“Just such odd circumstances seem to provide us with suitable personnel…”–Alec Guinness, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (1979)

When I was a young Army lieutenant at Fort Belvoir, Va., in the early days of the Vietnam War, I lived off-post in interservice military housing on the nearby Quantico Marine base. Each morning, while driving to my duties as a supply officer, I’d fill my tank at gasoline service stations, where the price of regular was 19.9 cents per gallon.

I drove an older model car in those days, and 19.9 cents seemed fair to me–especially with a wife and two young children to support. Thus, I barely gave it a thought. However, I’ve thought about it a lot the last few months with gas prices soaring from coast to coast.

In mid-February, regular gas cost an average of $3.50 per gallon. The average, today, is $3.84 to $4.19 in the New York City area, $4.49 in Washington, D.C., and a whopping $5.09 in Los Angeles. These prices heavily impact millions of family budgets.

Now the operative question: With President Barack Hussein Obama’s approval ratings sinking and Republicans hammering him over rising gas prices, will his re-election prospects be impacted? The startling increases are on Obama’s watch, and as my Army service taught me, a unit leader is credited when things go right and is blamed when they go wrong.

It’s clear that higher and higher gas prices will be a key issue in the campaign for president this summer. Whether Obama is opposed by Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum, you know they will hit the issue hard. Indeed, with the price of oil having doubled under Obama, gas prices could turn out to be the president’s Achilles’ heel.

Notwithstanding Newt Gingrich’s blue-sky assertion that, as president, he’d get gas prices reduced to $2.50 per gallon, high prices are really bad news for Obama. When he was sworn in three years ago, regular was $1.84-per-gallon. Can you believe it?

And according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, his signature legislation, Obamacare, is now estimated to cost $1.7 trillion through 2022–more than twice the $940 billion originally forecast. Furthermore, unemployment was 7.8 percent when Obama took office, and it’s 8.3 percent today–but those are stories for another day.

Recent polling indicates that 89 percent of Americans are concerned about higher gas prices and 50 percent feel the Obama administration is not doing enough to address the situation.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the Wall Street Journal in 2008, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.” Huh? What? Can you believe it?

Last week, Chu backed away from his goofball desire for America to emulate European gas prices when they were about $8 per gallon–which would have been a recipe for disaster. A recent analysis by CNN revealed that regular gas cost $4.55 per gallon in Spain, $5.35 in Portugal and $5.96 in Italy.

For three years, the Obama administration has not increased domestic oil exploration and distribution while investing in ultra-expensive solar energy failures such as Solyndra. In addition to turning down the Keystone XL pipeline, the president has approved fewer oil leases and permits on federal lands and short-stopped drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Earlier this month, Obama said: “Oil is the fuel of the past, and America must invest in the technology that will help us use less oil in our cars and our trucks.” Thus, he echoed the ill-advised comments of Chu, who told a House committee the current administration has no policy on higher gas prices–except to let them rise. Hmm…

And how do Americans feel about paying through the nose to fill their tanks? Here’s a sampling of some recent letters to the editor published in daily newspapers:

“The expected price of $5 per gallon by the summer made me realize why all these bike lanes have sprouted in every neighborhood…President Obama will soon be photographed riding a bike with his thumb to his nose and telling us it’s not his fault.”

“The White House press secretary’s response for the soaring gas prices is ‘pressure’ from the Republicans to approve the Keystone pipeline. The real reason for the delay is because of the election–the ‘blame game’ continues so Obama can look good.”

“The president keeps talking a good game about a comprehensive solution to our energy problem, but he continues to leave out plans for any real expansion of nuclear productivity or increase in drilling.”

“It’s funny how the Obama administration insists that the president has no responsibility over gas prices, yet in 2008, the media and Obama railed on Bush. My, how times have changed.”

“Beware of the Ides of March and beware of the national average price of gas surging past $4 per gallon. This is a serious threat to our national security, yet the government acts like it’s powerless to the whims of Big Oil.”

Finally, how’s this for live TV news? Last month, ABC-TV reporter Cecilia Vega was reporting at a downtown Los Angeles gas station for “World News Tonight” when, on camera, prices on the sign behind her increased from $4.99 for regular to $5.09. “It’s almost too unbelievable to believe,” she said.

Gentlemen, start your engines.