How America’s unappeasable thirst for cheap oil led to foreign-policy bungling in the Persian Gulf.
In his first book, Cooper revisits a not-so-distant period when the United States was the world’s No. 1 oil producer and Iran its foremost ally in the Middle East. He traces the dizzying spiral that, from 1969 to 1977, left America the world’s biggest oil importer, at sword’s point with Iran and huddled up with and reliant upon Saudi Arabia. Relying on a rich cache of previously classified notes, transcripts, cables, policy briefs and memoranda, Cooper explains how oil drove, even corrupted, American foreign policy during a time when Cold War imperatives still applied. With American influence and power curbed by Vietnam and later Watergate, with the industrial West at the mercy of OPEC and with Iran and Saudi Arabia competing for regional primacy, successive administrations under severe domestic economic pressure maneuvered in the Middle East to insure the flow of cheap crude. The most compelling dimension to Cooper’s narrative is the story of U.S-Iran relations, particularly during the Nixon and Ford administrations. To Americans, the Shah was the Guardian of the Gulf, a modern ruler and a reliably anti-communist ally. Nixon ramped up arms sales and also loosened import quotas. With quiet U.S. approval, the Shah raised prices to pay for a huge, more than merely defensive arsenal. Then, with Iran’s economy at the mercy of falling oil prices, with Iranians chafing at the Shah’s iron rule, with the impatient and increasingly out of touch Shah dying of cancer, the Saudis, encouraged by the U.S. government, broke with OPEC, flooded the oil market and brought the Shah to his knees. The Ayatollah Khomeini waited offstage. No U.S. official emerges unscathed from Cooper’s analysis, but he judges Henry Kissinger especially harshly. Notoriously deficient in matters of oil and economics, Kissinger insisted on personalizing relations with the Shah, hoarding information, stifling critics and enhancing his own power, all at the expense of a genuine American understanding of the precariousness of the Shah’s throne.
A revelatory, impressive debut.