Oil Weapon Losing Clout

The price of gasoline dipped under $2 a gallon this week in some Oklahoma filling stations and others are expected to follow.

Plunging global oil prices come at a time when the United States is poised to surpass Saudi Arabia as the world's number one oil producer. That's good news for consumers and for those who feel OPEC as exerted undue influence on American foreign policy for too long.

Combined with new strategic realities in the Middle East, it also opens opportunities for Israel and its Arab neighbors to cooperate against shared threats, but whether they are politically ready is another matter.

Opinion polls over the decades have consistently shown Americans sympathize with Israel over the Arabs by wide margins.  

The Arabs cemented that in place with their oil embargo 41 years ago when they cut off oil to the United States and other countries to punish them for supporting Israel in the 1973 war.

Since then the mantra of every American president has been energy independence, particularly ending our reliance on Middle Eastern oil. We may have finally arrived at energy independence, at least for the foreseeable future, The New York times reported last week.

The oil weapon had some success in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. In Canada, the Netherlands, Britain, France and particularly Japan, governments adopted a more pro-Arab stance, even the Nixon administration succumbed to some of that pressure, but the American public was steadfast in its support for the Jewish state.

The Saudis and oil sheikhs have had unusual access and influence in successive administrations. One long-serving Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, had such unprecedented access in both Bush administrations that he was nicknamed "Bandar Bush" by George W. Bush.

That coziness hasn't been reflected on Capitol Hill or in American public opinion.

While the oil embargo and subsequent wielding of the oil weapon made the Gulf Arabs synonymous with greed, the September 11, 2001, attacks, when 15 of the 19 terrorists plus Osama bin Laden were Saudis, added terrorism, fairly or not, to the image.

Today there is a new reality in the Middle East.  The threat of radical Islam, the prospect of a nuclear Iran, a weakened OPEC and American energy independence have joined to create new opportunities for American and Israeli diplomacy.

All that is needed is visionary leadership that can rise about old hatreds and rivalries and embrace the new realities. Read more about this in my Washington Watch column.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.