U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, speaking to a standing room only gathering of the Greater Falls Church Chamber of Commerce and Merrifield Business Association at Falls Church’s Italian Café Tuesday, conceded that oil “was a big part” of why the U.S. invaded Iraq.
The comment was in response to the assertion of former Federal Reserve Chief Alan Greenspan last week that oil was the real reason for the invasion, a claim denied by the Bush administration. Bush officials continue to insist the sole purposes of the invasion were to bring democracy and remove weapons of mass destruction.
But Davis, a Republican, said of the oil factor, “I think it’s obvious. That was how Iraq was viewed strategically and seen as a bulwark against Afghanistan and Iran. That factor will play a big role in terms of how we leave.”
Davis said that the U.S. remains highly vulnerable in terms of how regional conflicts in that area can cause oil prices to skyrocket. “It is hard to think of any oil producing nation in the world as functional right now.”
The solution, the alternative to military actions such as the invasion of Iraq, he said, was to “launch a Manhattan Project to develop alternative energy in the next 10 years.” The comment was met with loud applause.
“It is in our national interest to do this, because we can’t drill or conserve our way out of this box,” he said. “There are lots of options in the area of alternative energy, and all can play a role,” he added.
So far, he went on, “the Republicans think we can drill our way out of this crisis and the Democrats want to conserve our way out of it.” As a result, there is no bi-partisan consensus for the kind of Manhattan Project-like effort he envisions. The Manhattan Project involved a full national scientific and engineering mobilization to develop and deploy the atomic bomb during World War II, and Davis now proposes doing the same thing for development of peaceful alternative energy.
“We have to be able to walk away from the Middle East and say, ‘We don’t care. We don’t need you,’” he said.
“My biggest frustration in Congress,” he said, “is that whichever party gets into power, once it does its biggest question becomes not how to get things done, but how to stay in power.” That, he said, is preventing the comprehensive alternative energy push that’s needed. “The notion of ‘long term’ is two years in politics,” he mused.
But he stressed the importance of “settling differences in honorable and civilized ways” as the key to the future of the globe. “Globalization, done right, can go a long way to empower all parts of the globe,” he said. “With the Internet, people everywhere can see what they can become. It also takes leadership, and people with know-how. The individual in history matters.”
He called for “elevating the economies” and advancing education to create “a more enlightened world,” adding, “All can make a difference in the long term.”
“It’s a global question, and it gets overlooked in the debate on immigration,” he said. “We’re all inter-related. In El Salvador, 17% of its economy is money that El Salvadorians working in the U.S. send to their families down there.”
He said he regretted acquiescing to a request from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice not to visit Syria with a congressional delegation recently. “It was the wrong decision,” he said. “We have to talk to our enemies because there’s no other way to resolve conflicts. Even with the real bad actors, at the minimum you need ‘back channels’ to talk.”
Issues like alternative energy and globalization are far more important in the long run than the “cultural issues” like abortion and guns that have divided Republicans and Democrats in recent elections, he said.
“Cultural issues are a dead end over the long term for the Republicans,” he remarks. “There are still going to be a lot of people in Iraq next summer. There are going to need to be strong discussions on real issues to contend with that fact.”
Davis is considered a likely GOP contender for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. John Warner next year, but he’s not tipped his hand yet. When asked Tuesday, he said he’d begin to weigh the options after this November’s elections, including doing polling, determining whether the GOP will pick its candidate at a convention or in a primary.
“I’m interested, but I have three options,” he said. “Run, stay in Congress, or retire from politics.”
As for this November’s Virginia legislative elections, he conceded, “Things are depressed right now for the Republicans. The brand name is down. The Democrats have three times the money this time and are more enthused at the grass roots.”