Many Americans are no doubt right to think it repugnant that oil plays such a large part in our foreign policy. It is definitely imperative that the development of energy alternatives become a national priority, but, in the meantime, Osama Bin Laden, like every Saudi billionaire, thinks that oil is a very powerful weapon. So, what does the United States do?
What I've just sketched are some of the questions asked, albeit quietly, by what we've come to call "neocon" thinkers. So, there really is an ideological war being waged, but it is not between American values and jihadism. It is a battle among Washington elites, and it is a very vicious conflict, because there's a lot at stake. More than a half a century's worth of U.S. foreign policy was based on the idea that the Saudis were our ace in the hole. Everyone across the board subscribed to that notion, which is why Republican advisers like Brent Scowcroft and Democrats like Zbigniew Brzezinski are making very similar criticisms of the White House right now. There are reputations at stake, and no one wants a place in history for what might most generously be described as dodging a bullet.
At some point, someone was going to have to rethink our policies in the Persian Gulf and throughout the Middle East. If Sept. 11 was what made such a re-evaluation necessary, it is also one of the circumstances that made it difficult for the current administration to sell it as a difficult, long-term commitment to a scared, angry, and generally emotional American public. And there were other major issues as well, namely, a president who came to office under dubious circumstances and had tapped a group of hard-charging ideologues not known for their diplomatic skills to drive his foreign policy—one that no one in the administration ever laid out clearly for the American people to weigh. At any rate, the neocons are probably wrong about many things, but they are not wrong that U.S. national security depends on challenging the assumptions that have guided five decades of foreign policy.
John Kerry says that as president he wouldn't withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. That's not the issue. What matters is whether or not the people who Kerry would bring in to run foreign policy understand all the reasons we are in Iraq. Whoever the next president of the United States is, he's going to have to explain, clearly, the reasoning behind his Middle East policies and sell it to the American people, finally.