During his State of the Union address, George W. Bush assured us that, with his leadership, we are going to “make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.”
Bush’s energy proposal has been slammed by both the right and the left. The right says he’s ignoring the free market. The left says Bush isn’t doing enough to increase vehicle fuel efficiency. But both sides are ignoring the schizophrenia in Bush’s pronouncement. Indeed, when Bush bashes the Middle East oil producers, it’s not clear which countries he’s talking about and more importantly, if he really wants to quit buying their oil.
For instance, if the U.S. quit buying oil from the Middle East it would be bad for Iraq. Real bad. You see, American energy companies have been among the biggest buyers of Iraqi crude ever since the start of the Second Iraq War. U.S. companies are now buying about half of Iraq’s daily crude output about 500,000 barrels and they’re shipping it to their refineries in America. In fact, among the bigger buyers of Iraq’s heavy sour crude is Exxon Mobil, which refines lots of Iraqi crude at its massive Baytown refinery in Bush’s home state. In November alone, according to the Energy Information Administration, that refinery turned some 5.6 million barrels of Iraqi crude into about 200 million gallons of motor fuel that was then used by American consumers.
And if the U.S. stops buying Iraq’s crude, then that country’s fledgling government which is barely clinging to life as it is — wouldn’t have the cash to pay for the reconstruction programs needed to get its economy back up and running. Without reliable revenue, the Iraqis will probably need more help from U.S. taxpayers to help with the rebuilding. Is Bush going to ask Congress for more money to rebuild Iraq just so we can end our dependence on Middle East oil? It doesn’t seem likely.
So, when Bush is talking about Middle Eastern oil, he can’t be talking about Iraq.
Well then, he must mean the other two Persian Gulf countries — Kuwait (which sends about 270,000 barrels per day to the U.S.) and Saudi Arabia (about 1.2 million barrels per day) — who are also among America’s top 15 suppliers of imported oil.
But if that’s the case, then the president wants to deny petrodollars to the same royal regime that his father put back into power after Saddam Hussein invaded their country in 1990. It was Bush 41, George H.W. Bush, who regaled Americans about the need to restore the “legitimate government of Kuwait.” The elder Bush insisted that getting the late Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah — who was forced to flee his palace, along with his wives and 70 or so of his children back atop the Kuwaiti throne was a national imperative.
And if the younger Bush means to stop the flow of our energy dollars to Kuwait, then he’s forgetting America’s strategic relationship with that country. Without the Kuwaitis, the U.S. military would not have a staging area for the thousands of G.I.’s going into and out of Iraq. Without Kuwait, the U.S. would lose a key logistical base. Hundreds of trucks per day carry supplies from Kuwait to American soldiers in Iraq. Without the Kuwaitis’ refineries, U.S. troops in Mesopotamia would lose a reliable supplier of motor fuel. Without motor fuel, American soldiers would be patrolling Baghdad and Tikrit on foot.
So Bush can’t be talking about Kuwait.
He must, then, be talking about Saudi Arabia. But if he is, then perhaps he believes that U.S. energy companies should not have purchased 548,000 barrels of gasoline from the Saudis last October. That fuel helped ameliorate the shortage of motor fuel that hit the southern U.S. in the wake of the two hurricanes, which forced several refineries on the Gulf Coast to shut down.
Further, if Bush wants to stop using Saudi crude, then he’s going to have to get his buddy, Ray Hunt, to quit buying it. In October, EIA data shows that Hunt bought 465,000 barrels of crude from the Saudis for his refinery in Alabama. (And the refinery is his. Hunt Oil is among the biggest privately held oil companies on earth). In November, Hunt, a Dallasite who’s one of the world’s richest oil men, bought another 462,000 barrels of Saudi crude.
Hunt has been a Bush crony for years. He was the Republican National Committee’s finance chair during Bush’s 2000 campaign, and since 2001 he’s been enjoying one of the perquisites of his presidential friendship: Hunt sits on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board the elite group that gets access to America’s most-secret secrets. (Hunt also happens to sit on the board of another Bush-connected company, Halliburton. But that’s a different story.)
Is George W. going to tell his pal, Hunt, that he can’t buy crude oil from the Saudis? And if Bush did mean that we won’t buy oil from Saudi Arabia, then why was he holding hands with King Abdullah last April at his ranch in Crawford?
Thus, Bush couldn’t have been talking about Saudi Arabia.
So it’s a bit of a puzzle. In his State of the Union, Bush jumped on the energy isolationists’ bandwagon. Like them, he wants to cut America’s oil imports. But surely the president doesn’t want to hurt our allies in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Or does he?
ROBERT BRYCE is the author of Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate.