27 April 2009

An Uncommon View on MidEast Oil

People tend to assume that America is too dependent on the MidEast for oil. This is also assumed to be a bad thing because American policies often conflict with MidEast policies (imagine it's an homogeneous block for a moment) on pretty much every point. Things like "being there" and "not leaving" for example.

The general train of thought is that America should not be sending money to "our enemies" in the MidEast because they just use it to undermine our power, destroy our alliances, and even attack our homeland. This is an especially powerful argument because, well, we do send them money and they do use it as a resource to fight us. However, taking the step of declaring that to be such a bad thing that we should no longer buy oil from the MidEast is, in my opinion, unjustifiable.

The DIME (diplomacy, information, military, economic) is an old mnemonic which helps one to think about situations like this. Any conflict involves, or at least could involve, these four factors. For example, America has very little understanding of MidEast language and culture (diplomacy). America also suffers from a significant lack of good intelligence regarding the goings on of the area (information). What we do have is a strong military presece and relatively strong economic ties.

The thing is that economic ties go both ways. There would be no trade without two parties and two different items of value. The MidEast has too much oil and not enough money; America has too much money and not enough oil. So we trade, and we both get something we want. When people complain about the MidEast using the money it gets from us to fund projects contrary to our interests they always fail to mention that we use the oil we get from them to fuel projects contrary to their interests. That is the nature of competition. Two entities finding all of their interests aligned is. . .unusual.

If we stopped buying oil from the MidEast, leaving aside for a moment the question of where we would make up the difference, what would happen? I propose that the MidEast would sell it to all the other countries which are interested in using more oil. Additionally, with the United States leaving the market the price of oil would drop, which would mean the numerous less-wealthy countries would be able to buy up what was available. Yes, it's a simplification, but it is not the important part. With the US and the MidEast no longer economically involved with each other at all, there would be very little incentive for the two to get along. At the moment we depend on each other (to a certain extent), so there is an incentive to keep things from spiraling out of control. But that incentive is primarily economic.

This is similar to the situation America is in with regards to China. The two are so closely intertwined economically that they cannot afford to disagree too severely.

I propose that the solution to the situation is exactly the opposite of the common "wisdom." The US should become more closely intertwined with the MidEast so that we gain even more control over their actions. Isolation from the MidEast will only lead to a situation in which they really do not care what they do to us, because they are not dependent on us in any way. At the moment we buy their oil, thus proping up their authoritarian governments, which in turn keep the population somewhat in check. If their governments were free of our influence, and yet still in need of a scapegoat for the misguided anger of their blood-feuding populations, they could easily encourage acts contrary to American interests that they would have discouraged previously. Since this is exactly what we do not want, we should not cut the one significant tie we have with the MidEast, and in fact we should strengthen it.

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