The Strait of Hormuz
A dhow carrying tourists cruises off the Oman's Khasab shores along the Strait of Hormuz on January 15 © Marwan Naamani - AFP/File
The Strait of Hormuz
Last updated: August 29, 2013
Nicole Jean: A nomination for energy security

"I believe electing Chuck Hagel to Secretary of Defense is a step in the right direction"

As something of an energy industry aficionado, my future career depends on the relative stability of major transit routes for oil. That being said, I am extremely pleased with President Obama’s nomination of former Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, for United States Secretary of Defense.

What does Hagel have to do with energy security?

The Strait of Hormuz.

Last week, Iran tested missiles and conducted navy drills in the Strait of Hormuz. Some news media sites have called these war games “provocative” or “pestilent,” but they are harmless attempts at intimidation. By no means is Iran going to launch an attack on the Strait in the near future. These drills, though, are a good reminder of Iran’s capacity to cripple the global economy if they feel their sovereignty is threatened.

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Twenty percent of the world’s oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz. Gulf countries have invested significantly in pipelines through Oman into the Arabian Sea that bypass the Strait. Abu Dhabi was the first to build such a pipeline in July 2012, but it has proven far more expensive to transport Emirati petroleum through the pipelines rather than transporting it the old-fashion way, by tanker through the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Much of the UAE oil, in addition to Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and a portion of Iraq oil, must still pass through the Strait of Hormuz, and little is being done to minimize the Strait’s geopolitical and economic significance besides increasing the density of American military in the Persian Gulf.

As long as tensions between Iran and Israel remain high, the global energy market is vulnerable and, by extension, countries and regions that depend on Gulf oil, including the United States, Europe, and especially Asia.

Iran’s military is both competitive and capable and, without doubt, has the ability to close the Strait, if maybe only momentarily, and wound the still-fragile global economy. But would this not hurt Iran, as well? Yes, it would, but US sanctions have already made Iranian oil un-purchasable, and in an already dire economic situation under the sanctions, Iran will have little to lose.

Therefore, peaceful, diplomatic discourse between the United States, Israel, and Iran should ensue, not the alternative: sending US and Israeli missiles to “defuse” Iran’s nuclear program.

This is where Chuck Hagel comes in.

The nomination of Chuck Hagel has been extremely controversial because of his allusion to the influence of the “Jewish lobby” in America. Adding to the blasphemy, Hagel is notoriously critical of Israel and even voted against unilateral sanctions on Iran. I cannot even begin to speculate how this former senator – a Republican, no less – was able to sustain a career in the US government after making such statements, but I am glad he did.

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When hearing of Hagel’s nomination, I audibly sighed a sigh of relief. Not only is this nomination an indication that the Obama administration is weary of further antagonizing the Islamic Republic, but it drastically decreases the likelihood of armed conflict in the Persian Gulf.

Obama is still the President, of course, and he will ultimately be the one making foreign policy decisions, but he may soon have at least one advisor who will more than likely oppose attacks on Iran. Hagel officially claims that he supports sanctions against Iran and has not ruled out military action, but it is definitely refreshing to face a candidate that does not blindly defer to Tel Aviv for Washington’s Middle East foreign policy.

This bodes well for energy security in the Gulf and may keep the Strait of Hormuz safe from Iran’s sea mines, anti-tanker speed boats, strategic oil spills, or any other Iranian assaults, as preemptive Western military action poses less of a threat.

In 2007, Hagel was quoted saying, “People say we’re not fighting for oil. Of course we are…” He was referring to the invasion of Iraq, but it has been a timeless, albeit unspoken, motto for American foreign policy. In the case of Iran, however, war and violence won’t secure the oil, so it is about time that the US revamped its strategy in the Middle East. And I believe electing Chuck Hagel to Secretary of Defense is a step in the right direction.

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On the flip side, it looks like Obama is holding firm to his drone program. He will nominate John Brennan as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), one of the masterminds behind the first Obama administration’s drone policies. This can only mean the continuance of the current drone policy and, subsequently, more instability in the Middle East. Not ideal for an energy security enthusiast like myself, but that is a different discussion altogether.

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