Will the Middle East Lose Its Importance?
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
In a provocative and well executed article in the July/August issue of the National Interest, "The Fading Arab Oil Empire," Paul D. Miller, assistant professor of international-security studies at the National Defense University, argues that
This implies for Miller that Washington
This argument is belied by several facts. First, the very cover of the July/August issue of the National Interest, with a tattered flag and a lead essay titled "Requiem for the Two-State Promise: Israel Tightens Its Grip on the Occupied Lands," negates Miller's point. Passions about the Arab-Israeli conflict have only remotely to do with oil. The anti-Zionist forces that rallied in Durban in 2001 and the pro-Israel forces that rally each spring at the AIPAC policy conference devote roughly zero percent of their thoughts to oil, gas, or any other hydrocarbons.
Second, Islamism, as the only dynamic utopian and totalitarian ideology extant in the world today, and which largely originates in the Middle East, presents a civilizational danger only somewhat connected to oil (the appeal of Islamism will probably decline along with revenues).
Third, the region, located at the center of the inhabited world, bristles with dangers, including tyranny, violence, WMD, and war. These affect everything from sea lane security to refugee immigrants to domestic security arrangements (take a walk around the White House for a vivid demonstration of the latter). Only in the Middle East are whole countries in danger of extinction. Several countries have descended into anarchy, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, and Libya.
For these reasons, I doubt that Miller's advice that U.S. policymakers "look with more complacency on the rise and fall of particular regimes across the Middle East and North Africa" will be listened to anytime soon. (July 1, 2012)
July 2, 2012 update: Clarification: Several readers have objected to the AIPAC reference above, noting that both the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as an institution and they individually do indeed care about energy. Of course they do. My point is that energy concerns do not explain AIPAC's power or the enthusiasm of its members. Should the day come that the Middle East becomes geostrategically as unimportant as Miller predicts, this development will have minimal impact on AIPAC and its supporters' focus on the region.
Feb. 18, 2013 update: Javier Blas, commodities editor of the Financial Times, asks: "Will the US be able to say goodbye to its costly military involvement in the energy-rich Middle East because of the shale oil revolution at home?" After offering some evidence suggesting a yes answer, he notes two facts:
If the shale oil revolution means a loss in any region, Blas concludes, that would be West Africa, the region that has seen the largest reduction in U.S. oil imports. "Oil shipments from countries such as Nigeria and Angola have halved as they produce exactly the same kind of high quality, low sulphur crude oil as the US shale fields."
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