Politics has engaged or distracted me since childhood. The good guys, from the start, were all for helping the poor, easing the burden of work, accommodation, diversity, peaceful resolution, progress, the power of education. The bad guys were always on about frugality, tightening, balancing books, productivity, money, and issues of national security and strategic interest. Things are perhaps more nuanced or muddled now, but the opposing forces are still discernible.
In his book Blood and Oil, Michael Klare argues convincingly that, especially since the second world war, oil has become one of the most vital and therefore most contested resources on our planet. Since that time, the USA has come to rely ever more heavily on imported oil. The biggest oil producer in 1945, it's now down to third behind Saudi Arabia and Russia. The big change of course is on the consumption side. The USA currently consumes well over twice as much as the second biggest consuming nation, and is by far the biggest importer of oil in the world.
Throughout history, powerful nations have sought to expand, in search of resources which would enhance and maintain their power. They've also hoped that by encroaching on rich foreign territory they might render it less hostile and more like themselves. More democratic, more Christian, more white, more reasonable, more fun. Such hopes have even followed in the wake of military onslaughts.
The current US administration is the oiliest in that country's history. Its National Energy Policy, produced in 2001, before the September 11 attacks, is all about securing oil wherever and however it can. For this administration, tied as it has been to a feudal Saudi state whose leadership could totter at any time, Iraq with its under-exploited oil-fields and its detested dictator was an obvious target. They must have been more than a little disappointed at the outcome, in spite of the bonanza for American oil companies.
The difficulty with the 2001 National Energy Policy is its cavalier optimism in regard to its diversification strategy. It simply refuses to face the difficulties involved in seeking to exploit relatively paltry oil reserves in West Africa, South America, the Caspian Sea and of course the Persian Gulf, in some of the most hostile and strife-torn territories on the globe.
America's obsession with securing foreign oil for itself is surely its Achilles heel. Things might get more desperate in the future. Michael Klare spells out the consequences of the dependency dilemma:
the reality that we need more and more imported petroleum every day to sustain a way of life that was born and established when the United States was largely self-sufficient in energy. Because most of our overseas sources of petroleum are unstable or unfriendly or both, we will continue to have to fight - literally - to ensure our access to oil. And unlike earlier wars, in which we could withdraw our forces once the hostilities had come to an end, these encounters will require the permanent presence of American soldiers - for as long, that is, as we remain dependent on these sources for a significant share of our energy.
Even without as much as a peek at the vexed question of peak oil, or the growing consumption, and increasingly aggressive hunger, of China, India and other emerging powerhouses, oil will be a commodity to keep a weather eye on for the foreseeable.