How does the situation in Iraq affect the average American at the gas pump?

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Sure, we all know that we fought a war in Iraq and that thousands of Americans were killed and wounded in it. Many don't want those sacrifices to have been in vain and many others don't want to lose yet more lives chasing a victory that has yet to become clear. Certainly our politicians and pundits have engaged in an orgy of self-justification over the past couple of weeks — none of them want to be proved wrong or they might lose their powerful posts and high-paying gigs on TV.

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But all of that is an argument about the past. What about the future? Is it really true that a takeover of Iraq's oil fields by radical insurgents would spell trouble for the U.S.? In particular, is the price of gas going to skyrocket?

Not really. And while that may sound naive, think just for a minute about what those radicals (or in fact any new rulers of Iraq) are likely to do with their oil. The answer is quite simple: No matter who owns that oil, the one thing you can be pretty sure of is that they are going to sell it. After all, they have few other ways to make money and you can bet that one reason the fighting is so vicious is that the stakes really are very high: Whoever wins gets to sell billions of dollars worth of oil. Sure, there might be some supply interruptions if there is a period of transition, but we already saw that happen when we invaded Iraq a few years ago and though oil prices climbed for a while, they quickly were back to what passes for normal.

As long as Iraqi oil gets into the international market, it will do its part to keep overall supplies high and prices pretty much where they would have been anyway. It doesn't even really matter where the Iraqi oil goes. If it ends up in, say, Europe instead of the U.S., then those Europeans will buy less oil from some other sources, leaving it for us to buy instead.

Who really does lose in the long run if Iraq is taken over by a new government? Certainly there are geopolitical reasons to fear such an outcome, particularly if a new haven for enemies of the U.S. is created. But there is little reason to fear oil market disruptions in the long run, unless of course, you are one of the companies currently contracted to pump the oil out — they might lose that contract but the rest of us can be sure that somebody will pump that oil out. And that is all I really need to be able fill my gas tank at a reasonable price.

Kyle is an associate professor at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University.