On January 8, President Trump addressed the nation following an Iranian missile attack on U.S. positions in Iraq. Buried in his speech was a fascinating aside. The president argued that:
“…America has achieved energy independence … these historic accomplishments changed our strategic priorities … we are now the number‐one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world. We are independent and we do not need Middle East oil.”
To a large extent, the president is correct: America is now the world’s biggest producer of hydrocarbons, making us far more energy secure than in prior decades. Most Middle Eastern oil now flows east to China, India, and other Asian states instead.
Yet the Trump administration’s own policies in the region contradict his statement. Since 2016, the United States has doubled down on its military presence in the Middle East, adding more than 14,000 troops to a region already full of U.S. bases. And the Trump administration has pursued a maximum‐pressure campaign against Iran that uses oil‐focused sanctions in an attempt to weaken Iran’s regional influence and perhaps even topple the regime.
The Iran crisis thus highlights the changing relationship between U.S. foreign policy and global oil markets. If — as the president suggests — the United States is indeed energy independent, why have our strategic priorities not changed? Why do we remain overcommitted to the Middle East? And what can sanctions on Iran tell us about the increasing weaponization of global markets by U.S. policymakers?