What the President Meant to Say

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, February 2, 2006; 12:42 PM

The most memorable portion of President Bush's otherwise largely forgettable State of the Union address Tuesday night was his call for America to break its addiction to oil from the Middle East.

But it turns out maybe we should forget that, too.

Kevin G. Hall writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "One day after President Bush vowed to reduce America's dependence on Middle East oil by cutting imports from there 75 percent by 2025, his energy secretary and national economic adviser said Wednesday that the president didn't mean it literally.

"What the president meant, they said in a conference call with reporters, was that alternative fuels could displace an amount of oil imports equivalent to most of what America is expected to import from the Middle East in 2025. . . .

"Asked why the president used the words 'the Middle East' when he didn't really mean them, one administration official said Bush wanted to dramatize the issue in a way that 'every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands.' The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he feared that his remarks might get him in trouble."

H. Josef Hebert writes for the Associated Press that Bodman and Hubbard "struggled Wednesday in an attempt to explain what Bush had meant by 'replacing' Middle East oil. . . .

"On Wednesday, Hubbard and Bodman acknowledged that Persian Gulf oil may, in fact, not be replaced at all, even if overall oil imports were to drop because of the increased availability of alternative motor fuels."

Here is the text of Bodman and Hubbard's briefing.

Troubles Ahead

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "The energy proposals set out on Tuesday by President Bush quickly ran into obstacles on Wednesday, showing how difficult it will be to take even the limited steps he supports to reduce the nation's reliance on foreign oil. . . .

"Democrats said Mr. Bush had opposed foreign oil reduction targets in last year's energy bill, and Republicans questioned the practicality of relying on ethanol and other alternatives.

"Scientifically, researchers said ethanol and other alternative fuels were still years away from widespread commercial use.

"Economically, energy analysts said Mr. Bush's goal of reducing Mideast oil imports would have little practical benefit because oil was traded in world markets and its price was determined by global supply and demand, rather than bought from one country by another."

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