The Current: Andrew Scott Cooper on oil and political power

First aired on The Current (17/10/11)

Author Andrew Scott Cooper isn't afraid to open up the discussion about just how much political power is tied up in oil. He writes about the role it has played in U.S. foreign and domestic policy in his new book The Oil Kings: The Hidden History of How the Balance of Power Shifted in the Middle East.

cooper-175.jpgIt was just about 38 years ago, in 1973, that the Arab oil embargo took place: Saudis and other Arab leaders essentially cut off the supply of oil to the U.S. in response to American support for Israel during the Arab-Israeli war.

In a recent interview with Cooper, The Current host Anna Maria Tremonti set the scene: "Half the lights on the Golden Gate Bridge went out. The Washington Monuments went to black. And gas station line-ups snaked around corners."

According to Cooper, the 1973 oil embargo was pivotal for several reasons, including because "it was the first time a commodity had been weaponized by the producing nations and directed at the consuming nations." 

He went on to describe the changes that the embargo set in motion, including rising oil prices and its effect on the Watergate crisis, which was unfolding at the time. Advisers to then president Nixon were ready to call in the U.S. military to help break the embargo, he said.

In his book, Cooper draws on now declassified documents to reveal connections between U.S. and Middle East political leaders and agencies and the oil commodities. These links were established at the time of the embargo, and have evolved over the last several decades.

According to Cooper, around the time of the embargo "is the time the United States really starts to get involved with Israel and the Arab states." He goes on to add: "It is a legacy we're living with to this day, because for the United States and for the major westernized democracies, they cannot allow their oil supply and their energy security to be compromised by the actions of the oil-producing states in the Middle East."

What do you think: have we seen fundamental shifts in power in the Middle East through the oil industry? Or is there more to come we can't predict? What about alternative forms of energy, where do they fit into the picture? Have your say in the comments below.


The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East

by Andrew Scott Cooper

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From the publisher:

"Oil Kings is the story of how oil came to dominate U.S. domestic and international affairs. As Richard Nixon fought off Watergate inquiries in 1973, the U.S. economy reacted to an oil shortage initiated by Arab nations in retaliation for American support of Israel in the Arab- Israeli war. The price of oil skyrocketed, causing serious inflation. One man the U.S. could rely on in the Middle East was the Shah of Iran, a loyal ally whose grand ambitions had made him a leading customer for American weapons. Iran sold the U.S. oil; the U.S. sold Iran missiles and fighter jets. But the Shah's economy depended almost entirely on oil, and the U.S. economy could not tolerate annual double-digit increases in the price of this essential commodity. European economies were hit even harder by the soaring oil prices, and several NATO allies were at risk of default on their debt."

Read more at Simon & Schuster.

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