The definition of strategic, for people interested in such things in the age of Clintonisms, is "necessary to or important in the initiation, conduct or completion of a strategic plan; required for the conduct of war ... of great importance within an integrated whole or to a planned effect." Tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to lower fuel oil prices a few pennies in the Northeast five weeks before an election does not have the importance or urgency suggested by the above definition. The decision looks instead like high-octane politics. Naturally, both President Clinton and Al Gore deny such a motivation, but when did they ever acknowledge a political motivation for any action (or inaction)? Mr. Gore continues to accumulate proof that he is more than a standard politician. He is a dishonest man whose thoughts are not his own and whose positions and promises cannot be believed. To paraphrase his former opponent, Bill Bradley, he will lie about anything if it suits his purposes. Last week, after claiming that "Look for the Union Label" was a childhood lullaby he frequently heard, though it wasn't composed until he was 27 years old, Mr. Gore told another fib: "I've been part of the discussions on the strategic reserve since the days when it was first established." But the reserve was established in 1975, and Mr. Gore didn't arrive as a congressman until 1977. Mr. Gore has flipped on the use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to drive down oil prices. Last winter, Mr. Gore opposed tapping the reserve because he believed it would lead to retaliation by other oil-producing countries. Of those countries he said, "All they would have to do is to cut back a little bit on the supply, and they'd wipe out any impact from releasing oil from that reserve." If Mr. Gore wanted to reduce oil and gas prices, he could propose that fuel taxes added by this administration to balance the budget be rolled back, given the forecast of huge surpluses that Republicans and Democrats are busy spending before they materialize. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers opposes raiding the oil reserves. It "would be a major and substantial policy mistake," he says. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan agrees. Wall Street Journal columnist Al Hunt quoted a top Gore advisor: "Larry is substantively brilliant, but politically stupid." What was that again about politics having nothing to do with this decision? A Detroit Free Press editorial called the decision a "Bad idea. Bad precedent. Poor policy that seems politically motivated by the man who would be president." In his environmental manifesto, Earth in the Balance, Mr. Gore writes of his hope to eliminate "the internal combustion engine over, say, a 25-year period." He says he favors higher gas and oil prices (he would drive them up by raising taxes, but the objective is the same) because it is "one of the logical first steps in changing our policies in a manner consistent with a more responsible approach to the environment." One might expect Mr. Gore to be enthusiastic about higher fuel prices this winter because they take him closer to his goal of eliminating the automobile as we have known it. Higher prices would serve as an offering to Mr. Gore's environmental gods. But the politics of it won't let him do it. Not yet. Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore may not have the final say on winter fuel prices. That may be up to Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Farouk Kaddoumi, foreign minister for the Palestine Liberation Organization, said last week that Arab nations should again use the "oil weapon," which they have not done since 1973. Saddam has revived his claim that Kuwait is stealing Iraqi oil, the pretense he used to justify his 1990 invasion. But as Holger Jensen of the Rocky Mountain News writes on Scripps Howard News Service: "Saddam doesn't need to invade Kuwait again. He only needs to halt exports of Iraqi oil to send crude oil prices soaring above their current $38 a barrel, causing massive disruptions in the world economy." This would be the ultimate October surprise. Mr. Gore's lies, flips, and bad ideas are catching up with him.
-© 2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate