How war forced the United States to rethink the politics of oilRoundup
tags: Middle East, oil, US History
Chris Dietrich is associate professor of history and director of American studies at Fordham University and is the author of "Oil Revolution."
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.
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