The world has changed, so should our energy policy

October 22, 2015

Originally published in The Hill

October 21, 2015, 10:00 am

By Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas)

U.S. energy policy is about far more than jobs and the economy. It is a critical component of our foreign policy.

Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly claimed that our European allies are poised to abandon us if we do not approve the administration’s short-sighted and ultimately dangerous nuclear deal with Iran. Ignoring for a moment the underlying implication that our standing in the world has been degraded under President Obama’s watch, consider why this threat exists.

It is because Germany and France want to buy energy from Iran.

Instead of continuing to be the only country that has a self-imposed ban on exporting crude oil and enabling Iran to generate additional income to support their largest export – terrorism, I have a much better idea. We sell American energy to Europe instead.

The ban that keeps the United States from selling crude oil on the world market may have made sense four decades ago. It no longer does. The outdated policy does not reflect our 21st century production capabilities resulting from innovation in the American energy industry. It is well documented that selling our crude on the global market  will create American jobs and galvanize our economy. Exporting American crude has the additional benefit of pressuring two resurgence adversaries -- Russia and Iran.

Though President Obama has come out against Congressional efforts to lift this ban and allow American companies to sell on the world market, he seems to have no problem with Iran’s ability to sell energy to our allies – one of the advantages Iran receives from the nuclear deal brokered by the administration. If Europe is buying from America instead of Iran that is less money going to the state-sponsored terror we know Iran will continue to support.

Russia also greatly benefits from the continuation of this ban. Russia’s economy is dependent on selling oil to Europe. Since the global slump of oil prices, coupled with economic sanctions resulting from their invasion of Crimea, their economy has been struggling. Many who follow the vagaries of our Russian adversary believe their antagonistic efforts in Syria and aggressive posturing in Eastern Europe is a result of this reality about their economy. Russia’s faltering economy opens the door to diplomatic solutions to these conflicts, and leveraging our energy abundance will force them to reevaluate their behavior in places like Syria.

Arab leaders know that the brutal dictator Bashar al-Asad must go. The United Nations believes that resolving the problems in Syria will only happen when Asad is gone, yet Russia is using their Air Force to destroy Syrian targets proposed by Asad. Many of those targets are rebel groups in opposition to Asad and that have been trained by the U.S. The Russians are demonstrating they are willing to support their allies even in the face of international opposition. Our partners are learning that America doesn’t have their back. 

ISIS is a product of the conflict in Syria and the only way we are going to solve this threat is through cooperation with local forces on the ground. The model we should be pursuing in Syria is the Afghanistan model perfected by Ambassador Hank Crumpton when he was the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center Special Operations Division (CTC/SO). In late December 2001, following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the southern Afghanistan city of Qandahar fell. It was the capital city of the Taliban and when it fell we had killed two-thirds of al-Qa’ida leadership and pushed the Taliban out of Afghanistan. These objectives were achieved with four hundred  Americans on the ground – three hundred Special Forces and one hundred CIA officers. We were able to do this because of the greatest Air Force the world had ever seen and cooperation with local forces like the Northern Alliance and Pashtun tribal militias.

A very similar formula of success can work in Syria, but our allies need to know they have our support. That means severely limiting Russian activity in the region. We have a diplomatic and economic tool that we can easily wield that does not require the unnecessary sacrifice of our men and women who are proudly serving their country.

The historic vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to lift this obsolete ban could be the turning point in a disappointing economic recovery and a faltering foreign policy that continues to degrade.  Let’s use our economic power to restore our standing in the world. And let’s do it before it is too late.

Hurd has represented Texas’ 23rd Congressional District since 2015. He sits on the Homeland Security and the Oversight and Government Reform committees. He is a former undercover CIA officer.