When Joe Biden said last Monday that it was a mistake to “fight indefinitely in a conflict which is not in the national interest of the United States,” he did more than provide a twisted excuse for the withdrawal that let millions of Afghans turn around. in the hands of the Taliban savages. Between the lines, what Biden said is that “the national interest of the United States” no longer resides in the Arab world.
Until recently, no American president would dream of such an argument. Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s meeting with King Ibn Saud at Suez in February 1945 (Roosevelt with his advisers, Saud with his slaves), the Middle East and its oil have been at the center of American foreign policy.
To keep the oil flowing and maintain its hegemony in the second half of the 20th century, the United States supported the Saudi homicidal monarchy, turned a blind eye to the Israeli occupations in Palestine, fondled Saddam Hussein, got sick of it. Al-Qaeda, a guest of the Taliban, and transformed Central and West Asia on the scorching cold war stage. That time is over.
One of the reasons was technological. In the late 1990s, Americans discovered how to extract oil and gas from shale, a very common type of sedimentary rock, using what is known as hydraulic fracturing.
Over the past two decades, fracking has driven the price of natural gas down, phasing out coal-fired power plants, and then making America the world’s largest oil producer and net exporter of that commodity. Thus, the particular geology of the Arabian Peninsula is less and less important.
In 2001, when George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden, the United States consumed 20 mbd (millions of barrels per day), imported 12 mdb (3 mdb from the Persian Gulf) and exported 1 mdb, according to data from the Energy Information Agency. In 2020, the country consumed 18 mdb, imported 7.9 mdb and exported 8.5 mdb. The share of Gulf imports today (0.8 billion) is lower than total US exports in 2001, when Mullah Omar, founder and first head of the Taliban, bit Kabul’s mule.
With increasing energy independence, the United States has lost the underlying geopolitical lock that kept it in its longest and most unpopular war and which killed twice as many Americans as the event that brought it about. caused on September 11, and with the conflict in Iraq, it consumed $ 2 trillion.
The track was cleared for the isolationism of Donald Trump, who made the decision, ratified by Biden, to stop playing “nation building” and to withdraw his troops from Afghanistan.
The change in the energy landscape has also allowed the United States to repeat, under Barack Obama, a policy that would revolve around the central axis of Biden’s diplomacy: the fight against the climate crisis. The Democrat’s inaugural speech broke new ground by removing international terrorism from the country’s enemies list and focusing on racism, the pandemic and the issue of carbon emissions.
These have declined due to competition between cleaner natural gas and coal and the growth of renewable sources. They have plunged into the pandemic, the biggest drop in U.S. oil consumption in a year since 1950, and could drop further if Biden takes seriously his pledges to lead the world to mitigate the climate catastrophe heralded on 9th June. the IPCC, the UN climate panel.
The economic package centered on the Green New Deal and the meeting of climate leaders last April have now set the tone for “the American national interest”: instead of fighting over access to hydrocarbons in countries with tanned populations, Americans want to fight with China and Europe for the market for solar panels, electric cars and batteries.
The Biden government sees a horizon for the life of hydrocarbons and begins to prepare for the country’s withdrawal from this economy. The news is certainly good for the climate. But, like any sneeze from the world’s greatest economic power and warrior, it will leave corpses along the way.
The abandonment of Kabul, dramatically symbolized by images from the airport this week, could be the start of a handwashing movement that will hit other American allies in the Middle East (hello, Saudi Prince Bin Salman) . Those who survive will at least be able to buy solar panels made in the USA.