Does the U.S. Really Need Mideast Oil—or the Mideast—Anymore?

Since 2014 the U.S. has become the world’s “top oil and natural gas liquids” producer (2022: 19.1 million barrels per day). It even leads Saudi Arabia and Russia so it’s no longer dependent on Mideast oil.

When my husband and I were flying to Beirut, Lebanon to co-edit the English-language Daily Star, we noticed our tickets were paid by ARAMCO (since 1988, “Saudi Aramco,” then one of the world’s largest American oil companies. That was a factor the publisher somehow neglected to explain, along with the pro-West bias of this influential and major Arabic newspaper chain. Not long after, we took a bomb in the lobby that shook the building, but no one was killed.

Having then just departed from two years in Tulsa—he on the World, me, as a journalism professor—we were well aware of oil’s power and domination over Oklahoma, let alone the world. Because neither industries nor the military could last without oil—even before WWII—Allies and Axis nations then fought to seize and/or control the flow from Iran (650 billion barrels ) and pander for the rest from oil-rich Arab countries.

Today’s Department of Defense (DOD) requires at least an estimated annual 4.6 billion gallons of fuel  to cover its global military reach. Small wonder decades of Administrations and lawmakers have been unwilling, or downright frightened, to end the U.S. military’s dependence on the availability and prices of Mideast oil.

So from 2001 to at least 2019, wars in the Mideast and Asia have cost American taxpayers an estimated $6.4 trillion , not to mention millions of dead and wounded, environmental destruction, and millions from the Mideast seeking refuge in Europe. Not to count millions spent by the ferocious joint response of American oil producers and military contractors and their legendary use of election donations to influence both Congress and presidents. Add advertising “buys” to the mainstream-media—all vested interests as usual defending American (business) interests abroad.

Wars to Seize, Control Oil Supplies

The Pentagon’s insatiable fuel demands explain why the Bush Administration almost too quickly used 9/11 as an excuse to invade and occupy Iraq. The real motive was more to “secure” its oil fields and production than to overthrow Saddam Hussain and destroy his nonexistent weapons-of-mass-destruction. It also explains why Iran—with its vast oil reserves—has been sanctioned as a U.S. enemy and is constantly under presidential and Pentagon threats ultimately to seize them as well.

As for Syria, the Pentagon has supported the Kurds’ separation of northern Syria to “help” protect its oil fields supposedly against possible reappearance of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). That rationale has meant taxpayers unknowingly have spent millions to support 10 U.S. bases  (900 troops in Syria, 2,500 in Iraq ). They’ve only become aware of that factor because of recent rocket and drone attacks: 32 times in Iraq, 34 in Syria (70 casualties ) from anti-US militants allegedly supported by Iran.

The response seemingly has been a shocked “Why are our kids still there?”—and sitting ducks for local target practice. The official reason for U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria was the “enduring defeat” of ISIS . But that occurred five years ago. Those recent attacks resulted in three U.S. retaliatory air strikes  killing eight Iraqis, and an outraged Iraqi government (“…a clear violation of the coalition’s mission to combat [ISIS] on Iraqi soil”).

The bigger question now being raised, however, is whether the Administration and Pentagon even have a need for Mideast oil. This despite President Biden’s recent decision to permit $582 millions in weapon sales  to ingratiate this country once again to Saudi Arabia despite unneeded oil.

Or teaming earlier this month with Britain to use a blunderbuss against the Houthi “mosquito” guerillas attacking Red Sea shipping: Two massive retaliatory bombings by air and submarine of more than 28 mostly “militant” targets  along Yemen’s mountainous coast —and warnings of more to come  if the Houthis don’t stop. Never did the Biden Administration consider demanding shippers equip vessels with weapons and hiring “shot-gun” crews for protection. Nor are taxpayers likely to learn the raids’ cost from the Pentagon.

In today’s global uproar for a Gaza cease-fire, at least it’s now unlikely the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs or Biden will put American boots on the ground for Israel. They appear to be keeping their powder dry for the “pivot” to Asia, particularly China which will require massive shifts of personnel and war materiel from the Mideast. But quick exits from Vietnam and Afghanistan have demonstrated the Pentagon’s prowess in rapid-transfer logistics on short notice.

U.S. Is Now Top Global Producer of Oil and Natural Gas

The point is that the U.S. really is no longer dependent on Mideast oil. New drilling techniques such as fracking have made it possible to produce enough oil and gas domestically, as well as importing it abroad.

Millions of Americans probably are unaware that since 2014 the U.S. has become the world’s “top oil and natural gas liquids” producer  (2022: 19.1 million barrels per day).  It even leads Saudi Arabia and Russia.

To arrive at this point took Biden’s betrayal of millions of environmentally conscious voters of his March 2020 campaign promise  (“No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period, ends.”). What followed has been his steady approval of 6,430 new permits  for oil/gas drilling on public lands. He also revealed that 9,000 permits  previously issued to companies have yet to be used.

Four key signals have been afoot for months that U.S. decision-makers are planning a Mideast exit after Israel has “cleared” Gaza of Palestinians. The Yemen bombings may be the last hurrah of U.S. meddling in the Mideast. Such an historic, earthshaking shift of policy and subsequent monumental move could be immediately ahead—possibly before the presidential election.

Another telling exit signal is new resistance by American taxpayers to the Armed Services budget (FY24: $841.1 billion ) and endless wars, just demonstrated by Congressional Republicans  opposed to Ukraine spending in FY2024 and/or the Pentagon’s never-ending budgetary increases. Or hiding expenses by its sixth audit failure . Among the expenses revealed by the Pentagon’s inspector-general’s report to Congress was failure to track more than $1 billion  of “highly sensitive and sophisticated equipment and weaponry” to Ukraine.

Too, the Yemen attack without the Constitutional requirement of notifying Congress first brought dozens of lawmakers to the Capitol steps to object, echoing Rep. Cori Bush’s online protest of: “The people do not want more of our taxpayer dollars going to endless wars and the killing of civilians. Stop the bombing and do better by us.”

The Pentagon seems impervious even to possible budget cuts from Congress, illustrated by its latest cliffhanging decision over its allocation and future supplemental appropriations. And with good reason. The House did pass the initial FY 2024 bill by a whisker (218-210 ), then, a reassured temporary resolution (395-95 ). The Senate soon followed (87-11 ). Even in the Yemen attack, Pentagon officials’ influence over Biden  is such that his knowing the nation’s overwhelming mood opposes any more Mideast wars, he failed to go immediately on TV to explain this massive action.

A third signal of a U.S. departure is Saudi Arabia’s replacement effort  by seeking new oil customers in Africa and Asia. No fools about the loss of a major customer, its visionary decision makers have been have been working on an Oil Demand Sustainability Program  to:

“…promote oil-based power generation, deploy petrol and diesel vehicles… work with a global auto manufacturer to make a cheap car, lobby against government subsidies for electric vehicles, and fast-track commercial supersonic air travel.”

Influential Media Calls for a Mideast Departure

A fourth indication of a U.S. pullout is that increasing recommendation by influential publications seemingly based on clues perceived from the Biden Administration and Pentagon.

For example, a November op-ed in Foreign Affairs  strongly suggests the Administration needs a course correction in the Mideast, a rapid withdrawal of the Armed Forces to let the locals handle their affairs.

Jason Brownlee , in the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft newsletter, claims the Administration’s “prolonged… deployment” in the Mideast has been “driven by policy inertia more than strategic necessity.” The White House: “should scrap, not reinforce, America’s outdated and unnecessarily provocative troop presence in Syria and Iraq.” His firsthand observations of Taliban rule since the 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal, he wrote, showed the country finally had “internal stability” because political violence “plummeted by 80%” in the first year.

Military expert William D. Hartung  added that fears of other great powers filling a withdrawal vacuum were “overblown.” That:

 A more restrained strategy would provide better defense per dollar spent while reducing the risk of being drawn into devastating and unnecessary wars. The outlines of such an approach should include taking a more realistic view of the military challenges posed by Russia and China; relying on allies to do more in defense of their own regions; [and]… paring back the U.S. overseas military presence, starting with a reduction in basing and troop levels in the Middle East.

In the face-off against the monumental challenge of an uninhabitable planet, TIME magazine’s Alejandro de la Garza  noted even two years ago that:

 …the military cannot maintain its globe spanning presence and become carbon neutral at the same time. A sustainable military will have to be smaller, with fewer bases, fewer troops to feed and clothe, and fewer ships and airplanes ferrying supplies to personnel from Guam to Germany.

Leaving the Mideast carries the benefit of loosening the rigid thinking Pentagon leaders fixed on plotting wars to secure Arab and Iranian oil. Shifting plans for the Pacific Rim—North Korea and China—just might transform the Armed Forces into being smaller, fewer, and better. Especially removing our troops as moving targets in Iraq and Syria when we no longer need its oil, nor Iran’s. Trading and diplomatic policies could then lead the way instead of expending any more blood and taxpayers’ treasure on that region of the world.

Barbara G. Ellis, Ph.D, is the principal of a Portland (OR) writing/pr firm, a long-time writer and journalism professor, a Pulitzer nominee, and now an online free-lancer. Read other articles by Barbara.