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U.S. Quest for Oil Drives Dangerous Foreign Policy

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Nov. 15, 2004

U.S. Quest for Oil Drives Dangerous Foreign Policy

Interview with Michael Klare, director of the Peace and World Security Studies program, at Hampshire College, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio:

Whether or not one believes that Iraq's oil is a fundamental reason for the U.S. war there, it's undeniable that U.S. access to cheap Middle Eastern oil has been essential to powering the American and world economies.

Professor Michael Klare is director of the Peace and World Security Studies program at Hampshire College in Massachusetts and an authority on foreign policy and national security. His newest book is titled, "Blood and Oil: The dangers and consequences of America's petroleum dependency" in which he delineates the key role of oil in guiding U.S. foreign policy in the past and present. "Ultimately," he writes, "the cost of oil will be measured in blood: the blood of American soldiers who die in combat, the blood of the many other casualties of oil-related violence, including the victims of terrorism."

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with professor Klare about the historical links between access to imported oil and U.S. foreign policies, and why he believes it is essential for the U.S. to separate energy policy from its security commitments.

MICHAEL KLARE: The history of U.S. involvement over international oil began in World War II, when President Roosevelt determined that the United States ? which up until that time had been the worldís largest producer of petroleum ? was going to begin to run out of its own oil after the end of World War II. And he was very worried about the fact that weíd become more dependent on foreign oil. So he decided that the U.S. had to have a protectorate of sorts over Saudi Arabia, which he saw as the major future supplier of Americaís oil. Weíd have to have a military alliance there so the U.S. could protect the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. So it was Roosevelt who established the U.S. alliance with the Saudi Arabian royal family, and that alliance has been nurtured by every U.S. president since. And it has been U.S. policy to back up the royal family and protect it by providing arms and ammunition and military advisers, and when necessary, U.S. troops. The first Persian Gulf war really started when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, and President Bush Sr. told the country on Aug. 8 of that year that the U.S. had a vested interest in Saudi Arabia and we would use military force if need be to protect Saudi Arabia. That was the beginning of Desert Storm.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You say in your book that one way out of this predicament of depending on a finite resource is to separate energy policy from our security commitments. How do you think the U.S. can get to that point?

MICHAEL KLARE: Certainly, we canít do that if we keep on consuming more and more imported petroleum, which is the case now. Under the Bush-Cheney energy plan announced in 2001, the U.S. is destined to rely ever-increasingly on imported petroleum, especially from the Middle East. If thatís the path we follow, then weíre going to have very little freedom in the matter. The only way to reduce our embrace of the Saudi royal family is to reduce our need for oil, and that means being much more prudent in our daily use of petroleum, by driving less miles or choosing vehicles that are more fuel efficient. And only in that way will have the freedom of action to say no to the royal family when they say, do this or do that or come here or send over troops to protect U.S. Thatís really the only way.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I just saw part of a movie about oilÖ I think most Americans think of oil thatís converted to gasoline to run vehicles, or used in power plants. But the movie talked about how oil powers farm machinery to plant and harvest crops, and fertilizer is petroleum-based, and then the crops are transported to consumers in oil-dependent vehicles. And then of course plastics are made from oil and it goes on and on. Reducing its use would change our whole culture.

MICHAEL KLARE: This is true. We are very heavily dependent on petroleum for a wide range of economic activities. But about 70 percent of our oil usage is for transportation. That includes mainly cars, trucks and buses, but also airplanes and ships and diesel railroads, but mostly itís vehicles. So itís in that 70 percent where we really have to concentrate if weíre going to reduce our dependence on petroleum. Itís going to be much harder to reduce our other uses, which include home heating as well -- a very important part, especially in New England, where I am, most home heating is provided by heavy oil. Thatíll be hard to cut back on, and we do, as you say, use a lot of oil in agriculture and petrochemicals. So we can do some conservation there, but the biggest amounts of conservation is going to have to come in vehicles, because thatís where you really can make a difference. If we drive vehicles that are twice as fuel-efficient as the ones weíre driving now, on average, weíd need half as much petroleum as we use.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Weíve talked about a lot of negative trends. Do you see anything that is moving things in the right direction?

MICHAEL KLARE: Well, itís hard to find positives, because there are so many negatives. We havenít spoken about the environment, for example, but itís very clear that all of the oil weíre consuming ? burning it up and pumping out the carbon dioxide through the exhausts of our cars ? is contributing to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and speeding the global climate change that weíve been hearing about. So thatís certainly going to be forcing U.S., as we go into the future and the climate deteriorates -- thatís going to force U.S. to make substantial changes in our behavior. Thereís no doubt in my mind about that. And I do think that young people in my classes -- my students, undergraduates in their late teens and early twenties -- are much more aware of this than older generations are, because theyíre well aware that theyíre going to be on this planet another 50 years or so, and if we donít change our behavior now, the environment is going to be much worse in 50 years than it is today. So I think theyíre going to be the agents of change in this area.

For more information, call the Peace and World Security Studies program at Hampshire College, (413) 559-5367 or visit their website at


Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Nov. 12, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.



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