The Myths of Scarcity and Security That Haunt U.S. Energy Policy
Robert Vitalis


Contents and Abstracts
1 Opening
chapter abstract

Presents three propositions that distill what economists and defense analysts have been telling us since the 1920s about peacetime world oil markets, about the kinds of threats most often imagined as challenges to market access, and about access during wartime. Collectively, they call into question much of what has been written about "the prize" by historians, self-styled energy security experts, and critics of U.S. foreign policy.

2 Raw Materialism
chapter abstract

Traces the turns across the twentieth century in beliefs about strategic resources. Access to the seventy-some-odd minerals and other vital raw materials that allegedly drove wars in Asia from the 1920s on and were said to pose enormous threats to economic prosperity and national security disappeared as a "problem" in the 1970s. Instead, a new "expressed conviction" seemed to take hold: that the United States and its free world allies had a vital national security interest in protecting the free flow of one commodity. Historians—none more richly rewarded for their efforts than Daniel Yergin—would go on to discover that oil (alone) turns out to have been the key to understanding a century of great power rivalry and conflict in Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

3 1973: A Time to Confuse
chapter abstract

Explores the effects of the "national trauma" represented by the oil price revolution of the 1970s, exposing the factitious nature of beliefs about the so-called oil crisis, the "OPEC embargo," and the alleged Soviet designs on the Persian Gulf.

4 No Deal
chapter abstract

Energy security experts, grand strategists, Saudi specialists, and an ever-widening circle of those on the Saudi payroll in one way or another have never ceased their hand-wringing about the threats to the Al Saud, which they represent as an existential danger to an ever more oil-hungry world and to the idea—the reality being quite different—of a United States–Saudi Arabia "special relationship." Those in the kingdom's corner have reached instinctively and repeatedly for the old clichés and myths at moments when Washington's ties to the Al Saud come under criticism, as in October 2018. Then, the new and power-aggrandizing crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, lauded as a visionary and modernizer in the New York Times, as the paper has done for each of the kings and crown princes before him, ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

5 Breaking the Spell
chapter abstract

Militarizing the Gulf has not insulated and cannot protect the world economy from regular if unpredictable supply disruptions due to accidents, natural disasters, and political upheaval. Opponents of U.S. imperialism or primacy or hegemony on the Left lag behind the Right in recovering from the national trauma of the factitious OPEC boycott and belief in the supernatural power of big oil. Like the foreign policy and national security experts, the activists and their oracles remain entranced by oilcraft's illusory yet seemingly vivid truths about our world. They continue to conjure a world in which Western oil companies' interests explain the endless wars in the Middle East and in which successive U.S. administrations through their agent the Al Saud control world oil price and supply in fulfillment of a wholly imaginary bargain struck in 1945.