Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, had a saying: "The Americans cannot do a damned thing." Tehran has tested that proposition time and again -- conspiring, over three decades, to kill Americans in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan.
Now we have learned of a plot to launch terrorist attacks on American soil. One hesitates to imagine the consequences if, after this, we allow Khomeini's heirs to acquire nuclear weapons. No one will be able to say we were not warned.
Lessons? Short term, Iran must be made to pay a price. The sanctions implemented so far have been only a shot across the bow. There is more that can be done economically. In addition, the millions of Iranians who oppose the theocratic regime should be supported and empowered. There are other painful measures we can take. We need to make clear that all of them are very much on the table.
Longer term, we need to finally recognize that Iran and other self-proclaimed jihadi regimes and groups are waging a war -- a real war, not a metaphoric war. In response, America's economic policies must become national security policy. As Bernie Marcus, the entrepreneur who founded the Home Depot recently said: "If the country is not strong economically, we can't be strong period."
Energy policy also must become national security policy. Right now, 97 percent of all transportation systems in the United States can run only on petroleum-based products. That makes oil a strategic commodity, one whose price is manipulated by OPEC, a conspiracy in restraint of trade dominated by Iran and other regimes hostile to America.
If transportation fuel were more abundant and cheaper, that would weaken Iran and OPEC while strengthening both our economy and national security. How do we get there from here?
Most immediately: Re-open the Gulf of Mexico to oil production. In 2010, following an offshore drilling rig explosion, the federal government instituted a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf. It was essential to find out whether other rigs were at risk. Once that question was answered, the moratorium was lifted -- in theory. In fact, the Interior Department has been refusing to issue permits for offshore operations.
David Holt, president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, a pro-energy advocacy group, calculates that 200,000 jobs have been killed as a result, and that another 380,000 are threatened. Re-opening the Gulf for energy production, he said, would "create thousands of new jobs in nearly every state across the country, spur economic growth and enhance our national security."
The Gulf is not the only area where vast amounts of energy are waiting to be tapped. New technologies, such as "horizontal drilling" and hydraulic fracturing, have made it possible to recover vast amounts of oil and natural gas from the Bakken oil fields of Montana and North Dakota, and the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian Basin.
But when Harold Hamm, the discoverer of the Bakken oil fields, recently told President Barack Obama about "the revolution in the oil and gas industry and how we have the capacity to produce enough oil to enable America to replace OPEC," Obama was dismissive, saying that within five years there will be batteries that will allow cars to get the equivalent of 130 miles a gallon.
In other words, America's energy, economic and national security policies boil down to this: waiting for the development of new, improved batteries that can be used in electric vehicles that we hope will replace the existing fleet of gasoline-powered internal combustion engines, thereby reducing the funding we are providing our sworn enemies at some point in the future. That's like dealing with a house on fire by waiting for a blizzard.
As part of this hope-for-change policy, the Obama administration also has been stalling on approvals for the Keystone pipeline, a privately funded project that will bring oil to the United States from the tar sands of Western Canada, creating 20,000 jobs with no taxpayer money. And the White House has spent no political capital pushing for an inexpensive modification of new automobiles that would allow motorists to fill their tanks not only with gasoline but with a variety of liquid fuels that can be made from natural gas, coal, urban garbage, agricultural waste and such crops as sugarcane.
Making policy is challenging when progress on one front means losing ground on another. But right now a single set of policies could strengthen us economically and make us more secure. What we need are leaders willing to demonstrate that Khomeini was wrong: Americans can do a damned thing.
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org