George Bush is prepared to spill American blood on the hot desert sands to safeguard a world economy that still runs on oil. He must stop Saddam Hussein, who hopes to control the flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf region by conquest or intimidation. This would permit him to set the world price.

The full destructive impact of another oil price explosion can be described simply: it would slam the brakes on the world economy, creating incalculable misery and mischief.

Clearly, it would be unconscionable to allow a ruthless megalomaniac such as Saddam to manipulate the world economy. Yet his coming was as visible as a sandstorm whirling on a desert horizon.

Our political leaders have known all along that the Persian Gulf was a powder keg that could blow the world economy apart. They were aware that some hothead from the dunes one day would ignite the combustibles. They anticipated that it would likely take American military forces to protect this volatile area.

Yet, our political leaders allowed this calamity to develop undeterred. They permitted our dependence on Persian Gulf oil to relentlessly increase. They failed to develop synthetic fuels or stimulate conservation programs. They hesitated to take the steps needed for damage control in case Persian Gulf oil should be cut off.

As a result of that neglect, oil is still the stuff that turns the wheels of industry, runs automobiles and heats homes. Before 1970, those people had been able to build on a foundation of low-cost energy. The supply expanded to meet any need and could be counted on. Easy, confident access to oil has produced the greatest improvement in living standards ever experienced.

Then came the oil price explosion of the early 1970s. The oil cartel, formally known as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, inflicted severe damage upon the world economy. It has amounted to a looting of the industrial world by inherently weak sheikdoms with bloated treasuries and tiny populations.

Why did our leaders allow this to happen? The oil sheiks formed an alliance with pressure groups that had a vested interest in high oil prices. Major oil companies, international banks and multinational corporations happily embraced the oil cartel. Together they mobilized to keep the price of crude in orbit.

Our leaders have had two decades to recover, but instead American dependence has become a debilitating addiction. Even as the oil flows in and the cash drains out, the United States is an energy paradise in its own right with the potential of thumbing its nose at the Persian Gulf. America produces 50 percent more natural gas than all the rest of the world combined. It also has the world's largest repository of coal.

This energy abundance should be siphoned into our automobiles, homes and factories to end the oil addiction. Compressed natural gas engines have already been developed that can make automobiles run. Equipment to convert an auto engine from gasoline to natural gas could be produced for a few hundred dollars per vehicle.

All Congress has to do is pass a simple law requiring all automobiles to convert to natural gas within a reasonable time period. Here is what that conversion would accomplish:

It would eliminate the need to risk American lives to protect the Persian Gulf.

It would wipe out the trade deficit.

It would help clear up smog in America's cities.

It would reduce the cost of energy. Natural gas is almost 50 percent cheaper than oil.

There is a rub -- the politics of oil. To protect their profits, most oil companies invest heavily in politicians, and that money can be decisive in an election.