Saudi Arabia/Iran: Interview with Andrew Scott Cooper, Author of The Oil Kings

 

It is a pleasure for American Bedu to have the opportunity to interview Andrew Scott Cooper, author of the book “The Oil Kings.”  This interview will allow American Bedu readers to learn about Andrew Scott Cooper the man and how his life experiences and interests led him to become an adept author on Saudi/Iran relations.

To begin with Andrew, where are you originally from? 

I was born and raised in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand.

What was it like growing up in New Zealand as a young boy?  Did you ever feel isolated from the rest of the world?

New Zealand is one of the most geographically isolated countries in the world, practically as close to the South Pole as it is to Australia. From a young age I was conscious of the fact that all the “action” was going on in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. The South Pacific was very quiet for the most part during the Cold War, which was a blessing for the most part, but also a cause of some frustration for a young news junkie!

At what age did you begin to have an interest in international affairs and politics?  What stoked this interest?  How did this interest in news and analysis prepare and impact you for later on in your life?

I started reading the world news page in our local evening newspaper when I was 9 and 10 years old. I became aware of certain big events impacting my world, the Iranian revolution for example, which resulted in the second oil shock, carless days, and the halting of all meat product sales to the new Islamic Republic of Iran. Our paper’s world news page was a great place for me to start learning about geopolitics, economics, leadership, strategy, etc. I remember reading articles and running down to the local library to ferret out additional information from history books, encyclopedias and news magazines. By the age of 15 I was a pretty good analyst!

When did you “officially” become a journalist?  Where were you at that point and what were you reporting on? 

In 1992 I traveled to the United States as a freelance foreign correspondent to cover the presidential election campaign. That was a fantastic experience for a young guy fresh out of New Zealand and eager to learn about American politics and culture. Later, in 1994, I graduated from Columbia University with a master’s degree in journalism and went out to Bangkok for a bit to work on a new English language business newspaper.

You were a landmines investigator at one point in your journalistic career.  Where did these investigations take you?  How did investigating landmines impact upon you as an individual?  How did this subject impact on your writing, if at all?

The UN’s demining unit hired me to research the human and socio-economic impact of landmine infestation around the world. In 1995 most people in the West knew little or nothing about the problem, even though thousands of mostly women and children were being killed and maimed each year in mine blasts on the developing world. Working inside the UN Secretariat in New York for a year was a revealing experience, though my ideals took a hammering. I had never experienced bureaucratic dysfunction on that scale before! However, I learned that I enjoyed researching and writing to deadline and going in deep on subjects rather than writing about different issues every day as journalists are required to do when they work at newspapers.

When and how did you start to get the idea to write “The Oil Kings?”  Where were you?  How much exposure did you have to Saudi Arabia and Iran at that time?

I began the research that led to “The Oil Kings” in the spring of 2006. I was already quite familiar with Iran and Saudi Arabia, more so with Iran given that country’s constant presence in the news. I was also much more interested in modern Iranian history. I was living in New York and quite bored with my office job. Almost on a dare to myself, I thought I would start my own investigative research project to learn more about the causes of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. When I began my research I really hadn’t factored in a Saudi angle–that only came later when I came across the declassified documentation that formed the basis of my book.

How much impact did the United States Government have in determining the true oil kings?   Do you think the United States had too much political influence towards determining the outcome and flow of Middle Eastern oil?  Why or why not?

The United States Government had an enormous impact on the oil kings of the Middle East. Had it not been for the U.S. it seems hard to believe either the Iranian or the Saudi monarchies could have survived for as long as they did. The U.S. imperative was always to secure the Persian Gulf oil fields and shipping lanes for itself and its major trading partners and to block any Soviet effort to control the affairs of the region. This led all the governments involved to make a series of strategic miscalculations, as I’ve outlined in the book.

How easy or difficult was it for you to research material for “The Oil Kings?”

When I started back in ’06 I really had nothing to go on except old books and newspaper and magazine articles. The principal actors hadn’t talked or hadn’t wanted to. Luckily for me, it was just the right time to embark on this project. The U.S. Government had just approved the declassification of documentation from the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Which country, Iran or Saudi Arabia, best understands the use of oil as a weapon?

The Saudis for sure, but only because they have the surplus capacity to actually use oil as a weapon. I’m sure that if the Iranians had that same swing capacity they would use oil as a weapon too.

How does one define oil and energy security to a layman?

When you drive your car, eat an ice cream cone, open tupperware, or moisturize with a skin care product, you are using oil. And that oil most likely comes from a country with which the United States has a difficult or complex relationship, such as Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. We cannot separate our national security from our energy security. In fact, energy security is national security.

In addition to Iran and Saudi Arabia, do you believe there are other oil producing states which can pose a threat to economic security?  Why or why not?

Events in Nigeria, Venezuela and the Caspian Sea region bear watching, especially the latter because of the toxic confluence of geopolitics, corruption, corporate meddling, environmental degradation and extreme poverty. These countries, ticking time bombs of instability, also contain vast deposits of oil and gas.

Do you or “The Oil Kings” have your  own website where American Bedu readers can acquire more information and gain their copy of the book?

I am on Facebook and “The Oil Kings” has its own Facebook page, where I link relevant news articles and also media interviews such as this one.

Is there a book tour schedule?

I just completed a three-week book tour of the United States and the United Kingdom. I am also doing interviews from New Zealand.

Now that you have completed “The Oil Kings,” what is next?  Will you write another book?

Most likely a completely different topic, though I would like to keep writing about oil and energy security issues, and also Iran-Saudi relations.

I understand that you are now in Scotland.  What took you there?

What do you like to do in your spare time?  What are you hobbies and interests?

I am living back in Wellington, New Zealand, completing my PhD in history. I spent a year in Scotland in 2007-08 to do my second master’s degree in strategic studies.

Have you ever been to Saudi Arabia or Iran?  Which one would you wish to visit first now and why?

I have not traveled to either one. I am more interested in seeing Iran because of its storied history going back to Persian times. I had intended to visit Iran in 2009 but aborted my trip when the post-election unrest led to the imprisonment of several scholars holding foreign passports.

Are there any additional comments you’d like to add?

The Age of Oil is winding down and the time has come for all of us to prepare for the transition to a different sort of society, economy and culture. There may be temporary aberrations from time to time, but prices will not be going down or returning to the levels of the early 2000s. Now is the time for everyone to start thinking ahead and urging investment in renewable sources of energy and mass transit.

Thank you again for taking the time for this interview!

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4 Responses

  1. very nice interview, his comment about the UN had me smiling…

  2. ‘Now is the time for everyone to start thinking ahead and urging investment in renewable sources of energy and mass transit.’

    They SHOULD have been doing that as soon as they saw that it was being used as a weapon.

  3. Oil is most important element in mordern Poletics…. Most of the developing country is unaware about the matter…. the phrase “Oil King”not only belongs to those whom are producing “oil” but also for them whom are “controling ” the oil as ” weapon”.
    And for us developing country, we are being controlled by those controllers.

  4. just found an interesting article from Eman’s blog…. Oil, Islam and Women to read the article please visit http://politics.salon.com/2008/08/26/oil_islam_and_women/singleton/

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