Breaking the Habit

When President George W. Bush used his State of the Union address to decry U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil, he made headlines. Two days later, when Donald Rumsfeld offered an apocalyptic rendering of the global war on terror-“they will either succeed in changing our way of life, or we will succeed in changing theirs”-few paid much attention. In the juxtaposition of the president’s discovery and his defense secretary’s call to arms lies the real story, casting in sharp relief the strategic conundrum facing the United States.

That Americans are “addicted to oil,” relying increasingly on imports from what the president delicately called “unstable parts of the world,” is manifestly true. The admission qualifies as noteworthy only in that it took Bush so long to acknowledge the problematic implications of this dependency.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s extravagant depiction of the war on terror may also be true-but only so long as the United States persists in the very addiction that the president laments. End American dependence on Middle Eastern oil and the very notion of Islamic radicals posing a serious threat to our way of life becomes preposterous. End our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and the notion that the United States should take it upon itself to forcibly change their way of life becomes absurd. Terrorism won’t disappear, but it will become a nuisance rather than a dire threat.

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About the Author

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations emeritus at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies.