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Power Trip

but getting between 45 miles and 52 miles to the gallon is also a patriotic triumph. It loosens Saudi Arabia's stranglehold over U.S. foreign policy; and it lessens the succor we give Iraq--while at the same time threatening to invade it--by buying 1.25 million barrels of its oil every day. The Saudis know that as long as we consume 7 billion barrels per year (4 billion of them imported from abroad), they have us by the short hairs. This is one big reason Saudi Arabia has been so unwilling to cooperate in what should be our joint war against terrorism. They know we think that we can't afford to push them too far and too hard.

over the last decade the costs of this American weakness have mounted. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Bush pere and his Saudiophile cohort rushed to protect Riyadh, and they took pains not to infringe upon the kingdom's sensibilities in the process. A Saudi prince was even designated co-commander of the allied troops. The Saudis were happy for the United States to keep Saddam Hussein off their soil. But, once that self-interested goal was achieved, they began to prattle about the need to maintain stability in Iraq, which to them meant maintaining Saddam's rule. As a primary member of the Gulf war alliance, the kingdom wielded an effective veto. And in any case, then-Secretary of State James Baker and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell weren't hard to persuade. So our armed forces never approached Baghdad.

at the time, few in the united States bothered to ask why the Saudis did not want the tyrant to fall. They knew that Iraq is not a nation-state but a figment of the post-World War I colonial imagination--an imagination personified by the British foreign servant Gertrude Bell, about whom Merchant Ivory Productions might make a brilliant movie. She installed a Sunni as king, and Sunnis have been ruling Iraq ever since. (See Elie Kedourie's relentless narrative of brutality, "The Kingdom of Iraq: A Retrospect," in his scholarly collection The Chatham House Version, and other Middle Eastern Studies.) Ever since the 1958 revolution, Iraq's rulers have not been the royals and the effendi, but rather Marxist colonels gone mad. But they have remained Sunnis--a group that comprises barely one-third of the population of Iraq--and, like their monarchical forebears, have brutalized the more numerous Shia as well as the Kurds. And the Saudis want to keep it that way. For the Iraqi Shia live near the border with Saudi Arabia, where another Sunni government persecutes their brethren. So, the next time you read or hear about someone's concern that Iraq remain intact, realize that what they are really advocating is the continued oppression of Iraq's (and Saudi Arabia's) Shia--as if that were obviously in America's national interest as opposed to simply Riyadh's. The problem, of course, is that Saudi influence in the United States runs through so many channels that it is sometimes hard to tell the difference. An article by Rod Dreher in a recent issue of National Review describes the invidious sway former American ambassadors to the monarchy wield over U.S. policy. They are the courtiers who convince Washington's pundits that the Saudis are moderates. They have even convinced Riyadh to call for democracy in Palestine--as if Crown Prince Abdullah knows anything about the topic.

which brings me back to my personal protest against Saudi power: the Prius. It is a simple proposition. Every gallon of gasoline your car doesn't consume is a gallon we do not have to import from Riyadh. And not using that gallon and the many hundreds or even thousands they end up amounting to over time is an act of practical civic virtue. I wish one of the U.S. automobile manufacturers had succeeded in this patriotic initiative first. It's clear that hybrids are the future of the automobile. Everybody in the industry knows it; and Ford, at least, has spent millions inventing alternatives to the internal combustion engine--just like Al Gore said they should and would. But American car companies are a bit slow, and the hybrids still haven't caught on with the oil-guzzling public.

so detroit and the american public have left the innovations to Japan. The Japanese economy is in trouble for many reasons. But, as Toyota has shown, being insufficiently visionary in understanding the future of automobiles is not one of them. For the sake of our economy, our environment, and our foreign policy, let's hope the United States catches on.

Martin Peretz is Editor-in-Chief of The New Republic.

By Martin Peretz