|06 Jun 2018 09:07
U.S. Involves itself Ever Deeper in Middle East with No Clear Strategic Interest
On May 8, President Trump announced that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Iran deal. On May 12, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his 12 points demanding total capitulation of Iran to the U.S. government. In doing so, he effectively putting the U.S. on a war path with Iran.
This deepening engagement of the U.S. in the Middle East defies logic. It is contrary to the geopolitical interests of the U.S.
The main argument for America’s engagement in the Middle East is oil and trade. For starters, the U.S. no longer relies on imported oil. In 2017, the net import of petroleum was 19% of total U.S. oil consumption, the lowest since 1967.
And of that dwindling imported oil portion that the U.S. relies on for energy security, the share of imports from OPEC and Persian Gulf countries has declined. Today, Canada is the largest source of U.S. petroleum imports, representing 40% of its total.
Second, the Middle East is not an important market for U.S. exports. In 2016, according to the World Bank, total U.S. exports amounted to almost $1.6 trillion, of which our two closest allies in the region — Saudi Arabia and Israel — took roughly 1% each, even when the value of all American weapons sold in the region is included.
Today the U.S. top export markets are Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, and E.U. countries. In addition, the two most important maritime trade routes are the English Channel and the Strait of Malacca. The Channel has traffic on both the UK-Europe and North Sea-Atlantic routes, and is the world’s busiest seaway, accommodating over 500 ships per day. The Strait of Malacca runs between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and according to estimates from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) Review of Maritime Transport 2011, almost half of the world’s total annual seaborne trade tonnage passed through the Strait of Malacca.
There are two other arguments for U.S. involvement in the Middle East, one altruistic and the other Machiavellian. While American reliance on Middle Eastern oil has diminished, the Middle East remains an important producer of the world’s oil. Of the 87 million barrels of oil produced per day globally in 2011, approximately 20% passed through the Strait of Hormuz.
Some argue that the U.S. plays a crucial and altruistic role in protecting the free flow of oil from the Middle East and through the strait of Hormuz. Only the U.S. can prevent a global oil shock that could rock the global economy. But that American goodwill comes at a real price tag for the American taxpayer. Roger J. Stern of Princeton University estimates that the U.S. has spent $8 trillion between 1976 and 2010 protecting the oil flow from the Persian Gulf. The worry is that Iran, or another bad actor, could shut down the oil traffic in the Middle East and bring the world to its knees. This argument, however, belies the fact that oil is the lifeline of the Iranian economy and shutting down oil production or flow from the Middle East would also suffocate its own economy, and that any such action will bring together a global coalition to roll back Iran and reopen the flow of oil.
Others argue that U.S. military hegemony over the Persian Gulf is much more Machiavellian. They point out that the U.S. has not simply protected the free flow of the oil trade, but has also used its power to sanction oil production in countries whose policies it opposes, such as Iran, Sudan, Syria, and Libya. In line with this argument that U.S. hegemony over the Persian Gulf is pursued not merely to protect friends but also to punish enemies, the U.S. is
Today, any further U.S. military involvement in the Middle East is counterproductive to America’s interest. Ironically, President Trump ran his presidential campaign in part by building on Americans’ frustration with what they view as a foreign policy failure in the Middle East, promising to pull the U.S. out of the region. Instead America is deepening its involvement in the Syrian war, ramping up confrontation with Iran, and provoking the Muslim world by steamrolling the Palestinians. What the U.S. should instead do is work with its traditional global partners, as well as China and Russia, to build a framework for peace and stability in the Middle East. It should share the cost of protecting the Persian Gulf pipeline with countries that most benefit from it — namely Japan, China, India and South Korea.
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