Middle Eastern oil has been funding Islamic extremism for decades. And the best way to stop it is to give countries dependent on Middle Eastern oil and natural gas an alternative source.
That means it’s time to end the 40-year ban on U.S. oil and natural gas exports.
In his 2003 book The Crisis of Islam, Princeton Professor Bernard Lewis, widely viewed as one of America’s leading experts on Islam and the Middle East, explains that Wahhabism, a fundamentalist sect of Islam, took roots in the Arabian peninsula in the 18th century and became the dominant form of Islam in the region.
Once the founders of the Saud dynasty, which embraced Wahhabism, began to exploit the oil reserves in what became Saudi Arabia, they used that wealth to spread their fundamentalist message. Lewis writes:
The outward flow of oil and the corresponding inward flow of money brought immense changes to the Saudi kingdom… The most significant change was the impact of Wahhabism and the role of its protagonists. Wahhabism was now the official state-enforced doctrine of one of the most influential governments of all Islam… [T]he teachers and preachers of Wahhabism had at their disposal immense financial resources, which they used to promote and spread their version of Islam.
Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, Saudi Wahhabist was Osama bin Laden.
While the Saudis are an important U.S. ally, their version of Islam sometimes turns into extremism and even terrorism. And the Saudis aren’t the only ones. Iran uses its oil profits to fund terrorist groups too.
If countries, and especially our allies, had a stable alternative fossil fuel source, they might turn to it rather than the Saudis—or the Russians, for that matter, who use oil and natural gas as a foreign policy weapon to promote their agenda.
But even though U.S. oil and natural gas production has reached highs not seen in decades, and our storage capacity for excess oil and gas is quickly filling up, federal law with few exceptions prohibits energy companies from exporting either crude oil or natural gas.
The good news is there is bipartisan support for ending the oil export ban, which was imposed in the 1970s when Congress was trying reduce our dependence on foreign oil and gas. Well, that dependence has declined significantly in the past few years, thanks to innovative drilling techniques. In fact, the U.S. could be a net oil and gas exporter within a few years—if Congress repeals the ban.
If we want to cut the Middle East’s ability to use oil and gas revenues to support terrorism, then we need to provide them with a little competition. Creating a global market for U.S. crude oil and gas will lead to a more stable supply as the industry cranks up production knowing there will be a market for its product.
And that increased supply will decrease the markets and profits Middle Eastern countries have to create mischief. It won’t happen overnight, but if we want to defund terrorism, we should start by undermining extremists’ primary funding source: energy.