North American energy independence would have dramatic effects on the American economy and foreign policy, according to retired Marine Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson.
Jackson recently retired after 36 years of service, most recently as commander of Marine Installations West, which includes all Marine Corps bases in the western United States.
He spoke with me in a phone interview this week, sharing his perspective of how America's dependence on foreign oil has affected war and
While serving as a desk officer in the Pentagon in 1990, Jackson answered the phone when the United States was notified of Saddam Hussein's
“The phone rang, and the gentleman on the other end of the line was screaming. He said, ‘The Iraqis are here,'” Jackson said. “Since that day on Aug. 2, 1990, we have been in conflict in the Middle East.”
While oil is only one of many reasons why the United States is involved in two wars half a world away, Jackson said the fuel has a dramatic effect on how the country handles those conflicts.
“We would look at it differently if the Western nations were not so reliant on fossil fuels,” Jackson said. “It would allow us to take a more balanced look at our foreign policy.”
Jackson said the country likely still would be heavily involved in the Middle East, but the
“The negotiation table would help us solve more problems in the Middle East than our conflict because we wouldn't have something vital to the American and Western economies that we are trying to defend,” he said. “It would significantly reshape our foreign policy with respect to the Middle East.”
The military has been especially focused on renewable energy since 2001 when America's military action increased in the Middle East in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“About 70 percent of our convoys are filled with fuel or water, and many of those convoys are struck by IEDs (improvised explosive devices). That costs us in arms and limbs and lives, so the Department of Defense went to work on renewables so we could cut down the number of convoys we need.”
Based in San Diego, Jackson has worked to reduce the energy use required at the military bases under his
His teams installed solar panels on buildings and parking lots and use electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles on bases. The San Diego base is expected soon to be powered 100 percent by renewable energy.
In the long term, Jackson prefers renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass, but he said those options are still many years away from replacing foreign oil in the United States.
“We're talking about a generational problem,” he said. “Renewables are not going to solve this problem today. My first concern is to reduce the cause of the conflict overseas by reducing our reliance on foreign fossil fuels. Then we should develop more efficient, cleaner uses of fuels.”
North American energy independence is an increasingly popular concept. There are numerous ideas of how to best reduce the continent's energy imports.
T. Boone Pickens has touted his plan of reducing oil imports by increasing the use of wind energy and natural gas.
Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm has been a strong supporter of replacing foreign oil by increasing domestic oil production.
Jackson supports all those options, at least in the near term. In the longer term, however, he said renewables are the best option, both for environmental and political reasons. While North America may soon produce its own energy supplies, the United States would still be at least somewhat tied to the Middle East as long as European allies are dependent on Middle Eastern oil, he said.
“I don't think we've put the level of effort into this that we should. The secretary of defense has said we should make the defeat of the IED the Manhattan Project of our time,” Jackson said.
The Manhattan Project was the effort to develop a nuclear bomb and end World War II.
“My reflection is that the Manhattan Project of our time should be getting off a reliance on fossil fuels,” Jackson said. “That would lead to the defeat of the IED.”