As Green as a Neocon: Why Iraq hawks are driving Priuses

February 5, 2005

President Bush has a simple policy about energy: produce more of it. The former oilman has packed his administration with veterans of the oil and coal industries. And for most of the first Bush term, his energy policy and his foreign policy were joined at the hip. Since the Bush administration believed that controlling the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf was critically important to the American economy, the invasion of Iraq seemed to serve both the president’s energy goals and his foreign policy ones.

But a curious transformation is occurring in Washington, D.C., a split of foreign policy and energy policy: Many of the leading neoconservatives who pushed hard for the Iraq war are going green. James Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and staunch backer of the Iraq war, now drives a 58-miles-per-gallon Toyota Prius and has two more hybrid vehicles on order. Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy and another neocon who championed the war, has been speaking regularly in Washington about fuel efficiency and plant-based bio-fuels.

The alliance of hawks and environmentalists is new but not entirely surprising. The environmentalists are worried about global warming and air pollution. But Woolsey and Gaffney—both members of the Project for the New American Century, which began advocating military action against Saddam Hussein back in 1998—are going green for geopolitical reasons, not environmental ones. They seek to reduce the flow of American dollars to oil-rich Islamic theocracies, Saudi Arabia in particular. Petrodollars have made Saudi Arabia too rich a source of terrorist funding and Islamic radicals. Last month, Gaffney told a conference in Washington that America has become dependent on oil that is imported from countries that, “by and large, are hostile to us.” This fact, he said, makes reducing oil imports “a national security imperative.”

Neocons and greens first hitched up in the fall, when they jointly backed a proposal put forward by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a Washington-based think tank that tracks energy and security issues. (Woolsey is on the IAGS advisory board.) The IAGS plan proposes that the federal government invest $12 billion to: encourage auto makers to build more efficient cars and consumers to buy them; develop industrial facilities to produce plant-based fuels like ethanol; and promote fuel cells for commercial use. The IAGS plan is keen on “plug-in hybrid vehicles,” which use internal combustion engines in conjunction with electric motors that are powered by batteries charged by current from standard electric outlets.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Council on Renewable Energy (Woolsey is on the latter’s advisory board, too) both endorsed the IAGS plan. The environmental groups, who have been in the weeds ever since George W. Bush moved in at 1600 Pennsylvania, are happy for any help they can get. “It’s a wonderful confluence. We agree on the same goals, even if it’s for different reasons,” says Deron Lovaas, the NRDC’s point-man on auto issues.

For Woolsey and Gaffney, the fact that energy efficiency and conservation might help the environment is an unintended side benefit. They want to weaken the Saudis, the Iranians, and the Syrians while also strengthening the Israelis. Whether these ends are achieved with M-16s or hybrid automobiles doesn’t seem to matter to them.

They aren’t the only Iraq hawks who have joined the cause. The Hudson Institute’s Meyrav Wurmser also signed the IAGS plan. In 1996, she was one of the authors—along with Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, of a famous strategy paper for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and military assaults against Lebanon and Syria. (Wurmser’s married to fellow neocon David Wurmser, an adviser to Dick Cheney, former AEI fellow, and enthusiast for the Iraq war.) Clifford May, the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, endorsed the IAGS scheme, too. And the Committee on the Present Danger is about to join the Prius-and-ethanol crowd, as well. A driving force for America’s military buildup since the ’50s now reconstituted as an antiterror group, the CPD will issue a paper in the next few months endorsing many elements of the IAGS plan. CPD members include Midge Decter, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Newt Gingrich, and Steve Forbes, as well as Woolsey and Gaffney.

So far, the neocons are the only ones on the right to break with Bush on energy policy. They can do this because opposing the energy policy doesn’t cost them anything—either politically or economically. The neocons come mostly out of academia and government so, unlike other conservative Republicans, they have few ties to big business and no significant connections to the energy lobbyists who are so influential with the White House.

Despite the setbacks in Iraq, the green neocons believe they can convince Congress and the White House to adopt their program. May, the head of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, predicts that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will be “open to arguments that we can increase and enhance national security for a reasonable price.” Gaffney won’t name names, but he too is confident, saying, “We continue to enjoy access to and friendships with people who are key policymakers.”

If they can convince Congress and the White House to enact meaningful legislation on energy efficiency and conservation—issues that have been marginalized since the Carter administration—then perhaps the neocons will finally have a success story that they can brag about. Better still, it won’t require the services of the 82nd Airborne Division.

Robert Bryce, a contributing writer at the Texas Observer, is the author of Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate.

Tags: Activism, Fossil Fuels, Geopolitics & Military, Oil, Politics