Today the United States is once again ranked among the world’s major oil producers. Nearly 40 percent of our oil needs today are met by domestic production.
The bulk of our petroleum imports now comes from five countries: Canada, Mexico, Venezuela and Nigeria, with only 13 percent coming from the Persian Gulf region, mainly Saudi Arabia. Canada, with tremendous petroleum reserves, is by far our biggest provider. We now import as much oil from Africa, mainly Nigeria, as from the Middle East.
While we are producing more oil ourselves we are also pursuing a program of reduced dependence on petroleum itself as an energy source. And in addition to becoming more energy-efficient, the U.S. has expanded its domestic oil production sources over the past several years to include shale in North Dakota and other areas. Today we might wonder why we ever became so involved in the volatile Middle East in the first place.
On January 23, 1980 in the "Carter Doctrine," President Jimmy Carter declared, "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force." This ensured that Americans and their allies would not want for oil, but it also implied the Persian Gulf had become an American protectorate. Back then denying the West access to Gulf oil would have put the then-USSR in a position to strangle Europe, leaving the United States isolated and alone. But those days are long gone.
The events that first intensified America’s attention on the Middle East, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian Islamic revolution, are past history. Then why are we still there? We seem neither able to win a complete victory nor extract ourselves from this quagmire of dysfunction.
First, George W. Bush’s deposing of Saddam Hussein upset the region’s delicate balance of power. This was exacerbated by a lingering legacy and resentment among Muslim Arabs from almost a century of oppressive European colonialism.
Then there is the religious factor that few Americans could be expected to understand. The Muslim religion permeates every aspect of daily life here, public and private. There is also the violent Sunni-Shia conflict that has been going on for almost a millennium before there even was a United States. Added to this is a deep-seated Muslim resentment over the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state in 1948, Israel’s takeover of formerly Palestinian and Syrian territory captured in the 1967 War and the persistent Palestinian refugee problem. Can we do much about any of this? Apparently not.
The biggest security challenges we face today are no longer energy-related. They involve the possibility of rogue states acquiring nuclear capability. To preserve free access to oil and natural gas we should logically concentrate our efforts on the Western Hemisphere, not the Persian Gulf. Canada and Venezuela are far more vital to us today than Saudi Arabia and Iraq. But then there’s Trump’s buddy Putin meddling in the Syria-ISIS fiasco about which our NATO allies seem powerless to do anything on their own. And then there’s North Korea.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at email@example.com.