don’t feel too smug. Once on the downhill side of the oil peak, you’ll find that you’re just as hooked as your neighbor with the Suburban and the snowmobile.
There is no energy source equivalent to that Persian Gulf oil that fairly spurts out of the sand. Ethanol? Sure, you can run cars on it but the energy they contain doesn’t come out of thin air – to get it, you have to grow crops and growing crops requires fuels to run machinery make fertilizer. To fuel all of America’s cars with ethanol made from grain grown with renewable fuels, we would have to plant the entire land mass of the United States to corn! And what if we wanted to use renewable resources to replace the oil and gas we use every year to produce petrochemicals like plastics, synthetic rubber, and solvents? That would require the entire yearly growth of all of our forests! (Trouble is, we’re already consuming that growth.)
Finally, you can forget about that "green" fantasy they call the hydrogen economy. Hydrogen’s not a source of energy. You have to expend energy to make the stuff. By the time we attain the capacity to do that, either by using up natural gas (which will have its own peak) or with more nuclear plants (which you’ll complain about, of course), or by installing millions of acres of photovoltaic solar arrays, and by the time we get our hydrogen distribution system, and by the time we replace our entire vehicle fleet with those funny-looking super-efficient cars … well, by comparison, our president’s request for those few extra billions to get Iraq "up and pumping" is going to look like the biggest bargain since the Louisiana Purchase.
Americans know that the best defense is a good offense. I’ve spent many years in the energy industry. It’s an often unpredictable business, but there is one certainty: No one has ever lost a dollar betting on the U.S. public’s lack of interest in energy conservation.
You may recall that in early 2001, I headed President Bush’s Energy Task Force. I have resisted the release of any records relating to our deliberations, but not, as has been charged, to protect myself or my colleagues. In sheilding you, the American people, from the details of our energy planning, I was trying to allow you to keep both your way of life and your pride in America as a moral leader in the world. But now I’m putting all the cards on the table, so you will have to bear the same burden that the president and I do – the knowledge that we are fighting for economic survival, not principle.
The Task Force received truckloads of expert advice, and from it we learned that we had no choice but to move quickly to guarantee our access to Mideast oil and gas, regardless of the consequences. We were provided no better description of the current situation than one compiled by my friend James Baker III and his Institute for Public Policy. Let me share with you what their report called our "central dilemma" when it comes to energy:
"The American people continue to demand plentiful and cheap energy without sacrifice or inconvenience. But emerging technologies are not yet commercially viable to fill shortages and will not be for some time. Nor is surplus energy capacity available at this time to meet such demands. Indeed, the situation is worse than the oil shocks of the past because in the present energy situation, the tight oil market condition is coupled with shortages of natural gas in the United States, heating fuels for the winter, and electricity supplies in certain localities."
The report went on to point out that "Iraq remains a destabilizing influence to U.S. allies in the Middle East, as well as to regional and global order, and to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East."
We met the challenge. A few short months ago, Iraq was a "destabilizing influence." Now it’s our ace-in-the-hole, our key to happiness and prosperity. Things may be rough right now, for us and for the Iraqis, but our central mission – future oil security – has been accomplished.
Now that we’ve had this free and honest discussion of the situation, I am confident that you and those you’ve elected to Congress will keep funding our work in Iraq as long as is necessary. It’s an investment you can’t afford to pass up. And that’s the truth.
Thank you, and good night.
STAN COX lives, works, and drives his car in Salina, Kansas. He thanks Marty Bender for help with data. Cox can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org