Contextual Content

The geo-politics of oil

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to our interviews with Aijaz Ahmad, asking the question, what would a rational foreign policy for the United States look like? Aijaz, at the core of much of US foreign policy is the assumption that the United States needs its military prowess to defend its oil interests, whether it’s directly the interests of oil companies, or whether it’s a question of pipelines, or just sort of the geopolitical strategic objectives. What would a rational policy on oil be?

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: Couple of things here, Paul. First of all, I think the oil question is the one area where it is very difficult to distinguish between domestic policy and foreign policy. Let’s talk about the foreign policies side of it, and then I’ll come to the domestic side. We should recognize that oil is no more important for the United States than it is for any other country, especially other industrialized countries or industrializing countries. In fact, the US has had many advantages that Japan or China don’t have. So US actually speaks from a position of power and strength, including domestic production, and having resources of oil very close to its borders.

JAY: A rather safe supply from its northern neighbor, Canada, the number one supplier of oil.

AHMAD: That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. And southern one in Mexico. So it has a position of strength, and its superiority in this area is not nearly as threatened as people pretend. That’s one. Secondly, same thing applies here, that you have to think of a foreign policy that obtained these objectives peacefully. Just as China or Japan or India are obtaining their needs of hydrocarbons peacefully by going to any country and anywhere in the world that they can, through essentially market forces. That’s what you need to do. You also have to recognize that those who produce oil and gas have one strategic interest only, which is to sell it. So it’s not as if oil supplies and gas supplies are going to disappear if you don’t police them. They’ll be on the world market. Other countries have reconciled themselves to buy their oil and gas and whatnot. The United States should do the same.

JAY: It’s not like US dominance in the Middle East is reducing the price of oil. It’s actually increasing it.

AHMAD: Quite the opposite.

JAY: Quite the opposite.

AHMAD: Our experience is that every time there is exercise or threat of exercise of US military power, the price of oil goes up and so on.

JAY: To what extent does a real, rational foreign policy mean taking on oil companies? Because certainly the lobbyists for oil companies and military arms producers like foreign adventures.

AHMAD: Well, I would say that that is what I meant by, you know, you really cannot separate here the foreign policy interests and domestic policy objectives. I think it is absolutely incontrovertible that the US economy has suffered a great deal from it. The US people have suffered a great deal from these high prices of oil. But US oil corporations have gained a lot, and in the process those whom the United States considers its enemies—Russia, Iran, Venezuela—have made a hell of a lot of money. So it’s a completely irrational policy that we have.

JAY: Unless you run an oil company.

AHMAD: In order—. That’s what I meant. It’s not a national foreign policy; it’s a policy that serves the weapon and oil interests. So it’s not a national foreign policy, and in that sense it’s irrational. To serve a bunch of corporations is not of your national interests, and it’s at the expense of the American people. But, Paul, I must say that a rational policy on oil will have to take on not only the oil corporations but deeply embedded social habits of profligacy, of overuse of oil in the United States. You will have to cut down your consumption. I mean, the Americans would have to cut down their consumption of oil drastically.

JAY: And how does that happen without major government intervention? Is there any way a free market can have that kind of reduction of oil?

AHMAD: Oh, absolutely not. Absolutely not. Absolutely not. You have to reconstruct a very different kind of state which actually acts in the interests of the country as a whole, and a country only means its people, which means that it has to act against those corporate interests. It also has to teach the people of the United States that being 5 percent of the population and consuming 25 percent of the world’s oil is untenable, and they must get off this. It must have a comprehensive policy for reduction of energy use. It must have controls of supply-demand drices. You are going to need a very different kind of interventionist state—the one thing that Americans, even liberal Americans, refuse to entertain, and something completely unrealistic. I won’t name people, but very liberal, very progressive people who have written entire books on US foreign policy simply do not raise this question.

JAY: About using government to directly regulate how energy is used and how to reduce it.

AHMAD: Absolutely, as—

JAY: It’s sacrilegious.

AHMAD: —as many other countries do and are doing more and more. The Indian government is deeply involved in regulating supplies, demands, prices, and getting more and more deeply into it. Soon enough, I think we’ll have rationing, and I don’t think people are going to really rise up against it. But, you see, the oil is tied up with national security, according to the current foreign policy. National security leads to militarization of your foreign firms, which leads to enormous expenditures on the military, which means that expenditures are withheld from physical infrastructure. American cities are the most decaying cities in the western world. It has withheld from health insurance. It has withheld from education. It has withheld from building and sustaining home ownership in the United States. So what you need is a very comprehensive government policy, in which the government leads the people. A historic task of a government is to lead the people towards a common national interest, in which some people may grumble because it doesn’t serve their interests. So then you’re talking of a high degree of regulation. And I don’t think there is any answer to the energy problem without combining the transformation of their foreign policy abroad with a complete revamping of domestic policy.

JAY: Thank you. And thank you for joining us for this first part of our series of interviews with Aijaz Ahmad on what would be a rational foreign policy for the United States. Over the course of the US elections, The Real News will be asking just these questions to the candidates and to their supporters, and we hope you’ll join us for that. If you’d like to see more Real News, don’t forget there’s a "DONATE" button just over here, and we hope you’ll click it.

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