Bush’s Needs Domestic Oil for His Foreign Policy Goals

US President George W. Bush is increasingly driven by the pressing need to reduce America’s dependence on Middle East oil in his battle to open up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas exploration.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources report the success or failure of the president’s energy plan will radically affect US foreign policy. Its approval will give a serious push to oil and gas exploration in or near the United States. Oil-rich regions such as the Middle East and the Caspian Sea will figure less in US strategic thinking.

If the plan is rejected, the United States could be dragged toward an expansionist foreign policy aimed at meeting its energy needs for the next two decades. In that case, the United States would have to decide whether to continue its current policy of worldwide oil purchases or follow another strategy, such as the one adopted by China, of buying foreign oil fields to ensure an uninterrupted supply of oil and gas.

This week, the president launched his battle to open up the Arctic region to oil exploration with the start of Senate deliberations on an energy plan that could influence Washington’s strategic thinking for decades to come.

Even before the start of the discussions, the US Department of the Interior raised the possibility of reducing from 1.5 million acres to one million acres the area in the refuge where explorations will be conducted.

It is still unclear whether the Senate will follow the House of Representative’s lead in August and ratify the president’s energy bill.

The internal debate in the United States on exploiting Alaska’s energy reserves goes back some 25 years. In 1980, environmentalists opposed to Alaskan oil production won a drilling ban in the ANWR. The debate was revived after Bush’s election and drafting of his energy plan. Those opposed to his bill enjoy the support of a strong environmentalist lobby. But Bush and other backers of the legislation have raised a key strategic concern – the need to reduce US dependence on foreign oil, especially from the Middle East.

Opponents and proponents of oil exploration in Alaska are also waging a war of numbers. Environmentalists say the ANWR has reserves of only about 3.2 billion barrels of oil. Supporters of the legislation put the figure at between 5.7 billion and 16 billion barrels.

Powerful forces have lined up behind both sides in the debate: top money men specializing in investments around the world are unenthusiastic about pouring funds into US prime energy sources; US oil barons, however, want the United States to expand its domestic reserves to fuel industrial growth.

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