Plug-In Hybrids: A Neo-Con Job?

While one can easily picture neo-cons and mainstream environmentalists driving their Priuses down the pike, will that pike have a brand new nuclear power plant at its end, asks columnist Bill Berkowitz?

Published: 25-May-2005

Could former CIA chief James Woolsey, one of President Bush's most vocal supporters of his War with Iraq, possibly have anything in common with Larry David, the creator of NBC's "Seinfeld," the irascible star of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and the husband of a committed environmentalist?

More than you'd think. At first glance it's obvious that they both are balding; they appear to be physically fit; they show up on television regularly -- Woolsey sends your BS-detector into overdrive on talking head TV, while David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is for my money the funniest program on pay television.

The topper? They both are Toyota Prius enthusiasts (Prius was an early entry in the hybrid automobile market.)

David jokingly claims to be an environmentalist by marriage; his wife Laurie is very involved with the Washington, DC-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

Woolsey's latter-day environmentalism appears to be totally bound up in the politics of Middle East oil.

Woolsey "drives a 58-miles-per-gallon Toyota Prius and has two more hybrid vehicles on order," while Frank Gaffney, the president of the ultra-right Center for Security Policy, has "been speaking regularly in Washington about fuel efficiency and plant-based bio-fuels," Robert Bruce recently wrote in a piece for Slate (As Green as a Neocon: Why Iraq hawks are driving Priuses).

While Woolsey and Gaffney -- a frequent defender of Bush foreign policy on television's talking head programs and a columnist for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church-owned Washington Times -- might have been on beach clean-up crew on Earth Day, don't expect them to be urging President Bush to strengthen the regulatory capacity of Environmental Protection Agency.

For the neoconservatives, it's all about reducing "the flow of American dollars to oil-rich Islamic theocracies, Saudi Arabia in particular," Bryce, the author of "Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate" wrote. Woolsey and Gaffney "are going green for geopolitical reasons, not environmental ones," he pointed out.

The coupling of top neocons -- the architects of the Iraq War -- and environmentalists -- who are no doubt mortified by the devastating effects of the war on the environment -- seems to have materialized sometime during the fall of last year when, Bryce reports, "they jointly backed a proposal put forward" by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a Washington-based think tank tracking energy and security issues.

"Blueprint for Energy Security: 'Set America Free,'" -- a document that was signed by such neocon heavyweights as Woolsey, the Co-Chairman of the Committee on the Present Danger, Gaffney, Gal Luft and Anne Korin of the IAGS, Milton Copulos of the National Defense Council Foundation, Bill Holmberg of the American Council on Renewable Energy, Robert C. MacFarlane, a former National Security Advisor and major Iran/Contra protagonist, Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute, and Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies -- "spells out practical ways in which real progress on 'fuel choice' can be made over the next four years and beyond."

"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," (See iags.org/safn.pdf for the "Blueprint."

In late March, the Energy Future Coalition, a group made up of conservative energy and national security experts, sent a letter to President Bush calling for a change in energy strategy that would take into account conservation and alternative energy sources.

Commenting on why he signed on to the letter, Robert MacFarlane told the San Francisco Chronicle that "The implications [of continuing to rely on foreign oil supplies] are truly catastrophic. The good news is the solution to getting off oil is at hand."

Woolsey, who also signed the letter, indelicately pointed out that "Middle East turmoil could bring regimes to power that don't want to sell oil to the rest of the world because they want to live in the seventh century." And Frank Gaffney, who helped organize the letter, is, as is often his bent, concerned about China: "The Chinese are on the march trying to secure access to oil and choke points. This could be part of a medium-to long-term strategy to confront us or go to war with us."

According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Edward Epstein, the US depends of imported oil for 60 percent of consumption, "a figure expected to rise to two-thirds of consumption by 2020." Americans currently consume 21 million barrels of oil a day, which, writes Epstein "will climb to 26 million barrels or more a day in 2020."

On April 19, a New York Times editorial pointed out that the House was moving forward "toward approval of yet another energy bill heavily weighted in favor of the oil, gas and coal industries." Unless President Bush "rapidly elevates the discussion, any bill that emerges from Congress is almost certain to fall short of the creative strategies needed to confront the two great energy-related issues of the age: the country's increasing dependency on imported oil, and global warming, which is caused chiefly by the very fuels the bill so generously subsidizes."

The Sierra Club's global warming program director, Dan Becker, sees the neocons as unexpected but welcome allies. Becker told the Chronicle that "These conservatives recognize our oil dependency causes major problems for the United States... They'll hit Congress from the right, and we'll see if Congress finally gets it."

Reducing dependency on Middle East oil by increasing fuel standards may not be the only issue uniting conservatives and liberals in their quest to achieve energy independence, for the former, and combating global warming, for the latter.

On April 27, President Bush told a group of small-business owners that there was a need for "construction of more nuclear power plants," the Associated Press reported. And, on May 15, the New York Times' Felicity Barringer reported that "several of the nation's most prominent environmentalists have gone public with the message that nuclear power, long taboo among environmental advocates, should be reconsidered as a remedy for global warming."

While there hasn't been a new commercial nuclear power plant ordered in the US since 1973, the issue has never really gone away. While one can easily picture neo-cons and mainstream environmentalists driving their Priuses down the pike, will that pike have a brand new nuclear power plant at its end?

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