I am a bit confused about what Prof. Quiggin is trying to say here:
The point applies most obviously in relation to oil. The idea that the US can legitimately use its military power to ensure continued access to oil resources rests, in large measure, on the (not entirely unfounded) assumption that those controlling the resources are a bunch of sheikhs and military adventurers who happened to be in the right place, with guns, at the right time. Without the Arab exception, the idea of oil as a special case, not subject to the ordinary assumption that resources are the property of the people in whose country they are found, will also be hard to sustain.
Prof. Quiggin is a very smart guy, and when I say I’m confused, I mean that honestly. The governments of Arab oil-producing states keep almost all of the rents from the oil extracted on their territory; this is just as true of Abu Dhabi, which works with the majors, as it is of Saudi Arabia, where state-owned Saudi Aramco monopolizes production. Moreover, only 9% of the oil produced in and around the Arabian peninsula goes to the United States. Put another way, the U.S. only gets 10% of its oil from the Arab countries of the Gulf. The U.S. gets no oil from North Africa. The U.S. does, of course, use its military power to insure that the oil keeps flowing. But I don’t see that as much different from what the U.S. does with other strategic raw materials, or in regions outside the Arab world.
Matt Yglesias got me even more confused:“Certainly if you were just to look at things in coldly rational terms, the resource-rich country the US should be seeking to dominate militarily is Canada, located conveniently next door. And, indeed, in the first half of the nineteenth century that’s how hawkish American politicians saw things. But it would be politically unacceptable in a modern context to try to bully Canada or Norway into coughing up oil.”
Except ... uh ... how is U.S. policy towards those countries different from our policy towards Saudi Arabia? Canada is not about to embargo U.S. oil; Soviet fleets are not about to blockade Norway. American policy would be rather different if either were true. (And policy was different, when the latter was a real threat.) The oil does belong to the provinces in Canada and the national government in Norway; but ditto in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and Iraq. What does Matt mean when he implies that the U.S. uses military force to make the Arab countries “cough up oil”?
Quiggin’s main point is about overall U.S. policy towards the Middle East, but I honestly do not what he’s trying to say about oil. Nor do I understand Yglesias’s. Can someone explain?