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Jewish World Review April 18, 2002 / 7 Iyar, 5762

Matt Towery

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Consumer Reports

Alaskan battleground? | First, an update. Several weeks ago, this column reported that federal officials have long feared the possibility that suicide bombings might migrate to the United States. We received numerous e-mails from readers who considered the story to either be baseless or "giving ideas to people who might wish us harm." Give me a break. Within a week of our story, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then the major news networks, such as CNN, focused on the same threat.

Our report didn't give anyone any new ideas, it just brought to light what others would soon disclose.

Meanwhile, the crisis in the Middle East continues to divert America and the world's attention away from what was to be the focus of our geopolitical and military efforts this spring -- Iraq. And as we have suggested since shortly after the Attack on America, Iraq will be toppled by a coalition of the United States, Great Britain, and the few other brave countries who recognize the serious threat it poses to the world.

But there exists another diversion here in our own country that, while not violent, serves as another impediment to dealing with the Iraqs of the world. This time the battleground is the state of Alaska.

The largest onshore, unexplored basin for oil in the United States can be found in that state's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). There are estimates that this one area, which is an extremely small portion of Alaska's vast land, could provide up to several years worth of the United States' current level of oil imports.

Most Americans are unaware of the fight in Congress to determine if drilling in Alaska's ANWR should be a part of our new national energy policy. Here's the inside story of why Congress needs to allow exploration and drilling to commence in this area of Alaska -- and quickly.

First, every survey indicates that most Alaskans favor it. This might seem strange to residents of other states such as Florida, where recent public uproar led to a decision -- at least for now -- to forgo drilling in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But like Floridians, Alaskans know their state best. They believe that any impact on the some 2,000 acres that would be subject to exploration is insignificant when one considers that their state has by far the most acreage of any state in the union.

Just as important is the inside story of what really happened over the past week in Venezuela, one of many critical foreign suppliers of oil to the United States. According to high-level sources, the United States has feared for some time that the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was becoming increasingly unreliable as a future friendly source of petroleum. And given the tensions with other oil-producing states in the Middle East, Venezuela, as the United States' fourth-largest, non-domestic supplier of oil, has become extremely important in maintaining secure energy and a stable world economy.

Word spread in inner circles last month that a potential coup might develop in Venezuela. Last week, when President Chavez was temporarily deposed, there were plenty of American operatives -- political and otherwise -- already moving to secure the region for vital U.S. interests.

Unfortunately, President Chavez played his secret trump card. Chavez was once a Venezuelan paratrooper and there were, according to our sources, some 2,000 or so paratroopers in his country who remained fiercely loyal to him and helped create an impression that the people of Venezuela were in favor of reinstating the ousted president. Indeed, as the new week began, Chavez was denying that he had ever even signed resignation papers, although our sources insist that he had indeed resigned under pressure, only to later renege.

Whether or not the United States or other interested parties support or encourage another effort to remove Chavez -- which seems likely -- the entire issue of securing readily available sources of fossil fuel remains of paramount importance. Yes, we need to ultimately develop long-term alternative sources of energy. But with the mounting probability that the Arab nations may align themselves against the United States -- both for supporting Israel and for threatening to topple Saddam Hussein -- there is now a special sense of urgency in immediately developing sources of oil.

The U.S. Congress seems to believe in "self-determination" for virtually every nation in the world. Why then should it not allow the people of Alaska the right to use their land as they see fit -- particularly when to do so might be of vital importance to the survival of our nation in the coming years?

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate