President Bush enjoys making hard decisions. He committed us to Iraq and, for better or worse, is standing by his decision in the face of ever decreasing support and poll numbers. He promised to be aggressive on foreign policy and again, for better or worse, has been exactly that – well, mostly.

When it comes to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ members, our foreign policy and diplomatic strategy lacks a certain bite. A few weeks ago, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez appeared before the United Nations and said, referring to our President, “The Devil came here yesterday, right here. It smells of sulfur still today.” Where was the tough return attack?

Or take Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who lectured on the evils of American power and how the Holocaust was a fairy tale. Iran didn’t seem to mind the horrors of Soviet or American powers when receiving weapons from them.

The truth is that Bush can’t really make a tough call here. What are we going to do to Iran or Venezuela? We can’t stop their tampering with the elections of other countries, or halt their development of nuclear weapons. And we can’t ask them to show some semblance of decency at the U.N.

Part of a strong foreign policy are strong domestic initiatives. One of the reasons we can’t take hard stances against these countries is because they control the majority of our gasoline imports. Both of these men and their respective countries have been pushing us around, raising our gas prices and screwing with our economy. The price of gas doesn’t just affect what we pay at the pump; gasoline is in every part our economy. Computers, cars, cell phones, food and even iPods require oil for production. Eventually the price of all goods will begin to rise in conjunction with the price of oil. When the cost of production increases, so does the price of the good.

There is only one way for us to lessen these countries’ abilities to play games with our economy – we must find alternative sources of energy. Whether you believe in drilling in Alaska or not, it is not a viable solution. There is no way to transport enough oil from Alaska to run the country. The only path we can take – the path we must take – is to invest in alternative energy. Freeing ourselves from the dependence we have on foreign oil is the only way to ensure the safety and independence of our country.

In New Jersey, $100 million dollars annually has been put aside for the past few years to provide subsidies for citizens investing in alternative energy. Each year for the past two years, the fund has run out while, at the same time, the subsidies have decreased. People are willing to invest in other forms of energy, they are willing to work for this, perhaps even pay more, they just need the incentive. Raising the federal gas tax from 18.4 cents a gallon, where it has sat since 1993, would provide this incentive. On average, state and federal gas taxes combine for 40 cents on the gallon, compared with $3.99 in Germany and $4.24 in Britain.

At a certain price per barrel, it became economical to drill in Alaska, somewhere around $20 a barrel. At another point, somewhere around $70 a barrel, it becomes economical to begin heavily investing in alternative fuels. Currently we are paying around $60 a barrel, allowing OPEC nations to receive the maximum profit from oil sales before sparking us to become less dependent.

I strongly believe that President Bush needs to raise the gas tax with the lame duck Congress after elections. Legislators will not approve an increase in gas tax with elections pending, but they know it is necessary.

When Alan Greenspan was asked if the gas tax should be raised in late September, he replied, “Yes, I would. That’s the way to get consumption down. It’s a national security issue.” Greenspan’s response was atypically clear and against the no-tax Republican mantra, and has been echoed by other anti-tax, republican-leaning economists.

The leading criticism of raising the tax is that it hurts people who would have trouble paying for the higher-priced gas.

Yet no tax is ever progressive. Flat taxes hurt those who need their money the most, and our complicated tax laws allow accountants to find numerous loopholes for those wealthy enough to pay. If we don’t raise the gas tax now, in the future the price will rise again and, this time, permanently. We will be forced to explore other options while paying much more than three dollars a gallon.

Franklin Roosevelt never told the American people anything would be easy, but he promised us we would survive and prosper by taking what seems to be the more challenging road. If President Bush really is the determined leader that he claims to be, he will use his remaining months in office to lead the country on the more challenging road.

History, as it has rewarded so many of our Presidents who made tough decisions, will remember him as the President who took the unpopular stance and led our country away from the domination of foreign oilproducers.

Kirstein can be reached at

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