The words “national security” evoke military images, but the most twitchy finger on the national-security trigger is that of politicians and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Whenever oil prices go up, it’s a matter of national security. Right?


The oil held in the reserve, in salt domes in Louisiana and Texas, is intended to be the nation’s reserve in case of catastrophic events - a disruption of oil supplies from a genuine national emergency. One of those, legitimately, was the disruption of supplies to refineries after the 2005 hurricanes; oil “borrowed” from the reserve eventually was replaced.

Now, the Obama administration has its twitchy finger on the national-security trigger, because of high gasoline prices. No, says the administration, it’s not because gasoline prices hurt President Barack Obama’s popularity - although one can imagine what kind of security crisis that inspires in administration officials.

The rationale is that disruption of oil supplies from turmoil in Libya and elsewhere, as well as the costs of gasoline to businesses - admittedly a drain on the national economic recovery - require release of 30 million barrels.

Other countries will release an additional 30 million barrels from reserves to boost the flagging growth in their economies.

It’s a thin “national security” rationale. Libya and Egypt are, of course, very small producers these days compared with the nations still pumping pleasantly along, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

The 30 million barrels are only a small part of the reserve, but the precedent is again made that domestic politics is what national security is all about.

Obama is making a mistake in defining down “national security” to the level of the gas pump.