Since Muammar Qaddafi was toppled in Tripoli, Saddam Hussein’s fall in Baghdad eight years ago and 1,800 miles away has framed much of the way many think about it. Global leaders, reporters, experts, and even Libyan officials have explicitly argued that Libya will not become another Iraq. This is particularly emphasized when addressing oil and natural gas, which not only dominate Libya’s economy but also are important to the global economy.
Politicians in Washington are grappling with how to address rising gasoline prices, but most of their answers—from repealing tax breaks for oil companies to expanding offshore drilling—are unlikely to make much of a difference any time soon. The Arab awakening, coupled with Iran’s accelerated pursuit of nuclear weapons, ensures that energy prices will likely remain elevated for a long time. In the near- and long-term, those events are leading to less energy produced and exported from the Middle East and North Africa than there otherwise would be, as well as greater risk to their transport.
The public uprisings spreading like wildfire from Tunisia to the Persian Gulf have been referred to collectively as the “Arab Spring.” But in fact, as the Obama administration crafts its policy responses, it should strive to avoid this unifying narrative, lest it obscure the unique challenges faced by each country, as well as the distinctive ramifications that each uprising has for U.S. interests.
Seventy years ago, in the summer and fall of 1940, Western civilization teetered in the balance as Britain stood alone against Nazi-controlled Europe. Other major world powers did not lend aid; Russia supported Germany, and the United States remained neutral. After Britain resisted the assault of Nazi bombers, in what was dubbed the “Battle of Britain,” the country was saved and German momentum stymied. The whole course of the war then radically shifted.
Last month marked a turning point in the United States-Iraq relationship. American influence is waning, while Iraq is taking steps to get on its feet economically. We suffered no combat deaths in December, and continue to reduce our presence, expecting to withdraw all combat troops by August. And Iraq concluded a major round of production deals with oil companies. This last development is a big deal.
As the Obama administration prepares to engage Iran diplomatically, sentiment in Congress is rising in support of applying greater pressure on Tehran. The current centerpiece of this strategy is legislation recently introduced by a bipartisan set of congressional leaders to sanction companies that sell gasoline to Iran or help upgrade Iran’s gasoline refining capacity. Despite the appeal of leveraging Iran’s apparent dependence on imports of refined petroleum, the legislation is unlikely to have much impact.