Awash in oil, US reshapes its role in the Middle East
Forty years after an Arab oil embargo throttled the US economy, surging North American energy production has brought the United States closer to a long-dreamed "energy independence" that is reshaping its goals and role in the Middle East.
On October 17, 1973, OPEC announced an oil embargo against the United States and any other country that supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War. That use of oil as a diplomatic weapon has driven an American yearning for disengagement from the Middle East and its problems ever since.
Such a strategic divorce is unlikely to occur soon, current and former US officials say. Washington has too much invested in the region, from support for allies like Israel to the fight against Islamic militants.
But the United States is less vulnerable to Middle East oil shocks, current and former US officials say, and may be less likely to station large ground and naval forces in the region in the future.
More problematically, it will have to find a way to cooperate in the Middle East with energy-hungry China, they said. And ties with Saudi Arabia, long nurtured by oil commerce, have been jolted by diplomatic disagreements over Iran, Syria and Egypt, and could fray further.
In the decades that followed the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries embargo, "you could not make plans in the Middle East or involving Middle East crises, without keeping in mind the considerations of the oil market," Henry Kissinger, who was Secretary of State during the 1973 oil shock, said on Wednesday.
"But that is now changing substantially with the, I wouldn't say 'self sufficiency' but narrowing the gap between supply and demand in North America, that is now of huge strategic consequence," Kissinger said at a conference hosted by the group Securing America's Future Energy.
The United States is less reliant each month on Middle East energy, thanks to increasing production of both oil and natural gas from technologies such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which allows extraction of oil and gas from shale deposits.
The country could be energy self-sufficient - producing enough to meet its own needs - by 2020, according to several analyses, and a debate has begun on whether to end an effective ban on US crude oil exports.
US oil production has helped dampen price spikes from disruptions in places such as Libya, officials and analysts said, and with it pressure for US intervention.