No War for Oil: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East by Ivan Eland Independent Institute · 201 1 · 224 pages · $2 1.95 hardcover; $15.95 paperback
Reviewed by George Leef
Ever since the Royal Navy converted its ships from coal to oil in 191 1, oil has been a "strategic" resource. Powerful nations whose fleets and economies depend on abundant, readily available oil have schemed and when necessary fought to make certain they would be able to get all the oil they wanted. Much blood has been shed in conflicts over oil, but Independent Institute scholar Ivan Eland shows in No War for Oil that we would have saved many lost lives and squandered resources if we had simply allowed the market to work. There is no more need to fight over oil than over iron ore or coffee plantations.
This is a myth-busting book that directly challenges many mistaken ideas that keep leading America into terrible policy blunders. Combining historical analysis with a sound grasp of economics, Eland presents an overwhelming case in favor of a noninterventionist energy policy.
The first part of the book gives the reader the historical background to understand our present oil problems. Just as America's medical care "crisis" has its origins in government intervention long ago, so too with oil. Early in the twentieth century, the Texas Railroad Commission sought to keep oil prices artificially high by dictating how much each producer would be allowed to market. Despite the image of rugged individualism, oil producers have often looked to government for favors.
The British and French also played oil politics. After World War I they carved up the old Ottoman Empire with oil domination in mind. The artificial nation of Iraq was stitched together so the British could control oil production in the region. That political connivance, Eland writes, "has haunted the world up until the present."
American involvement in World War II also had much to do with oil, specifically the Roosevelt administration's decision to embargo oil shipments to Japan. Eland observes that Roosevelt had wanted to goad Japan into military aggression with the embargo, calculating that the militaristic Japanese would try to seize the energy (and other resources) they needed. That strategy of course "worked." FDR got the war he wanted. Ironically, American policy over the last two decades has been very similar to imperial Japan's, Eland argues.
During the Cold War American oil interventionism was almost incessant. Eland takes readers through one blunder …