You Decide

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montage: map of the Middle East, red oil barrels, a U.S. soldier on guard. (this montage uses a photo by Staff Sgt. Jason T. Bailey, U.S. Air Force. ( CreditShould the United States end its dependence on foreign oil?

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

…that the U.S. military presence in supply lanes such as the Persian Gulf is key to America’s prestige and is a service to the world economy?

Because we consume foreign oil, the U.S. military keeps a close watch on various trade channels that the oil industry relies on: the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz (a narrow waterway between Iran on the north side and Oman and the United Arab Emirates on the south side — the only sea transport route for oil from Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates), and the Strait of Malacca (the waterway between peninsular Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the main shipping channel between the Pacific and Indian oceans).
U.S. military presence in these areas effectively makes our superpower status possible by extending the reach of our military. Moreover, nations all around the world rely heavily on goods that travel through these waters. If the United States were to abandon its position as the world’s oil cop, incidents of piracy would increase and rogue countries would have the ability to cut off vital oil chokepoints, putting the world economy at risk. The mere presence of U.S. battleships and bases around the world helps keep these supply lanes safe for everyone, thereby supporting the global economy.

…that our dependency on foreign oil comes at a huge cost to the U.S. military?

Some experts say our dependence on foreign oil has transformed much of the U.S. military into a global oil-protection service. They argue that if U.S. military costs to secure the flow of oil today were figured into what American consumers pay at the pump, the price of a gallon of gas would go up several dollars.

Many look to the current war in Iraq — which has so far cost us upwards of $500 billion and the lives of more than 4,000 American troops — as just another in a series of costly U.S. military interventions over the safety of oil supplies. After the 2003 invasion, many observers were quick to note the priority that U.S. military forces gave to securing the massive oil fields in Kirkuk. Troops also cordoned off the oil ministry in Baghdad while looters overran all other government buildings and the rest of the city collapsed into anarchy.

Oil interests continue to be a top priority for some American troops in Iraq, who are ordered to protect the country’s oil facilities and guard the pipelines that carry Iraqi crude to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. Elsewhere in the Middle East, U.S. naval ships and planes monitor and guard the Strait of Hormuz, the mouth of the Persian Gulf through which two-fifths of all globally traded oil is carried.

And here’s some oily irony: The U.S. military relies more on oil-powered transportation and machinery than any other nation, and the numbers are increasing. During the Gulf War, four gallons of fuel per day were required to support each soldier; in 2006, each soldier dispatched to Iraq and Afghanistan needs 16 gallons of fuel per day to support his work. In 2007 alone, the military energy bill rose from $10.9 billion to $13 billion. No wonder the military makes protecting oil reserves a top priority — at the cost of $44.4 billion in 2003, according to one estimate.


You’ve seen some of the arguments. Now cast your final vote to see the results of the poll; to see the other perspectives, please go through the activity again, select the opposite answers, and see what the opposition has to say.

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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