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How War Forced the United States to Rethink the Politics of Oil

How war forced the United States to rethink the politics of oil

Humanosity says…The long and checkered history of Western intervention in the Middle East has been predicated on the premise of ensuring the supply of oil. However this article from the Washington Post details how the massive expansion of production in the US is causing a rethink of the politics of oil

When drone and missile attacks bombarded two Saudi Arabian oil facilities recently, the response from the Trump administration was fast and furious. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted that Tehran was behind the “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.” According to the administration, the attack was nothing less than an affront to the global economy and international law and order — and Iran would be held accountable.

Such a bellicose, locked-and-loaded approach to protecting oil interests is a relic of the past, one unlikely to lead to peace and stability. While the United States in the 20th century made global oil central to its security and power, recent decades should shake loose the notion that citing oil insecurity as a rationale for war is a wise choice.

One reason this idea endures is that anxiety about the stability of “global oil” has pervaded U.S. political culture since the middle of the 20th century. One great lesson of World War II was that “in war or peace, the United States has only one oil barrel,” as Interior Secretary Harold Ickes told Congress in 1945. Oil had been central to fighting the war, and by 1945 it had also transformed global transportation. A new system of fields, pipelines, tankers, refineries, fueling stations and bases emerged under U.S. control, ready to fuel the nation’s postwar security and economic prosperity. The new U.S. refinery and pipeline network laid end-to-end would reach “from New York to Yokohama via the sea route through Suez and Singapore,” Ralph Davies, an oil executive turned government official, told a Senate committee in 1945.

Ensuring an inexpensive and stable supply of global oil, largely from the Persian Gulf, became crucial to U.S. authority in the Cold War. From European reconstruction to the emergence of Asian allies as laboratories of capitalist success, oil from the Middle East was a necessary element of the American world-building project. At home, the celebration of energy-intensive abundance fanned out into all aspects of U.S. culture, from muscle cars to electric appliances to manicured suburbs. The prodigious use of oil was “the identifying feature of modern civilization,” said a 1968 pamphlet from the Interior Department.

That civilization depended on Middle East oil and, as one State Department official put it, oil was “a resource of the world.” In the generation after World War II, U.S. control over global oil became central both to the country’s national security and to the success of capitalism at home and abroad. Prices remained low and supply stable in the 1950s and 1960s, and Washington supported American-owned multinational companies by creating new markets, passing domestic tax breaks and supporting property rights.

For the most part, the U.S. government limited its direct role in securing global oil in the Middle East. But that changed in the late 1960s when Britain withdrew from its stations east of Suez, creating a regional vacuum that the United States sought to fill with arms sales to the “twin pillars” of Saudi Arabia and, especially, Iran. Despite their close ties to the United States, after the 1969 Libyan revolution, that pro-US “moderates” worked closely with “radicals” in Libya, Iraq and Algeria to gain control over the production and price of oil. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) emerged as an important global force, and the oil nations wrested control over oil from the multinational companies in 1971.

The era of cheap and stable oil under U.S. control was coming to an end. In the Arab-Israeli war of October 1973, Arab oil-producing nations responded to U.S. support for Israel by imposing an embargo on oil sales to the United States. The crisis became full-blown when the other OPEC countries — including Iran, which took a lead role despite U.S. pleas — seized the opportunity to increase the price of oil fourfold…..

Click here to read the full article at www.washingtonpost.com

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