Running head: Oil and the Foreign Policy of the United States


There are a multitude of issues that shape and influence foreign policy in the United States. Throughout American history, the change in the way our government deals with other nations has evolved. From the conception of the United States as a sovereign country, the foreign policy of American leadership took on an isolationist posture. Since then, the United States government has relaxed this posture greatly. At least since the Carter administration, America’s dependence on foreign oil has had a major influence on American foreign policy in the Middle East.

It has been regarded many times that the United States foreign and international actions, policies and decisions in the last 50 years are inspired and directed in the super concepts such as freedom, democracy and humanity. However many critics argued that behind these banners being shown to the public eyes is a self motivated soul which aim to maintain its egoistical superiority and dominance. In this paper, we are going to examine how does a natural resource in the form of oil had influence the United States decisions, policies and actions in its foreign and international affairs.

The Importance of Middle East

The importance of the Middle Eastern Region especially the Gulf Region lies on its natural reserves of oil. According to Findlay (1994) the said region is the location of the largest known oil reserves in the globe. It was also been cited by Findlay that in 1990 the Middle Eastern region account for more than 65 percent of the total oil reserves in the whole world while the United States only had 3% of the total oil reserves in the globe. According to Collina (2005) in his report entitle Oil Dependence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Real Dangers, Realistic Solutions the United States imports almost 60% of its oil demand in 2005 and this is expected to increase for up to 70% in 2025. With this kind of arrangement, the United States economy and politics is determined by the supply of oil that is coming from one of the most unstable region in the globe. Also according to him, the growing dependence of the United States on imported oil is the primary driver of the United States foreign and military policy particularly in the Middle East.

The Importance of Oil

The importance of oil lies on the significant role ‘energy’ plays in our society and way of life. The food we eat and the clothes we wear and almost everything we do only became possible through our exploitation of energy. According to Harold Schobert (2002), “today more than ever, energy became so ubiquitous in our way of life that we seldom think about it”. To rip oil out of our lives is to freeze and starve the modern man. As Schobert said in his book Energy and Society, we will be reduced to a fairly brutish existence comparable to the poor of the medieval times if we ran out of energy.

This importance of energy primarily produced from oil or fossil fuels is magnified through its great demand and yet limited and finite supply. In our times wherein there is a worldwide conclusion that there is a limited amount of oil that can be extracted, countries are doing their best to position their selves to a place wherein they can access oil to feed their economic growth and stability.

The Carter Doctrine

The policy of the United States during Carter’s stay in office was summed up during his speech in his State of the Union Address in January 23, 1980. In that speech he said:

Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”(Carter 1980)

It must be noted that the context in this time is turmoil, instability and strife especially in the region of the Middle East. In early 1979, the shah of Iran, the number one ally of the United States in the Middle East had been overthrown by the militant Islamic revolutionaries. Together with this major hit in the United States position, the Soviet Union which is its ‘archenemy’ by that time invaded Afghanistan which is interpreted by the United States as a primary step of the communist regime to take a hold in the vital region of oil in the gulf. (Lisiero 2008)

These two events alone, the overthrow of shah of Iran and the invasion of the Soviets on Afghanistan had been regarded as the most dangerous threats in the access of the United States in the oil of the Middle East. As a response to this threat, the US government had promised a commitment to protect oil producing countries such as Saudi Arabia in exchange for the US special access to their oil supplies. Along with Reagan Doctrine, this also became the basis of the building up of the U.S. forces in the gulf such as the Rapid Deployment Forces and the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) that are ready to be dispatched in case of any disturbances in the region that can affect the US interest and access to oil in the region (Collina 2005).

Though this is not really the start of the United States foreign policy defined by oil, Carter is the one who formalized and spoke publicly about his intention to protect the Middle East to take care the interest of the United States by securing the oil supply.

In fact, the use of military power to protect the flow of oil has been a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy since 1945. That was the year that President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia that the United States would protect the kingdom in return for special access to Saudi oil—a promise that governs U.S. foreign policy today. (Collina 2005)

George W. Bush Doctrine

According to Dario Lisiero (2008) in his work entitle American Doctrine, if there is one document that can summarize George Bush foreign policy, it is the revelation of the document, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” According to him:

“This is the real Bush Doctrine; this is his political bible. All the rest, so nicely stated in his inaugural addresses, speeches and formal and informal conversations are mere smokescreens. . . the basic thesis of this document, repeatedly stated and emphasized, is that ‘the United States is the world’s only superpower, combining preeminent military power, global technological leadership, and the world’s largest economy.”

According to Lisiero (2008) the infamous attack of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001 had also been cited to favor the doctrine of Bush rather than harming it. The destruction of the symbol of United States commercialism, the attack on the Pentagon and the death of thousands of Americans became the most important reason and justification of the Bush administration to have a foothold in one of the richest land in oil in the Arab region. As stated by Lisiero (2008):

Finally, the American troops were on Arab soil. Finally, the authors of the modern imperial doctrine had achieved their secret goal: to have a permanent foothold on that forbidden land, the land of oil and riches.”

Disguising its motives to a more humanitarian cloak such as the sought for weapons of mass destruction hailing in Iraq and the liberation of the Iraqi against the oppressive regime of Hussein, the Bush government successfully managed to establish a foothold in the land of oil and riches.

From here, we are going to examine the document that has been regarded as one of the biggest influence on Bush international actions during his presidency, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.”

Rebuilding American Defense

The 80 pages document reported by The Project of New American Century is basically a set of specific guidelines and course of actions that defines what the United States should do to be able to maintain their status quo. As stated directly in the document:

The United States is the world’s only superpower, combining preeminent military power, global technological leadership, and the world’s largest economy. Moreover, an America stand at the head of a system of alliances which includes the world’s other leading democratic powers. At present the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible.

Examining the document, we can see how plans and course of action were outlined to establish footholds in different parts of the globe specially the strategic places like the Middle East, South East Asia and Europe. Along with this, it also pushes for the revival of the interest of the United States in nuclear technology which took its setback during Clinton’s administration. Lastly, it deals with the improvements in the military forces of the United States that can protect the nation and its allies against WMD threats, cyber space attacks and other possible attack in the future. (Donnelly et al. 2000)

This concludes that the doctrine of Bush is simple. The Americans should maintain its dominance in economic, political and military affairs that is why it needs to secure all the possible resources that it can access to maintain the status quo. Oil had been the most significant element in the economic growth making this a very vital resource which the United States should not be deprived to be able to maintain its position in the international community.

War for Oil in Iraq

In relation to Middle East particularly its recent war on Iraq, the United States had tried to address its future shortage on oil by using the military to protect supply routes. According to Collina (2005), the US managed to install regimes in the Arab Region that it found friendly and useful to continue the United States access to its oil supply. However, the case of Iran had shown the otherwise. After the invasion, Iraq is producing less oil than it did before the invasion. With the cost of war reaching to an estimate of $200 billion dollars, the Americans paid an astronomical price of resources and positive reputation in the globe for an underperforming investment. (Collina 2005)

America Today with Obama

If we are going to follow the theme of our discussion that speaks of the aim of the United States to maintain its superiority and apply it to the actions of the current president Obama, we can see that Obama in his actions today and even before he became a president is dominated with the very same task and goal that inspired Carter, Reagan and Bush.

Way back in Obama’s years as a senator, he co-authored a Senate bill which resembles the Nunn-Lugar program which aimed for the safeguarding and dismantling of the enormous Soviet stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons’ related materials and its delivery system (United States Senate n.d.). As a senator, Obama together with Lugar authored a bill that will authorize the president to carry out a program to provide assistance to foreign countries to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. This will include nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. The bill’s provisions were incorporated into a House bill that passed later that year and was signed into law in January 2007.

When he became a president, he pushed sanctions to nations that are said to be proliferating nuclear technology like Iran and North Korea ranging from banning United States companies from investing and trading with the said counties to financial restriction to its leaders, etc. The president is also encouraging the international community to perform the same sanctions to such nations that are proliferating weapons of mass destruction particularly nuclear technology. (BBC News)

When viewed in the perspective above, it is possible that the history of Iraq during the earlier administration is repeating. Iran seats in one of the most fertile region in terms of oil in the globe. If the United States can hold this vast rich land of Iran, the United States will maintain its access to one of the most sought resources of the modern world.

Analysis and Conclusion

It is becoming very clear to us that today much of the United States foreign policies, decisions and actions are really dominated with its quest for a viable access to a continuous oil supply. Though many critics will argue and judge this as evil and imperialistic, when we really think of it, we cannot blame the government if it is acting this way. The same with the human body, a state will always aim for its survival above anything else. A nation and a state will always act in such a way that it will ensure its continuous existence. In the United States however, there is greater task that was given. Being a superpower since the dawn of the 20th century and a victor of the Cold War, the United States found itself in such a place that it is very difficult to maintain. While other countries are doing the same actions and positioning that are comparable to the United States, our eyes focused its sight to this giant superpower due to its giant demand for resources. The message is simple, no matter which country or nation we place in the shoes of Uncle Sam, we will still see the same acts of imperialism and expansion to be able to maintain its dominance through the access to oil.

The enemy is neither the United States nor its quest for enormous access to fossil fuels. Our real enemy today is our dependence to a resource that is finite and nearing to its depletion. Conflicts will always rise due to scarcity and as long as there is scarcity, we can always assume that there will always be a conflict. Our goal and aim is simple: We must be able to provide a viable alternative to fossil fuels as a source of our energy. We cannot always let the foundation of our economic life and political aspirations to be determined to a resource that is finite and depleting. As long the American people and the rest of the world are dependent to such resources, we will always be tied to an obligation to feed ourselves first before we can give to others. Americans will always be at the mercy of the Middle East as long as we need them to feed the American economy. The humanitarian goals of the United States in the name of freedom, equality and democracy will never be attained as long as we depend on oil. No vital change and revolution in the globe will happen as long as we don’t manage to get out of the viscous cycle of oil dependence.


BBC News (2009) Obama renews US sanctions on Iran. Story from BBC News. Accessed March 30, 2010. Retrieved from

Carter, Jimmy (1980) State of the Union Address. January 23, 1980. Accessed April 1, 2010. Retrieved from

Collina, Tom (2005) Oil Dependence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Real Dangers, Realistic Solutions. Testimony before the Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. October 19, 2005. United States Senate

Donnelly et al. (2000) Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century. September 2000. The Project for the New American Century.

Findlay, Allan (1994) The Arab world. Routledge. London.

Lisiero, Dario (2008) American Doctrine. Library of Congress. United States

Schobert, Harold (2002) Energy and society: an introduction. Taylor & Francis. New York

United States Senate (n.d.) The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. Accessed March 30, 2010. Retrieved from

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