To be charitable, you could argue that the candidate was just trying to call attention to the fact that instability in the Persian Gulf--ahem, even when U.S. war actions contribute to it--risks the supply as well as the price of petrol required by American consumers. OK, that's fair comment. Energy supply is going to be a major issue in the Obama-McCain presidential contest. But in singling out "oil from the Middle East" in discussing America's energy dependence, Obama came uncomfortably too close to exploiting American misunderstandings and fears of Arabs and Muslims for some cheap political post-9/11 gain.
Part of the problem with what Obama said is that it's based on one of the false premises behind the notorious "sinister Arab" stereotype. In fact, the Middle East is not the main supplier of oil to the U.S.
Far from it. According to the U.S. government's official statistics for 2007, the U.S. imports 13.4 million barrels per day. That's 58% of its total consumption. Of that, only 2.1 million barrels per day, or 15% of imports, comes from the Middle East. Looking at total American consumption, including the oil produced in the U.S. itself, only 9% of America's oil is provided by the five Persian Gulf countries that export to the U.S., Saudi Arabia (1.4 million b/p/d), Iraq (0.5 million b/p/d), Kuwait 0.18 million b/p/d), United Arab Emirates (0.01 million b/p.d) and Qatar (0.002 million b/p/d).
Memo to Senator Obama: the U.S. imports more foreign oil from friendly Canada than it does all of those Middle East countries combined.
Yet, in Obama's speech, seen by a vast American and international TV audience, the candidate would have us believing that the American economy, U.S. national security and, indeed, nothing less than "the future of our planet," is being held hostage by five oil-producing Arab countries in the Middle East. All five of them, by the way, are close U.S. allies. I guess it wouldn't have sounded as tough if Obama had vowed, "In 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from... those Canadians!"
Well, I'd love to know more about why Obama set out his no-Mideast-oil-dependence goal and exactly how he'll proceed to implement it if he is elected. Does he propose reducing our oil consumption by 15% so we don't have to import Middle East oil any more? Or perhaps buying 15% more than we do now from Venezuela and Russia--oh yeah, we don't want to be dependent on those questionably-governed countries, either. I wonder what Beltway advisor or Middle East "expert" put that "oil from the Middle East" line in Obama's otherwise sensible speech.
Obama has shown himself to be a potential statesman when it comes to the Middle East. Lately, his choice of foreign policy establishment pillar Joe Biden as his VP running mate hinted at a readiness to fall in line with the failed Beltway approach to the region. With the Middle East the No. 1 foreign policy challenge facing the next president, what Obama says now has the entire world listening closely. He ought to stay away from gimmicky goals and cheap shots. Instead, he should continue talking seriously about the real problems and solutions. Where oil is concerned, it's a better overall U.S. energy policy. Where the Middle East is concerned, it's a better U.S. policy to settle conflicts and reduce tensions. The Bush administration's failure in both areas is a prime reason for the $115-a-barrel-and-counting petrol price-- and for the continuing concerns about dependence on foreign oil.
--By Scott MacLeod/Cairo
6 months ago