Donald Trump likes to brag that not contracting a sexually transmitted disease during the Vietnam era was his burden to bear. While he was dodging the draft, as only a person with enormous inherited wealth can do, Fred Smith was a Marine platoon leader and forward air controller in Vietnam. Today, he is CEO of FedEx. As head of the world’s largest air cargo fleet, he is highly aware of fuel costs and the impact of fuel sources on national and international politics.
Smith is also heavily involved with SAFE, an acronym for Securing America’s Energy Future, a group is composed of a number of retired generals and admirals. Its primary mission is to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. It claims that reliance on foreign oil puts the country at risk and makes America vulnerable to terrorism.
“Our group is unique in looking at this problem from the perspective of national security,” Smith says. “If we can help solve the environmental risks, so much the better.” Right now, SAFE is urging the Trump administration not to roll back the fuel economy standards set in place by the EPA in the final days of the Obama administration. SAFE spokeswoman Leslie Hayward said the group is having a constructive dialogue with the Trump administration but declined to comment on specific meetings.
The US still imports about 25% of its oil. The US Energy Information Agency said in a report out last month that imports of foreign oil grew by 7% in 2016 despite low oil prices in the US. America has squandered trillions of dollars and millions of lives protecting its access to foreign oil in the past 75 years. During his campaign, Trump thumped his chest and bellowed that the US would “become, and stay, totally independent of any need to import energy from the OPEC cartel or any nations hostile to our interests.” Since he was elected, not a word has come from his lips on the subject, however.
Today, oil accounts for 93% of the energy used by the US transportation sector. Smith would like to see that number slashed to 50% by 2040. He’s also promoting everything from electric batteries for passenger cars to natural gas for freight haulers. He hears all of Trump’s blather about American jobs but says, “If you want to grow faster, you have to address things like taxes and regulation, but you also have to address the energy inputs you need per unit” of gross domestic product.
White House spokeswoman Kelly Love said the administration had no immediate comment on SAFE, but Myron Ebell, the former head of Trump’s environmental transition team, said the fracking revolution has made the SAFE agenda, including its promotion of electric cars, unnecessary. “History has passed them by,” Ebell says dismissively.
To defend its access to oil from Middle East nations, the US still has 100,000 troops on constant alert says General James Conway, the retired Marine Corps. commandant who co-chairs SAFE with Smith. “We’ve seen low oil prices in the last two or three years, and people are buying sport utility vehicles at a record pace,” Conway said in an interview. “In a year or two, when prices go back up, the US will be more dependent on foreign oil than ever.”
People who have never been to war do not fear its consequences. Only those who have experienced its horrors know enough to avoid it. Trump has said publicly the US should “bomb the shit” out of ISIS. Smith and his coterie of former military leaders know that is not a reasonable or rational strategy.