The U.S. perceives its security, economic prosperity and survival in terms of global energy.
While the U.S. is a global leader in renewable energy and is the world's third-leading oil producer, it consumes more fossil fuels than any other state and depends on imports from oil-producing countries to meet much of its consumer and commercial demand. The U.S. has even propped up autocratic governments to influence energy markets and the transportation of oil and natural gas through choke points and pipelines.
However, the 2011 uprisings in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, and the overthrow of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt will have far-reaching implications for the pursuit of America's energy interests and beyond.
While the recent upheaval is largely domestic as protest movements have sought to bring down very repressive and highly corrupt governments, the strategic balance of power in the Middle East is moving decidedly against the U.S. Iran and Syria have moved closer to one another in developing military partnerships. In recent years, Turkey's Islamist government has pursued a foreign policy independent of the U.S. by establishing partnerships with both Iran and Syria. Hamas and Hezbollah have elected representatives in the Palestinian authority and Lebanon. It also appears a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq is moving slightly away from the U.S. by establishing partnerships with Iran, Syria and Turkey. Moreover, American allies Oman and Qatar, as well as Bahrain's Shiite minority, favor closer ties with Iran.
Amidst the upheaval, the U.S. has no choice but to stand on the sidelines as Iran is positioning itself to recast the regional balance of power in its favor. In a show of force, Iran sent two warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since the 1979 revolution with approval from Egypt’s new military government.
Iran's emergence should come as no surprise since it was facilitated 10 years ago by the U.S. when it removed the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hussein in Iraq. Both moves worked to contain Iranian expansionism.
These hard realities either will force the U.S. into developing more efficient ways to consume fossil fuels or continue placing the world's most volatile and dangerous regions at the very center of its foreign policy.
Chris Dolan is an assistant professor of political science at Lebanon Valley College and the author of “Striking First,” “In War We Trust,” and “The Presidency and Economic Policy.”