Last night the president uncorked what to casual ears might have seemed an ambitious and inspirational proposal :

Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.

"75% of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025." Hmm. As usual, the closer you look at the language, the more hedged you realize it is.

There are two basic problems with the goal — aside from the unlikeliness of Bush competently following up on it, that is.

First: Just under 24% of our oil imports are from the Persian Gulf (Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates). Canada is our biggest supplier, followed by Mexico. There are only three Middle Eastern countries in the top 10, and Saudi Arabia alone accounts for 15 of those 24%.

Oil imports constitute somewhere around 60% of our oil use, so Persian Gulf oil amounts to around 14% of our total oil use. Cutting that 14% by 75% would amount to reducing our overall oil consumption by 10.5%

That what Bush’s grand energy initiative amounts to: A reduction of U.S. oil consumption by 10.5% over 19 years. That’s really the best he thinks we can do?

Second: What are the chances that our 10.5% reduction will come solely out of imports from the Middle East? And if it does … so what?

A 10% drop in U.S. consumption over 19 years is unlikely to lower the price of oil. Demand is surging in China and India, and supply will likely plateau within that time frame anyway, keeping prices sky high. In other words: If we won’t buy the Middle East’s oil, someone else will. Lots of people are going to want the remaining oil, badly. Middle Eastern autocracies are unlikely to lose their power as long as they’ve got oil.

The only way I see that we could make the Middle East’s oil worthless — and thus spur democratic transformation, so the theory goes — is by reducing our demand substantially and quickly, enough to affect the world market. And if we pulled it off, we’d have to resist the temptation to go back to the same teat once the stuff is cheap again..

So: Replacing "more than 75% of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025" is unlikely to markedly change our energy situation or the political dynamic in the Middle East.

More succinctly: Big whoop.