The federal government’s energy policies offer the public ample insights of Washington’s shocking priorities. In examining these policies — particularly the current administration’s policies that force us to rely so heavily on foreign sources of oil — one very inconvenient truth emerges: Many politicians ascribe more value to the interests of environmentalists than the safety of our men and women in uniform. And lately, this group has been anything but candid with the public when discussing the true cost Americans pay at the pump.
It is easy to calculate the retail price increase for a gallon of gasoline since President Obama’s inauguration — it has more than doubled. What is more difficult to calculate are the additional costs Americans incur through the federal government’s use of our treasure to promote “stability” in oil markets. These investments, which amount to an enormous subsidy for world oil markets, and thus benefit our economic competitors, include not only trillions of dollars, but also American blood.
Since World War II, securing access to the energy resources required to advance our economic and defense interests has been a central concern among America’s national security managers. This objective became highly visible through President Jimmy Carter’s articulation of the so-called Carter Doctrine, which placed the free movement of Middle East oil among America’s foremost national interests. Henceforth, the U.S. has spent massive sums on diplomatic programs and military operations to foster political stability in the Arab world. In other words, to deter oil supply disruptions in the global marketplace so as to achieve relative price stability.
Apart from kinetic operations in the region, we have spent vast amounts on securing oil infrastructure and transit routes. According to a recent study published by an economic geographer at Princeton University, the cost of keeping our aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf from 1967-2007 exceeded $7 trillion. As the primary purpose of these patrols in the Gulf is to secure oil shipments, and as the U.S. is by no means the primary consumer of oil harvested in the Middle East, arguments that this does not constitute a tremendous subsidy for world oil markets are hard to defend.
Still, this is only a portion of our expenditures in this area of activity. In examining such operations more broadly, analysis conducted by The RAND Corporation indicates some 12-15 percent of the FY 2009 U.S. defense budget — more than $80 billion — was spent securing oil concerns in the Middle East. Given the recent escalation in tensions with Iran, it is likely this type of spending has risen since. By policing the region in this manner we have ultimately guaranteed uninterrupted revenue flows for states like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Of course, proceeds from Gulf States’ oil sales have been used to promote ideologies that have manifest a worldwide trend of violent anti-American extremism, which has generated additional requirements for U.S. defense spending. This, however, is not the only unintended consequence of such policies.
Much like previous administrations, the current administration is putting us in Beijing’s debt in order to pursue expensive operations which enhance not only our, but, concomitantly, China’s ability to access oil in the Gulf. This, as Chinese oil consumption is driving up the prices Americans are paying at the pump.
Meanwhile, it is important to note that there remains another cost associated with our dependence on foreign oil which is virtually impossible to calculate: Vulnerability — as in our current policy of relying on foreign oil imports renders us highly vulnerable to the effects of any sudden supply interruptions. And it is this vulnerability that policy makers have forced on us which perpetuates the persistent need to spend your money to advance U.S. interests in the Middle East.
The unavailability of official data pertaining to the financial and other costs we incur to protect Mideast oil is quite convenient for policy makers in Washington. Yet even without firm figures for these costs one is able to discern how relying more on oil that is available in our own backyard will, in aggregate, deliver savings for taxpayers while reducing the need to put Americans in harm’s way.
Put simply, importing oil impacts the national security of the United States — and the net impact is not positive. And without a strategic pivot that replaces the emphasis on pursuing price stability with an emphasis on doing more to ensure our access is less easily interruptible, we will continue to unnecessarily risk the health of our economy.
Inasmuch as we should pursue innovative technologies that may reduce our dependence on fossil fuels we should also pursue policy innovations that can drastically reduce the actual costs of petroleum products Americans will continue to consume for the foreseeable future.
One such innovation should be an executive order that expands availability of permits for American companies to pursue new extraction opportunities here in the U.S. Another should be an executive order to approve construction of the entire Keystone XL pipeline extension, along with other pipelines that will expand our access to oil harvested in Canada, where we find a much more stable and friendly political atmosphere than in the Middle East and Latin America. Additionally, the president and Congress should offer incentives for the developments of new refineries in the U.S.Unlike the energy solutions which the Obama administration has squandered billions of taxpayer dollars on, these actions will pay dividends. They will generate short-term and long-term jobs, as well as substantial growth in a critical sector of our economy. These actions will also bolster our economic security by substantially diminishing the abilities of foreign actors to reduce America’s access to a resource that has become the lifeblood of our economy.
It is truly dishonest for the president not to address the total price we pay for our dependence on foreign oil when discussing U.S. energy policy with the public. Furthermore, given his often-stated interest in reducing America’s military footprint in the Middle East, it is rather ironic that President Obama does not seem to grasp that increased access to oil in our own region will reduce the need for our military presence there.
Maj. Gen. James E. Livingstone (USMC, retired), a Mount Pleasant resident, is a Medal of Honor recipient.