Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: Robert L.January

Today, I am asked to comment on the U.S. energy and environmental policy in ten minutes or less. To achieve this remarkable feat, I will resort to metaphor. As our good moderator has indicated, I am a former energy journalist and today a financially successful oil businessman. I own Nytex Petroleum, Inc., a company based in the New York metropolitan area involved solely in international trade. That means moving oil from the Middle East and trading it in Japan, Europe, the United States, all over the world. As an international trader/broker, I am totally indifferent to U.S. oil policy—or Russia’s, or Saudi Arabia’s, or Japan’s. What’s important to me is that I understand these policies and move faster than your average giant oil company and other traders.

I was a journalist in Washington during the 1973 oil price explosion and Arab oil embargo. It was my first real job after graduating from the University of Texas. My academic background was philosophy, but I wanted to get a job that would get me out of Texas. I was lucky enough to work for Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, the premier international oil publication owned by Wanda Jablonski. I had just spent a postgraduate year floating around the Middle East writing freelance stories on Israel and the Arab world. It was while I was living briefly in Jerusalem, writing about Russian emigrants, that it dawned on me how much of the world’s oil was in the Middle East and the potential political importance. Wanda, who terrified all of us working at Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, asked me to cover the first major energy news conference in Washington following the embargo and oil price explosions.

It was in early 1973, a joint news conference with the newly appointed Energy Czar Bill Simon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, held in a large State Department auditorium. Present were TV correspondents and journalists from all the world’s most famous publications: Neue Zurcher Zeitung, New York Times, Le Monde, Tass—two or three hundred journalists. You can imagine how scared I was of all those important people. And what did I know? A few questions, no answers. Dr. Kissinger and Simon had just warned that the equivalent of an economic atomic bomb had been dropped on the industrial world, and opened up the floor for questions. I sat near the front so I could hear every question and answer.

Only silence. No one raised their hand. Dr. Kissinger again asked for questions. More silence. Kissinger became impatient. Yet no questions. Three hundred of the world’s most famous journalists, and no questions. Finally, I got the courage to raise my hand. It was shaking badly but I got it up. I asked my question and disappeared back in my chair.

Kissinger gave an eloquent answer and then asked for more questions. Again only silence. I somehow got up the courage to ask my second question. Kissinger answered it. Pretty soon, a dialogue developed between Kissinger and myself—basically a kid. It wasn’t that I knew the right questions to ask; it was simply that no one

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