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Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack: 'Domestic Production of Oil in America has Peaked'

Governor Tom Vilsack was elected Iowa’s 39th Governor in 1998, the first Democratic governor of the state in more than 30 years. He was re-elected to a second four-year term in 2002.

Governor Vilsack addressed the Asia Society on Sustaining Economic Growth While Combating Social Challenges in Asia as part of the series entitled "American Political Leaders on the Future of US Relations with Asia". Governor Vilsack addressed the Asia Society on October 26th, and gave this interview to Nermeen Shaikh following his speech.

In this interview, Governor Vilsack discusses the key foreign and domestic policy questions confronting the United States.

I was struck by a number of the things that you said this evening, including your emphasis on curtailing consumption levels in the US and the "peak oil" problem. There has been a lot of speculation that one of the principal reasons for the American invasion of Iraq was precisely the concern about diminishing oil reserves and America's enormous dependence on Middle Eastern oil. You also said that one of the problems you had with the 2003 US invasion of Iraq was that there wasn't sufficient premise for it, but if one looks at it purely from the perspective of dependence on a resource that is diminishing, for which there is increasing demand, and which happens to be located there, then perhaps the premise becomes clearer. Could you comment on this?

First of all, there's no question that the domestic production of oil in America has peaked, and that there are domestic concerns and restraints on utilizing whatever other resources might be available but which are in environmentally sensitive areas. I would say that if oil was a consideration, then it is hard to understand why the planning relating to the Iraq war was as poor as it was. If oil was a consideration, then there should have been a much better understanding of the culture, and the divisions within Iraq that would transpire when Saddam was gone and there were efforts to create a new government. If oil was the primary or principal reason, then clearly the way in which we've gone about the last five years since Saddam has gone in the reconstruction effort and in trying to stabilize the government, and trying to determine and create a reconstructed Iraq that would take advantage of its assets, the implementation of all this has been quite poor.

I don't know what the motivation at the end of the day was for Iraq other than what was stated by the President, and it's fairly clear that every reason he gave at the time has been disproven. This significantly undermines America's position in the world today.

The issue of energy security is one that will not be solved by simply gaining greater control over someone else's oil, or for that matter even discovering the other 5 per cent that is yet to be discovered. It will require a new economy which is less reliant on oil and carbon. It is not something that can be done in a couple of years, but it must start now. There must be an effort to substantially reduce consumption, smartly, intelligently, innovatively, and creatively. It must start with educating the general public about precisely what they're doing with the energy that they have, and how they can do it more efficiently and effectively, how it would help them personally and how it would also help the country. It starts with creating a desire and a thirst for renewable energy that becomes not just a matter of economics but of a new patriotism. It starts with challenging industry and universities and researchers to come up with creative and better ways to use the resources that we currently use, such as coal, in a way that doesn't damage but actually improves the environment.

All of this has to be done simultaneously and it has be a serious, significant effort. For Americans to buy into this, they have to understand the benefits. They have to understand that there are better-paying jobs connected with this. There are healthier environments. There's the opportunity to exercise moral leadership by the United States internationally on issues involving global warming, climate change and climate security. There's an opportunity for us to be more secure, where we don't necessarily have to deal or work with countries that do not like us or want to do us harm. So there is a multitude of reasons why we could create an unprecedented national effort to make America stronger and safer.

You suggested earlier that a number of your constituents in Iowa understand the US presence in Iraq in the context of, as you said, "the purple thumb"; in other words, the spread of democracy. But do you think your constituents think at all about oil, the levels of consumption that exist in that state, or the country generally, and how that might be related to US involvement in the Middle East and why the US has gone to war with Iraq, which was, after all, only one among many dictatorships? One could ask, for example, why the US did not invade North Korea, where the situation has been arguably far more dire than what it was in Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion.

I think there are probably some people in Iowa that are suspicious about precisely what role oil and the future of oil played in the decision-making of a government that is run by those closely aligned with and connected to the oil industry. There are clearly suspicions to that effect. But I would say that if that was the motivation, then the planning and implementation were extraordinarily ill-conceived, and poorly carried out. I would say that this administration, following the attack on the World Trade Center, if it wanted this country to galvanize behind an effort to produce more oil or use less oil, that was the opportunity of a lifetime, to ask people to do things differently. They chose, for whatever reason, not to utilize that opportunity. I think that, as many mistakes as this administration has made-and they've made many-history may judge that to be the greatest of all mistakes.