Fueling Our Military and De-Fueling Our Future

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By Roger Armbrust
Special to the Clyde Fitch Report

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The American military’s enemies in Afghanistan seem to have done what neither the Bush nor Obama administrations and Congress have cared to do: force our armies to find ways to conserve fossil fuels.

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The New York Times reported on Oct. 4, ” With insurgents increasingly attacking the American fuel supply convoys that lumber across the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan, the military is pushing aggressively to develop, test and deploy renewable energy to decrease its need to transport fossil fuels.”

It’s not that our administrations or military have been concerned with excessive consumption of fuel. They’ve only been distressed with the enemy taking it from them.

But angst over the military’s massive thirst for fuel isn’t anything new. Both conservatives and progressives-not in political offices but in the public media — have shouted out about it for at least the last six years of the decade-long invasion. In 2006, the Post Carbon Institute’s Energy Bulletin noted, “The US Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest oil consuming government body in the US and in the world.” The article was written by Dr. Sohbet Karbuz, a former executive with the International Energy Agency (Paris).

In his article, Karbuz also stated, “According to the US Defense Energy Support Center Fact Book 2004, in Fiscal Year 2004, the US military fuel consumption increased to 144 million barrels. This is about 40 million barrels more than the average peacetime military usage. By the way, 144 million barrels makes 395,000 barrels per day, almost as much as daily energy consumption of Greece. The US military is the biggest purchaser of oil in the world.”

By 2008, true conservatives — not the religious right nor radical wing of the Republican Party — were crying foul. The American Conservative Magazine‘s March 10 cover story “Oil for War” cited,

“Today the average American G.I. in Iraq uses about 20.5 gallons of fuel every day, more than double the daily volume consumed by U.S. soldiers in Iraq in 2004. Thus, in order to secure the third-richest country on the planet, the U.S. military is burning enormous quantities of petroleum. And nearly every drop of that fuel is imported into Iraq. These massive fuel requirements-just over 3 million gallons per day for Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Energy Support Center-are a key reason for the soaring cost of the war effort.”

Meanwhile, U.S. fighting troops have left Iraq, but support troops remain; and fighting troops continue in Afghanistan.

In December 2009, The Washington Post outlined the massive amount of fuel the military was consuming in Afghanistan.

“The military’s fuel needs are prodigious,” the Post reported. “According to the Government Accountability Office, about 300,000 gallons of jet fuel are delivered to Afghanistan each day, in addition to diesel, motor and aircraft gasoline. A typical Marine Corps combat brigade requires almost 500,000 gallons of fuel per day, according to a recent study by Deloitte Analysis, a research group. Each of the more than 100 forward operating bases in Afghanistan requires a daily minimum of 300 gallons of diesel fuel, the study said.

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“The GAO report said that in June 2008 alone, 6.2 million gallons of fuel went for air and ground operations, while 917,000 gallons went for base support activities including lighting, running computers, and heating or cooling.”

What’s a president and Congress to do? Obviously nothing if they can help it. Under Bush, the administration and Congress could have cared less about even a domestic energy policy; and a languid Congress and Obama have yet to agree on one.

Meanwhile, America consumes as much fuel daily as the world’s next five largest oil-consuming nations. So, now do you see why oilmen George Bush and Dick Cheney decided to lie about weapons of mass destruction and invade Iraq, the third largest oil-rich country on the globe; or to back their cronies in American oil companies’ and the Afghan president’s efforts at pushing for trans-Afghan pipelines? Or that Obama and Congress continue on that path? How ironic that we burn massive amounts of fuel to secure oil and gas.

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America’s militaristic reflex for Persian Gulf rule even led Robert Bryce, the author of the American Conservative Magazine article, to criticize the U.S.’s trying to control world markets militarily rather than letting the free markets work.

“Since World War II, America has held fast to the idea that controlling the oil flow out of the Persian Gulf must be assured at the point of a M-16 rifle,” says Bryce, managing editor of Energy Tribune magazine. “…it’s obvious that the U.S. needs to rethink the assumption that secure energy sources depend on militarism. The emerging theme of the 21st-century energy business is the increasing power of markets. The U.S. can either adapt or continue hurtling down the road to bankruptcy.”

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And we’re not even touching on how the burning of fossil fuels affects our health and our environment. Nor on the devastating effect on lives both overseas and in the U.S. when you consider the thousands killed, wounded, or left homeless by the destruction from America’s invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The alarming number of American military suicides alone marks the terrible tragedy of our aggression in the Middle East.

Oh, and did you catch Congress’s juggling act of approving $500 billion for the Iraq-Afghan military effort while reducing $500 billion in Medicare within its recent health care legislation? See if any politician will link those two together in a debate leading to the November election.

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Is there a solution to this energy-devouring dilemma? Yes. You can start now by remembering this: politicians are followers, not leaders. Any power they possess comes from the U.S. Constitution and you. You, the voter, must lead them. First, in the November elections, federal, state and local. While it’s difficult to find a politician who wants to discuss the energy issues touched on in this column, you can begin calling them on the issues. And if you don’t find elected politician/followers who respond, then replace them the next election.

Also, get organized; you don’t have to do it alone. Find others who agree with you, do your homework, prepare your case and take it to your elected officials. These issues won’t go away. And neither should you.

Roger Armbrust is editor-in-chief of Parkhurst Brothers, Inc., Publishers, and its Our National Conversation book series. Armbrust’s views do not necessarily represent those of The Clyde Fitch Report.