All About Oil (Well, Mostly)
Reader JL emails to point to this interview with author Michael B. Oren, whose recent book Power, Faith and Fantasy is about the history of American involvement in the Middle East from 1776 to the present. The book makes clear that American involvement in the region hasn’t been solely motivated by oil, since we were fairly active even before oil became a concern. (Remember for the bulk of the 20th century the US was the world’s largest oil producer by far). But in recent years, the relationship has changed:
GLENN FRANKEL: Then oil was discovered in the Middle East and changed the nature of America’s involvement. Did oil make Americans more concerned with self-interest than with their ideals?
MICHAEL OREN: The book tells the interesting story of how ibn Saud, the founder of the modern Saudi dynasty, became acquainted with the United States through the work of American missionary doctors working in the Arabian Peninsula. Then, when he wanted to find a partner to help him find oil in the Arabian desert, ibn Saud remembered those selfless Americans and chose them over the British and the French. The advent of oil was also connected to an expression of American faith in the Middle East. Since the late 1940s, however, when the United States became very dependent on Arab oil, the power component of America’s involvement in the region grew exponentially. That doesn’t mean that dreams and ideals diminished, only that that they became more intertwined with considerations of profit and power.