Once again, the US is saber-rattling in the Persian Gulf. Administration officials are spoon feeding the media with rumors of military action against Syria. In an interview with the BBC, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said President Barack Obama was “ready to go” if military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad was deemed necessary. But is it necessary? History has shown us that sometimes military action is necessary; but it has also shown us, especially in this region of the world, that military action is not necessary and is sometime counterproductive. Yet, the White House seems determined to shoot first and ask questions later. Could oil, once again, be at the root of US foreign policy? You bet your barrel!
Syria ranks among the smallest oil producing nations in the Middle East, with International Energy Agency data listing the country as 32nd among global oil producers. However, with instability already roiling the region and raising widespread fears about supply, analysts say a new conflict could further poison the dynamic in the region and trigger new tensions. This is doubletalk for “We can’t risk having anything disrupt the flow of oil.” Just the talk of military action sent oil prices skyrocketing to a 2 year high which added several billion dollars to the coffers of nations like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and — ironically — Syria. The irony does not stop there. The entire situation and even the threat of war could be prevented if the US would simply change its energy policy.
General Wesley Clark knows a bit about war, having served as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO form 1997 to 2000. Clark also knows a bit about politics and economics, as a Rhodes Scholar with a degree in politics and economics. He knows a bit about energy, having joined Growth Energy, the nation’s leading ethanol advocate. According to Clark, the US currently shells out $800 billion annually to the oil industry to import crude oil into the US. Most of this money comes from you and me, the folks who drive cars and trucks and who pay $3, or $4, or $5 a gallon, depending on the level of political and military tension in the Middle East. “That represents 2% of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product,” said Clark. “If we kept that money here in the US, it would generate 8 million new jobs.”
The truly sad part is that we could keep a good deal of that money at home if we simply changed our energy policy and opened our oil monopoly market to renewable energy. Despite what you have heard, the fact is the US ethanol industry could provide a significant portion of our nation’s transportation fuel without hurting our food supply, ruining our environment, or blowing up our vehicles. Those are all lies that have been propagated by the oil industry since 2008.
The reason the US has not moved more quickly toward using more renewable fuel is simple: big oil interests don’t want us to. It is not that these giant international corporations would lose money, they could make just as much money by refining and blending renewable fuel; it is they would lose control. Currently, they control the price, the market access, even the local retailer who sells the gasoline. They also enjoy enormous political power which has allowed them to arrange tax loopholes that bring them billions in profits.
Standing in the shadows behind big oil is another group that also benefits from the world monopoly on oil. “Russia needs $100 a barrel oil; Saudi Arabia needs $100 a barrel oil,” said Gen Clark during a recent media briefing. Unlike the US, in most other nations, the oil is owned by the government which depends on those billions of US dollars to run the nation.
As the media drumbeat toward war continues, the price of crude oil will continue to rise and the price at the pump will skyrocket overnight. While in Washington, the oil lobby will continue to pressure Congress to dismantle the Renewable Fuel Standard and keep renewable fuel on the sidelines. If the worst comes to pass and history repeats itself, US blood will be spilled on Middle East sand to protect big oil’s monopoly and to feed our costly addiction to imported oil.
By Gary Truitt