Since the OPEC oil embargo of 1973 shocked our economy into a recession, access to oil has become one of the cornerstones of our national security agenda.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter made it clear that securing the flow of oil — especially from the Persian Gulf — was in “the vital interest of the United States of America,” and that we would defend that flow “by any means necessary, including military force. ” We’ve made good on that promise over and over, establishing dozens of military bases in the region and fighting two wars.
But our oil addiction goes beyond the military resources required to sustain access.
Our addiction requires us to build alliances with countries that would merit little of our attention otherwise. Many of these nations trample on the rights of their own citizens and secretly fund terrorist organizations. The U.S. looks the other way because those countries possess the wealth and influence afforded to them by their vast oil reserves.
The clearest example of the distorting effect oil has on our foreign policy is the relationship with Saudi Arabia, a country that:
- blatantly abuses human and women’s rights
- is the primary financial backer of the worldwide Sunni terrorist movement that murders thousands of people every year
- actively opposes U.S. efforts to promote democracy abroad.
Despite these transgressions, the State Department lists Saudi Arabia as a “strong partner” whose “friendship [is] important” to the United States. Reinforcing this point, the U.S. has five military bases established in the country. Our military helps train their armed forces and sells them billions of dollars’ worth of advanced weaponry every year. For a country whose goals at home and abroad are so different from our own, this seems a bizarre relationship at best, and a disturbing one at worst.
The fact that the U.S. has so many uneasy relationships with oil-producing nations underscores the fact that without oil, our entire economy would come to a cold stop. This makes oil a strategic commodity, meaning we must have access to it, or our entire way of life will be jeopardized.
FUEL FREEDOM AS ONE OF THE SOLUTIONS
Adding replacement fuels like ethanol, methanol, natural gas and electricity into the transportation sector could end our dependence on oil as the only transportation fuel for the majority of vehicles, and remove oil’s status as a strategic commodity. This would shift our foreign policy focus to other important issues, rather than forcing the U.S. to obsess over where the next barrel of oil is coming from.
Defending Oil Interests
The task of securing the global supply and transit of oil falls disproportionately to the U.S. military. Ultimately, the American taxpayers foot the bill for this protection.
RAND Corporation conducted a major study of U.S. national security costs related to oil in 2009, and its researchers found that the Pentagon could save some $83 billion annually in force reductions if we weren’t obligated to station troops in the Persian Gulf region to protect oil production and supply routes. Another $8 billion would be saved “from military operations that could be forgone.”
A more recent analysis suggested that the U.S. has wasted trillions of dollars in beefed-up military presence in the region over the past three decades, distracting our attention and resources away from other potential threats.
Roger Stern, an economic geographer at Princeton University, wrote in the April 2010 issue of the journal Energy Policy that the U.S. had spent about $7 trillion to secure oil in the Persian Gulf between 1976 and 2007. Over the next three years, that figure rose by another $1 trillion.
“The massive investment in Persian Gulf force projection essentially precludes U.S. ability to project force elsewhere,” he told Time magazine. “China understands this perfectly, even if we don’t.”
As the RAND study points out, where we import our oil from is irrelevant. Even if we produced all the oil we need domestically, we’d still be vulnerable to a global spike in prices. The threat of disruptions in supply, owing to instability across the Middle East, increases volatility in the worldwide oil market. About $300 billion leaves the U.S. every year to the oil-exporting nations, many of whom don’t share America’s values or are outwardly hostile to U.S. interests.
When there is a threat in the supply chain, too often the U.S. is forced to intervene. As Amory Lovins, a scientist and expert in the field of energy policy, puts it in the documentary PUMP: “Of course we have other interests in the region. It’s not all about oil, but it’s hard to believe that we would have fought a couple of wars there and sent lots of troops there if Kuwait just grew broccoli.”
FUEL FREEDOM AS ONE OF THE SOLUTIONS
The United States bears too much of the responsibility for security in the Middle East, just so the world can maintain access to reasonably priced oil. Without oil, our economy could not function, and our way of life would cease. By opening up our transportation market to replacement fuels such as ethanol, methanol, natural gas, and electricity, we will reduce our oil dependence and create an economy that isn’t run by oil. We will build a world where we don’t need to send our sons and daughters overseas to hostile places to ensure we have a steady supply of crude. That’s a war worth fighting.
Oil has a long history of funding terrorism, but Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, exploits it more efficiently than any of their murderous predecessors.
The Sunni extremist group, also known as ISIL, has financed its destructive march across eastern Syria and northern Iraq by seizing control of as many as 11 oil fields. ISIS then sells the oil to smugglers who transport it across the Iraqi-Turkish border. After the middlemen deduct their take for assuming the risk of transport, ISIS still receives between $25 and $60 per barrel, compared with the market rate of about $100.
According to an Associated Press story in mid-September , ISIS was raking in about $3 million in black-market oil revenue, giving it a larger war chest than “any other terrorist group in history,” a U.S. intelligence official said. ISIS brings in hundreds of millions more with its old-fashioned methods: extortion, theft, ransom from kidnappings, and donations from wealthy donors across the Middle East.
Stemming the worldwide flow of oil money to extremists is much more complicated than dealing with just one group, no matter how vicious:
- Qatar has long been accused of supporting a variety of terrorist organizations, including the Taliban, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. The assistance has come in the form of weapons, money and shelter for extremist leaders. The Qatari government also has been accused of looking the other way while outsiders come in to fund-raise for jihadists.
- Kuwait is the “epicenter of fund-raising for terrorist groups in Syria,” U.S. Treasury Undersecretary David S. Cohen said in March. Many say Kuwait, a U.S. ally whom the Americans liberated from Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War, turns a blind eye as wealthy benefactors funnel cash to extremist groups. Both Kuwait and Qatar are “permissive jurisdictions” for soliciting donations to Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS.
- Saudi Arabia has never fully escaped suspicion that it was involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, since 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. Saudi Arabia had long backed Sunni extremists. But King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz clearly sees ISIS as a threat to his country’s existence. In August the kingdom declared ISIS and its onetime parent organization, al-Qaeda, “enemy number one of Islam,” and the Saudis have agreed to allow its territory to be used as a base to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
- Iran’s partner in terrorism, Hezbollah, is responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other group except for al-Qaeda. Most Americans had not heard of the group before its truck-bomb attacks in Beirut in October 1983 that killed 241 American servicemen and 58 French. That came six months after the U.S. embassy in the city was bombed, killing 63 people, including 17 Americans. In the decades since, Hezbollah has murdered civilians all over the Middle East, and has helped Assad stay in power in Syria. And Iran continues to be Hezbollah’s benefactor. The West should take Hezbollah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah at his word when he declared, in 2003: “Death to America was, is and will stay our slogan.”
FUEL FREEDOM AS ONE OF THE SOLUTIONS
Introducing competition to oil would lower the price of a barrel of oil. That would severely restrict the flow of money from oil-exporting nations to the extremist groups that plot terrorist attacks against United States and other democracies.
If more of the vehicles we drive today could consume fuels other than gasoline, such as ethanol or compressed natural gas, the importance of oil would diminish. And the influence and power enjoyed by those who control the supply of oil would shrink as well.
As ISIS has shown, this isn’t just a theoretical argument anymore: Cutting into extremist groups’ bottom lines could severely restrict the scope of their operations. Without sufficient funding, their ability to commit deadly attacks would be severely curtailed.
Dependence on Foreign Oil
Our addiction to foreign oil leaves us vulnerable to changes in the international oil market. Because oil is bought and sold on this international market, a spike in prices or a loss of access due to events on the other side of the world affects us as well. This is especially problematic when you consider that the entire U.S. economy runs on oil. Without it, businesses wouldn’t be able to get their products to market, and people wouldn’t be able to get to work. It’s also important to remember that no matter how much we drill here in the United States, rising global demand keeps prices high; we import the price of oil. If we lost access to oil, or if prices became too high for us to afford, our entire way of life would grind to a halt.
However, even if we maintain current prices and access, or dependence pumps hundreds of billions of dollars out of our economy every year.
Last year, net petroleum imports added $232 billion to our national trade deficit — one-third of the total. That’s an unseemly amount of money leaving our country, when it could be used to spur economic development here at home. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, if oil maintains its virtual monopoly on transportation, this trend will only increase. By 2035, the oil imbalance will account for more than $10.5 trillion of our trade deficit, further harming U.S. employment and economic growth.
FUEL FREEDOM AS ONE OF THE SOLUTIONS
We can relieve our dependence on foreign oil and ensure that American dollars stay in America, by opening up our transportation system to fuel choice. Brazilians aren’t completely independent from foreign oil, but they don’t face the same problems because they can choose between ethanol and gasoline at the pump, depending on the current market price. Here in the United States, adding replacement fuels such as ethanol, methanol, natural gas and electricity to our vehicle fleet will reduce our need for foreign oil and put us in the driver’s seat when it comes to achieving energy security and keeping our money at home, where it belongs.