Dependence on <i>Foreign</i> Oil

Is the fact that something is “foreign” important in discussing its merits? I frequently hear discussion about foreign oil, and how if we drilled more domestically, we could end our dependence on it.

Certainly, many are opposed to oil in general - and that’s a different discussion entirely. And certainly, drilling it domestically would create jobs. And if there’s oil to be had, why not have at it. It’s just that I sometimes get the feeling that people think that if only WE had the oil fields, the price would somehow magically drop - we couldn’t be held ransom by the Saudi’s or OPEC. I think this is silly.

Many people don’t realize that part of the reason oil is so expensive is that it’s so useful. I’m willing to pay so much for gas because it empowers me to do so much (it expands my choice in neighborhoods, jobs, and vacations to name a few). Moreover, in some ways the oil producers aren’t the ones setting the price, the consumers are. Because there’s only so much oil (and hence gas) to be had, not everyone can have as much as they want for every whim. If gas stations gave away gas, or charged 50¢ a gallon, they’d run-out in no time. It’s the consumers who feel that they really need oil (or gas) that express this by offering more, or rewarding distributors that conserve (by not just giving away oil/gas willy-nilly). If they didn’t do this, oil prices would be down in the dirt (with the oil). It doesn’t matter where the oil comes from. It’s valuable, and people want it enough that they’re willing to bid-up it’s price.

Actually, my guess is that if oil was only available domestically, we’d probably be paying more for each barrel. Because of a lack of foreign competition, it would only be a matter of time before government started its process of increasing regulation on the industry (raising entry-costs for any prospective competitors), and eventually instituting price controls (with maximum and minimum prices per barrel). Lower prices would discourage exploration and lead to shortages. This is not rocket science, it’s simple logic we’ve seen play-out in many other industries.

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If this foreign oil didn't

If this foreign oil didn't come from the Middle East in particular, it probably wouldn't be much of an issue.  The real problem with it is that it forces us into a host of relationships with imperialistic theocrats, increasing their political and military power and forcing us to expend even more effort and resources on defense than we spend on imported oil.

Alex- I can't understand

Alex- I can't understand your analogy to Iraq. If anything is analogous between those two places, it'd be the embargo = the sanctions. How would lifting the embargo make Cuba like Iraq under the sanctions?

matt27, have you missed all

matt27, have you missed all the things coming out of the Arab media and scholars and religious leaders and government pronouncements, along the lines of “jihad” and “a new caliphate” and “kill the Jews"? The Middle East’s desire to take us down WAY predates Carter’s and Reagan’s and Clinton’s dicking around…

were there elements of it? Probably, but there's no question about how things have progressed. I'm using the standard historical analysis (Kolko et al), and if you'd like to seriously discuss it, you might do well to do more than simply imply that you've read a few religious pronouncements that preceded 1953 (the year we began opposing the secular nationalist movement in Iran.) Please clarify this point- I'm talking about Eisenhower's dicking around (and I'm sure that some general anti-west sentiment was arounsed by Britain's dicking around before WW2.)

As for your question about Cuba - yes, we would be financing Castro. The media darling at the head of Cuba’s autocracy cracks down quite viciously on private, non-centrally-planned enterprise of any kind, so any economic activity taking place on Cuba primarily benefits Castro and his subordinates. Cuba right now strongly resembles Iraq doing the 90s, and I sincerely hope the same remedy doesn’t become necessary.

this is crazy. The embargo used to be justified by "the cold war" and once the cold war subsided the "defense" just immediately became that the embargo had to continue because we love democracy so much. Why would we oppose trading with a tiny impoverished island if we're worried that they're too communist? Trade would actually help things. Nevertheless, after reading and rereading your post I can't see much of an argument about "my point" (actually something that E-P mentioned)- again could you clarify?

Finally, are you suggesting that the brutality of Iran’s former government means the brutality of their current government should get a free pass?

"a free pass"? Of course not. I'm as concerned as anyone about how the Iraq war is causing more countries to aquire WMDs so we won't invade them. We should abate our troop presence in the region and pay reparations to the countries we've destroyed. If we're so concerned about the terrorism we might do well to stop actively increasing it.

-Matt

Correction: Cuba would look

Correction: Cuba would look like 90s Iraq if we lifted the embargo - it'd all wind up looking a lot like the Oil-for-Weapons Palaces Terrorists Food program...

matt27, have you missed all

matt27, have you missed all the things coming out of the Arab media and scholars and religious leaders and government pronouncements, along the lines of "jihad" and "a new caliphate" and "kill the Jews"? The Middle East's desire to take us down WAY predates Carter's and Reagan's and Clinton's dicking around...

As for your question about Cuba - yes, we would be financing Castro. The media darling at the head of Cuba's autocracy cracks down quite viciously on private, non-centrally-planned enterprise of any kind, so any economic activity taking place on Cuba primarily benefits Castro and his subordinates. Cuba right now strongly resembles Iraq doing the 90s, and I sincerely hope the same remedy doesn't become necessary.

Finally, are you suggesting that the brutality of Iran's former government means the brutality of their current government should get a free pass?

Many people don’t realize

Many people don’t realize that part of the reason oil is so expensive is that it’s so useful.

And they tend to forget that a big portion of the price of refined oil products (eg. gasoline) is TAX. I was in Canada recently where the price per litre was ~ $1.00 (Canadian). Plus Canada's proven O&G reserve number is nearly as large as Iraq's, so you're right, the price of a refined product to the consumer doesn't depend on her proximity to the raw resource.

if only WE had the oil

if only WE had the oil fields, the price would somehow magically drop

I agree this is silly. "We" own pharmaceuticals, hospitals, and insurance companies after all.

Excuse me? The Islamic

Excuse me? The Islamic world doesn’t blame us for Osama bin Laden. Quite the opposite; he’s adored by many millions! The rest of your post is similarly full of internal contradictions and I won’t try to dissect it.

convenient- it's so time consuming and difficult to point out blatant contradictions, I understand why you "won't try." You know, it's difficult when you're just so busy that you can only make a sniping comment or two on a thread. What makes things even worse is that there are people who lurk on boards who actually have nothing to say in response, but instead of admitting it they write things like "your argument is so stupid I can't even write back" which sound so remarkably similar to what you write (though obviously for completely different reasons.) That really muddies the good name of people like you, E-P.

If you would have been clearer about what you were actually arguing, maybe my response would have made more sense to you. Are we arguing about why the islamic world "hates us"? Well, I'd be happy to discuss the Iran example (which I happen to know a fair bit about) since it's so pertinent right now. Iran had a strong secular middle class movement under Mossadegh but it was destroyed as we put the shah in power and supported him. The only dissent that was permitted under the Shah's rule was through the Mosques- this channeled all manner of political dissent into radical islam which mutated into the breed of islamic fundamentalism we see today. That's the standard historical analysis as far as I'm aware, it's hardly "evasive." It's quite the opposite, actually.

-Matt

matt27 writes: If you train

matt27 writes:

If you train a wild dog (Osama for example) to kill people on sight, and then he turns and kills all the children in your neigborhood, what do you do?

Excuse me?  The Islamic world doesn't blame us for Osama bin Laden.  Quite the opposite; he's adored by many millions!

The rest of your post is similarly full of internal contradictions and I won't try to dissect it.

Exactly - it's puzzling that

Exactly - it's puzzling that people emphasize the dependence element when, in most cases, what they're really concerned about is the "giving money to terrorists" element. Unless xenophobia's really THAT rampant in this country...

Engineer poet- That does

Engineer poet-
That does nothing to explain the behavior of Iran’s mullarchy.

you're really going to have to explain yourself. Are you claiming that we didn't support the brutal shah for 20 years? That we didn't support Iraq in their war against Iran? What exactly?

For that matter, “ask yourself why they hate you” is not an explanation, it’s an evasion.

why's that? I think you're getting the wrong idea. If you train a wild dog (Osama for example) to kill people on sight, and then he turns and kills all the children in your neigborhood, what do you do? Well kill the dog of course (obviously), but don't you bear responsibility for training the dog and then recklessly setting him free? Obviously. So then the townspeople say "hey what the fuck? That rottweiler you trained killed all our kids." and you say "Um, asking me to take responsibility is evasion." Excuse me?

Bill-
If we stopped the embargo on Cuba, and began importing Cuban produce, would we then be financing Castro? Would it be equivalent to these concerns of financing evil regimes with money from oil?

it's an interesting question, but it's hardly what's at issue here. We seek to influence to Middle East in countless ways that are more severe than just "buying the oil." Overthrowing Mossadegh in Iran (since E-P brought up the subject) and installing a US business friendly dictator in his place, the Shah, is significantly more interventionist than just happening to buy some oil.

-Matt

If we stopped the embargo on

If we stopped the embargo on Cuba, and began importing Cuban produce, would we then be financing Castro? Would it be equivalent to these concerns of financing evil regimes with money from oil?

That does nothing to explain

That does nothing to explain the behavior of Iran's mullarchy.

For that matter, "ask yourself why they hate you" is not an explanation, it's an evasion.

We’re financing the very

We’re financing the very people that want to kill us.

Brad, while this is almost true, I feel that it neglects the causal aspect of things. These people do not just "want to kill us"- they actually want to kill us in large part because we're financing "them." The "them" that we're supporting are generally puppet regimes that are despised by the "them" that hates us. Obviously things are more complicated, with some parties switching sides. but nevertheless it's important to make that distinction.

While the terrorism factor

While the terrorism factor may be a part of why Americans bemoan "depedence," I don't think that's the main reason. The general public seems to have a fear of anything produced outside the country, regardless of whether it comes from a "rogue" nation or not. Protectionism does not exist solely in oil markets, but the volume is turned up a notch.

Oil is probably under-priced

Oil is probably under-priced once you factor in the environmental impact and massive portion of the pentagon budget that goes toward ensuring control over it. Much of the price of oil is "externalized" onto the prices of other things. The current price change is not particularly reflective of a new awareness of social cost, unfortunately, but nevertheless it's probably ahcieving some of the same ends (we're having alot of these discussions, for instance.)

-Matt

Agreed with above. The

Agreed with above. The "dependence" aspect is basically saying that to keep up with our oil, we have to constantly funnel money to regimes that are ugly and support terrorism. We're financing the very people that want to kill us.

Brandon- Just check out the

Brandon-

Just check out the '04 Badnarik Campaign, for one. Antiwar.com is another fine spot. Last summer we even posted a guest comment that expressed the same sentiment. I believe the communications director for the Badnarik campaign commented on Catallarchy on the subject, giving a torturously stretched analogy about neighbors & cousins and how the US (by way of this analogy) had it coming. I called bullshit on that back in July of '04, and its still true today.

It is one of, sadly, a huge number of reasons why the LP is a sorry shell of a party.

When Faux News tells you

When Faux News tells you that “they all want to kill us", they’re lying, OK. The number of Arabs who want to eradicate America is probably a lot smaller than the number of Americans who want to eradicate the Middle East. And yet, they probably have greater justification.

Words cannot express how disgusted I am by the last sentence.

It is amusing how, from half

It is amusing how, from half a world away, so many Americans conflate the views of a noisy but very samll minority into some sort of universality.

Do you like pretending that they "all want to kill us" so as to justify endless war?

I live in the Middle East, I am surrounded by Arabs. I feel absolutely no sense of danger. Never, in any one of my many, many political conversations with Arabs, have I ever had cause to believe that anybody wanted to kill me. Indeed, I felt like I was in more mortal danger when confrontoing anti-abortionists or YAF war-mongers back on campus in the US.

When Faux News tells you that "they all want to kill us", they're lying, OK. The number of Arabs who want to eradicate America is probably a lot smaller than the number of Americans who want to eradicate the Middle East. And yet, they probably have greater justification.

BTW, even if the US produced every last drop of oil it consumed, it would still not be isolated from global markets and prices. If prices are higher in Europe than in Kentucky, then US firms will divert product to Europe, thus raising the price in Kentucky. The only way to stop this is to ban trade or have a total government take-over of the whole system.

This is the same sentiment

This is the same sentiment expressed by some libertarians when 9/11 happened - that those people in the twin towers “deserved” it.

Which libertarians?

Jonathon: why are you so

Jonathon: why are you so disgusted? Are you another one of the “lets nuke all the sand-nigger” types that are so easy to find in America? Using US troops as in-house security for the House of Saud was guaranteed to engender some nasty blowback. It’s the starkest example of why I adhere to the Cato school of foreign policy.

I am disgusted by your statement that either Arabs or Americans have "justification" for wanting to eradicate the other side. This is the same sentiment expressed by some libertarians when 9/11 happened - that those people in the twin towers "deserved" it. Few people this side of Ward Churchhill believe it, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Brad: The statement "most of

Brad:

The statement "most of the oil in the region is controlled by governments, that finance terrorist organizations" is false.

The governments of KSA, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE do not finance terrorist organizations. Now, there is a lot of oil wealth that gets spread around, and some of it inevitably gets into the hands of terrorist organizations, but that's a far cry from saying the governments finance terrorism. I mean, a massive amount of American wealth bought guns and bombs for the IRA, but nobody ever accused the US Government of financing the IRA.

You're right: most Arabs are just folks who are interested in living their lives, raising their families, and being part of their community.

Jonathon: why are you so disgusted? Are you another one of the "lets nuke all the sand-nigger" types that are so easy to find in America? Using US troops as in-house security for the House of Saud was guaranteed to engender some nasty blowback. It's the starkest example of why I adhere to the Cato school of foreign policy.

Barry, Never in my comment

Barry,
Never in my comment did I say they "all" want to kill us. But I think that when you consider that most of the oil in the region is controlled by governments, that finance terrorist organizations, the money is going to those who most want to kill us. I think the average Arab wants the very same things the average westerner wants, food on the table, security at home, ability to raise their kids in peace, and to generally be left alone by government. The Iraqis hated Saddam (how they feel about us is debatable), the Iranian youth hate the mullahs, the Saudi people hate the royal family, etc. That doesn't change the fact that our oil dollars are going to finance terrorism.

To all re: Castro,
Castro and Iraq are two wildly different scenarios. Castro might be an evil regime, but it is unlikely that Castro would act out against the US.

Barry, Not to sound too much

Barry,

Not to sound too much like an inbred European royal of 300 years ago, but there are at least some arguments to be made for the position that war, like all other human activities, is a voluntary act (or rather a series of voluntary acts), and that, like most voluntary acts, it is governed by a basic set of moral rules. There is, moreover, a good argument to be made for the claim that, well, blowing up noncombatants is one of those basic moral rules. For what it's worth, most of the world agrees; that's the principle established at Nuremburg.

Now certainly we can have a debate about what constitutes the proper set of rules. Indeed, we can also have a debate about realism vs just war theory; it's an interesting argument to have. Personally, I tend to think that, even in war, it's not all that hard to distinguish between innocents and combatants. The latter are the people with weapons who are actively trying to kill you. The former...that's everyone else.

So I would very much dispute your claim that the attacks on the WTC were somehow a legitimate act of war (though I'd agree with that assessment wrt the attacks on the Pentagon). If you really want to make the claim stick, then you need some sort of argument to the effect that there is no morally defensible difference between combatants and noncombatants. There are such arguments available, and I'd be interested to see your defense of one. I don't find them all that compelling, but I've not yet heard everything, so I'm willing to be persuaded.

To claim that I am saying

To claim that I am saying "they deserved to die" is a pathetic strawman better suited to the Fox News chumps than this blog. I know people who had relatives die in the attacks. I would desperately love to get very medieval on the people who perpetrated it.

But what cannot be denied is that this was an act of war, in an ongoing war that the US needlessly but voluntarily entered. When you decide to pick sides and enter somebody else's civil war, the last thing you should be is surprised when the enemy strikes back. The bottom line is, all's fair in war. The insistence that those "others" should adhere to some code of warfare invented by inbred European royal families 300 years ago is niave at best.

As to "justification", well, many Arabs honestly believe that they have had far more misery visited upon them by the US than vice-versa. When you add things up, it's hard to argue with that sentiment (believe me, I've tried.)

I'm not aware of or inclined

I'm not aware of or inclined to search for the particular comments to which you're referring, but there's a big difference between saying that the US government was partly responsible for provoking the attacks and saying that the private-sector workers in the World Trade Center deserved to die.

I can imagine a libertarian saying that the people who died in the Pentagon deserved it, or at least that we shouldn't shed too many tears for them. "Those who live by the sword..." and all that. And I can imagine the rabid anti-market types like Churchill saying that the people who died in the WTC deserved it. But most libertarians have a great deal of respect for those who work in commerce and the financial industries, so I find it very difficult to believe that any prominent libertarian would make the latter claim.

Joe: I don't think this

Joe:

I don't think this discussion is about my opinions of what are or are not "justifiable" actions in war, I'm just saying that the people perpetrating those acts believe, within their own moral, religious and intellectual mindspaces, that what they are doing is both legitimate and necessary for the furtherance of their goals.

The US is quite possibly the world's biggest perpetrator of international violence. I understand that most Americans believe that these uses of violence are "necessary", are "justified", are "unfortunate last resorts", and the like. But we have to understand the the people on the receiving end of that violence may reach a different set of conclusions about the nobility of our intentions. And they'll try to fight back, in ways that are unconventional, and quite likely considered unacceptable, by us. When the government of the United States chooses to violently interfere with the lives of human beings all over this planet, most often with "non-combatants" garnering the majority of the suffering, then the US government makes yet another set of enemies, and endangering the lives of American citizens both home and abroad. Which is why I support the Cato-esque stance of minimal military intervention overseas. I feel that the US military should be used for the purposes stated in the Constitution: repelling invasion and supressing insurrection. It should not be used as a global police force/hit squad/welfare dispenser.

My personal opinion is that the 9/11 attacks, the African embassy bombings, the relentless spate of suicide bombings in Iraq, and countless other acts of violence are unequivocally wrong and evil, as defined by my own personal moral code. I believe that very close to 0% of the violence committed by humans on other humans can be considered "necessary" or "justified". The problem is that everybody on this planet had a different personal moral code, and I know of no way of defining one as being "better" or "worse" than any other. My comments here are as an observer, not an advocate.

I hope that doesn't sound like a cop-out.

Barry, Most of what you say

Barry,

Most of what you say here is pretty reasonable. I completely agree with your take on American military activity; even when we wage wars that are, I think, completely just, we don't always do so in a manner that is just (think bombing Kosovo from 10,000 feet). No doubt Iraq is proving much the same; some estimates show more Iraqis have died during the U.S. occupation than typically died in a similar timeframe under the Ba'athists. Whether things will balance out over the long run is still pretty unclear.

I do have some worries, though, about the idea that Fortress America is really all that good a plan. When things are abysmal enough for people, they often will turn to ideologies that promise them some sort of relief from their suffering. Christianity used to play that role. It was supplanted by communism in years gone by. In many parts of the world, radicalism and anti-Americanism of various sorts (some religious, some not) seems to be the new ideology of choice.

So my worry is that a hands-off policy might very well have the effect of creating problems further down the road. By intervening in the right places and in the right manner, we can alleviate a lot of suffering in the long run. This is not to provide cover for Iraq; I've been pretty vocal in my opposition. But a bit of intervention in Afghanistan back in the late 1990s might well have prevented a lot of suffering today.

I would like to push you on the nihilism you offer in your third paragraph. Once you allow that each individual can set morality for him/herself, then you've really just given up on morality entirely. What's the sense of saying, "Well, I think X is wrong, but if you're okay with it, then that's fine." Don't get me wrong: there are plenty of issues for which I think that's exactly the right answer. But when X=slaughtering innocents, then I do think that there are perfectly good and perfectly defensible ways of distinguishing right from wrong.

So my worry is that a

So my worry is that a hands-off policy might very well have the effect of creating problems further down the road. By intervening in the right places and in the right manner, we can alleviate a lot of suffering in the long run. This is not to provide cover for Iraq; I’ve been pretty vocal in my opposition. But a bit of intervention in Afghanistan back in the late 1990s might well have prevented a lot of suffering today.

Which is in my view, on a side note, a reason for a libertarian not to favor a strong military. It's true that, as Joe said, if we intervened in the right places in the right manner, we could alleviate a lot of suffering. But we don't, as Joe gives examples for, seem to be doing that. There are easy explanations--lack of competition in the government sphere, rational ignorance of the electorate, concentrated interests vs. dispersed ones.

Joe: The morality/nihilism

Joe:

The morality/nihilism points you raise are ones that trouble me on a deep level. Of course, within societies we develop collective moral bottom lines (i.e, criminal codes), and that's all fine and good. I suppose the problem arises when you have clashes of cultures that have developed different moral codes. Judging one versus the other without employing the intrinsic biases of either society (or the biases of the observer) becomes philosophically difficult.

Scott:

Concerning small (a term I prefer to "weak") militaries: the Founding Fathers of the US took a clear-eyed look at the great powers of Europe and reached a sensible and undeniable conclusion: give a ruler a large standing army, and he will use it. The temptation is too great. That's why they were against standing armies, why they limited any army appropriatons bill to two years, and why they promoted the citizen-soldier model of defence: they wanted the potential soldiers to have other days jobs. Of the many wise things written and performed by the Framers, the military model is one of the best. It's really a shame that it has become utterly perverted.

Yes, it is difficult to do long-term cost-benefit analyses of external military action, often there is no counterfactual to judge results against, but my gut tells me that most are big losers in terms of "utility gains" to US citizens.

Yes, it is difficult to do

Yes, it is difficult to do long-term cost-benefit analyses of external military action, often there is no counterfactual to judge results against, but my gut tells me that most are big losers in terms of “utility gains” to US citizens.

Yes, that would be my guess as well. A game of concentrated interests versus dispersed ones.

Judging one versus the other without employing the intrinsic biases of either society (or the biases of the observer) becomes philosophically difficult.

But not impossible, I don't think. I at least have no problem with ruling some things axiomatically evil. It's true that my sense of morals is in some ways culturally developed--but so is my sense of sight. Nevertheless, I can tell when I see a bird in the sky, and I can tell when people are being evil.