Put bluntly, the Green New Deal is the biggest step we can take toward a more secure America.
For nearly two decades, since 9/11, most Americans have been convinced that Middle East-based terrorism is the greatest threat to our nation. What most of us failed to ask, however, was why we were targeted. After the attacks, cable news anchors asked “Why do they hate us?” without really seeming to care about the answer.
The explanation isn’t particularly complicated. For close to three-quarters of a century, Americans have involved themselves in the domestic politics of many countries in the Middle East, often with little regard for how those actions affected the residents of these nations. Unsurprisingly, this behavior angered many people in the region.
During much of the 20th century, America was the largest oil producer in the world. As a result, U.S. petroleum companies were among the largest in the world. Our nation’s engagement in the Middle East began somewhat benignly before World War II, when Gulf Oil, SoCal and Texaco won concessions to develop oil fields in Kuwait, Bahrain and, most important, Saudi Arabia.
“The gaining of the [Saudi] concession by an American company,” writes historian Daniel Yergin, “would inevitably begin to change the web of political interests in the region.” In 1938, the Dammam Well No. 7 revealed a commercially promising amount of petroleum in the region, which spawned business relations and eventually U.S. government interest in the kingdom. American involvement in Middle Eastern geopolitics would only grow from there.
Throughout the Cold War, maintaining the global flow of oil was critical because it drove economic growth in capitalist nations. Thus, American oil companies expanded operations throughout the Middle East, and our government built close relationships with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran — where we joined the British in orchestrating the overthrow of Mohammad Mosaddegh, who nationalized the oil industry, and installed the more U.S.-friendly Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Things became more dire in the 1970s. Domestic production of conventional oil peaked, forcing the United States to go from a minor importer of oil to a major importer at precisely the wrong moment. In the next few years, several countries nationalized oil interests amid the last surge of new OPEC memberships.
In 1973, war broke out pitting Israel against Egypt and Syria. America provided military aid to the Israelis, which helped turn the tide. In response, however, Arab oil ministers launched an oil embargo against the United States that drove oil prices up by 70 percent, devastating the economy. Later in the decade, a revolution in Iran deposed the shah, and strikes halted oil production, leading to long gas lines and another spike in prices.
The surge in oil prices and tumult in the region left the United States with little choice but to reorient its foreign policy to ensure the continued flow of the modern era’s “black gold” through the Strait of Hormuz.
This was true even though America has never actually imported a large percentage of oil directly from the Middle East, relying far more on supplies from Canada, Mexico and Venezuela. Yet our economy has long been sensitive to the global price of oil. In 1980, after the fall of the shah, President Jimmy Carter announced a new policy doctrine promising that America would repel any attempt to gain control over the Persian Gulf region through “any means necessary, including the use of force.”
Because the Saudis proved that they could control international pricing, key American leaders believed that the only option was to increase diplomatic, economic and military engagement in the Middle East, guarding our alliance with Saudi Arabia even more closely after Iran changed from friend to foe.
The costs of this decision have been immense. American foreign policy became focused on four objectives: to persuade the region’s oil-producing nations to increase production and avoid embargoes; to provide them with military aid to ensure their internal and external security; to encourage the discovery and development of new oil fields; and to send U.S. military forces to the region if required to guarantee the flow of oil to America’s allies.
As a result, the United States found itself engaged in three petroleum-related wars over a quarter-century, which cost us thousands of lives and at least $4 trillion — costs that never show up at the pump. At the same time, we earned the hatred of millions of people who were oppressed by the autocratic rulers we kept in place to do our bidding. Some of them joined terrorist organizations that aimed to punish the “Great Satan.”
This is where the Green New Deal can come in. As a former energy secretary and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, has written, “Every American can make the intuitive connection between global dependence on Middle Eastern oil, dissent in Middle Eastern societies, and terrorist attacks on the United States.” Removing ourselves from the region would eliminate this problem. If we depart, anger toward our nation would fade over time, as would the threat to our country.
Adoption of a Green New Deal would make this possible by providing newly developed clean energy supplies to power electric vehicle fleets as they enter the market en masse. If we don’t need Middle Eastern oil because renewables are providing us with what we require, then we don’t need to intervene in the region in toxic ways.
Global oil prices might increase in the near term if we stop providing security to the region, but we have adequate supplies to weather the transition period, and our domestic unconventional oil and gas producers might benefit from higher prices. We could also reduce our military budgets by at least $50 billion annually and redirect that funding toward enhancing economic and climate security here at home.
Barack Obama recognized that such a shift was in our national interest, yet President Trump has retreated to the disastrously misguided status quo. Every Democratic presidential candidate should be using this against him in the weeks and months to come. They should chart a very different course, one that sees us adopt a comprehensive vision for a future that would enhance our national, economic and climate security, in part by eliminating our need to continue military engagement in the Middle East. This type of Green New Deal messaging would allow the party to win on this issue and ultimately make us all far, far safer.