War in Iran. Gasoline rationing. A military draft. A Chinese takeover of Taiwan. Double-digit inflation and unemployment. The draining of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
This is where current energy policy is leading us, a nightmare scenario played out as a policymaking exercise in Washington on Thursday by a group of former top government officials portended.
Two bipartisan business-supported groups sponsored an elaborately staged role-playing game called Oil ShockWave that tried to dramatize the impact of US dependence on oil imported from unstable and unfriendly parts of the world.
The organizers have an agenda: They hope to prompt Congress to act on energy legislation and to push the issue into the presidential campaign.
The game was set in the spring and summer of 2009, under a new administration that has inherited current energy policy. The match that ignited the conflagration was US$150-a-barrel oil, brought on first by instability in Central Asia and then a military and political confrontation with Iran and Venezuela.
The president's senior advisers -- played by former White House aides, military leaders and Cabinet officers -- met urgently to try to fashion advice for the president to cope with the political, economic, social and military effects of the oil shock. The president, of unspecified party affiliation, remained offstage throughout but was consistently referred to as "he."
The group was led by the national security adviser, played by Robert Rubin, secretary of the Treasury during much of the Clinton administration. At one point, weighing a variety of unpleasant options, Rubin said in near despair: "This wouldn't be this big a problem if the political system a few years ago had dealt with these issues."
Carol Browner, the Democratic former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who played the secretary of energy, chimed in: "Year in and year out, it has been difficult to get a serious energy policy."
She and others noted that previous Congresses failed to act on auto mileage standards, efficiency measures and steps to replace foreign sources of oil.
Michael McCurry, Clinton's former press secretary, who played a senior counselor to the fictional new president, said that energy issues were barely discussed in next year's campaign.
That is the moral of the story, the organizers said.
Congressional inaction and political inattention could lead to dire, yet completely foreseeable consequences.
"Once a crisis actually hits, policy tools are largely ineffectual," said Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, one of the sponsors of the event. "The participants recognized that Congress has to get out in front on oil security before events overtake it."
The other sponsor was Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE), an action-oriented group committed to reducing the nation's dependence on oil.
It is led by Frederick Smith, the chairman of FedEx and retired general P.X. Kelley, former commandant of the Marine Corps.
Both groups have issued numerous reports on US oil policy and have urged Congress to act quickly to reduce the demand for oil, increase supplies from reliable sources and reduce economic dependence on fossil fuels.
Thursday's exercise, the organizers acknowledged, was a bit of a stunt to publicize the issues and nudge Congress and the presidential candidates.