You Decide

Produced by KQED

montage: red oil barrels, a fuel gauge pointing to empty, a map of the worldShould the United States end its dependence on foreign oil?

  • Yes? But have you considered...
  • No? But have you considered...

…that buying and consuming foreign oil creates business relationships in which producers and consumers share interests, making for peaceful international business partnerships?

Take a look at the Middle East: With the exceptions of Iraq and the Israel/Palestine border disputes, since the 1930s the area’s states have for the most part cooperated to keep the peace. It is, after all, much harder to maintain a country’s exports during wartime.

Venezuela is another good example: One could argue that Venezuela is one country in Latin America that has not had a civil war because Venezuela and the United States share a common interest in oil, and war would disrupt that very important relationship. These days, China is forming a deeper relationship with Venezuela by importing oil, and that relationship includes China’s making loans to Venezuela for low-income housing. Although the country is troubled in many ways, Venezuela relies on its oil export relationships to remain stable.

Were the United States to stop importing oil, some positive, peacekeeping relationships would fall by the wayside, possibly destabilizing entire regions.

…that when we consume foreign oil, we’re supporting repression, corruption and even terrorism?

Let’s look at the Middle East first, into which tens of billions of U.S. dollars flow every year for oil. Saudi Arabia, which collected $95 billion from the United States for oil it exported between 2003 and 2006, is an absolute monarchy where public executions by beheading are carried out; where religious freedom is nonexistent; where countless political dissidents are imprisoned without being charged with a crime or tried; and where women are denied fundamental rights, including those of voting and driving.

Meanwhile, the Saudi royal family tightly controls the country’s oil wealth, and the vast majority of the young and fast-growing population — more than 60 percent of Saudis are under age 25 — has yet to feel the benefits of oil. This is partly because Wahabism, the ultraconservative brand of Islam, is taught in most Saudi schools, to the exclusion of studies necessary to compete in the global marketplace. Fundamentalist forces wield enormous power in Saudi Arabia. High unemployment coupled with poor academic preparation can make young Saudis easy prey for extremist groups and terror organizations recruiting new members. In addition, individuals in Saudi Arabia and in other Persian Gulf states — some of whom are doubtless rich from oil — are helping to fund terrorist organizations around the world.

In addition, most of the world’s oil states are fragile and unstable, doomed by what some economists call “the resource curse” that, studies show, seems to accompany oil wealth. With few exceptions, countries with a lot of oil suffer from lower economic growth rates; their reliance on oil discourages investment in other industries, making governments less responsive to the people and officials more likely to be corrupt.

Case in point: Nigeria. Nigeria is the fifth-largest oil supplier to the United States, and it’s wracked by ethnic tensions and oil terrorism over control of the oil-rich Niger Delta. While most of Nigeria’s oil revenues are siphoned off by 1 percent of the population, more than half of the country survives on less than a dollar a day.

Just about every country to which the United States turns to satisfy its thirst for oil is troubled by poverty and corruption.


Considering this, should the United States end its dependence on foreign oil?

Nothing about the issues facing the candidates and American voters in 2008 is black and white. With these You Decide activities, you can explore both sides of an issue, put your own critical thinking to work, and discuss the pros and cons with others. In the end, perhaps you will ask different — and better — questions than those presented here.


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