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Middle East Petrodollars and the Transformation of US Empire, 1967–1988 with David M. Wight & Shana Marshall

Middle East Petrodollars and the Transformation of US Empire, 1967–1988

This is a hybrid event. Attendees may watch remotely via Zoom, or attend in-person at the Elliott School of International Affairs, 1957 E St NW, Room 505, Washington, D.C. 20052.


Oil Money Middle East Petrodollars and the Transformation of US Empire, 1967–1988 (Cornell University Press, 2021)

In Oil Money, David M. Wight offers a new framework for understanding the course of Middle East–US relations during the 1970s and 1980s: the transformation of the US global empire by Middle East petrodollars. During these two decades, American, Arab, and Iranian elites reconstituted the primary role of the Middle East within the global system of US power from a supplier of cheap crude oil to a source of abundant petrodollars, the revenues earned from the export of oil.

In the 1970s, the United States and allied monarchies, including the House of Pahlavi in Iran and the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia, utilized petrodollars to undertake myriad joint initiatives for mutual economic and geopolitical benefit. These petrodollar projects were often unprecedented in scope and included multibillion-dollar development projects, arms sales, purchases of US Treasury securities, and funds for the mujahedin in Afghanistan. Although petrodollar ties often augmented the power of the United States and its Middle East allies, Wight argues they also fostered economic disruptions and state-sponsored violence that drove many Americans, Arabs, and Iranians to resist Middle East–US interdependence, most dramatically during the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Deftly integrating diplomatic, transnational, economic, and cultural analysis, Wight utilizes extensive declassified records from the Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations, the IMF, the World Bank, Saddam Hussein’s regime, and private collections to make plain the political economy of US power. Oil Money is an expansive yet judicious investigation of the wide-ranging and contradictory effects of petrodollars on Middle East–US relations and the geopolitics of globalization.


  • David M. Wight is Visiting Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is the author of Oil Money: Middle East Petrodollars and the Transformation of US Empire, 1967–1988 (Cornell University Press, 2021). He has also published articles and book chapters on the history of international relations, the United States, and the Middle East in Diplomatic History, History & Memory, the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History, and the Washington Post, among others. Wight is currently researching the dramatic rise of higher education exchanges between the Arab world and the United States during the Cold War, the United States and the Iran-Iraq War, and the long historical arc of relations between the Middle East and the United States.

  • Shana Marshall is Associate Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and Assistant Research Professor at GWU. Her dissertation, “The New Politics of Patronage: The Arms Trade and Clientelism in the Arab World” examined how Middle East governments use arms sales agreements to channel financial resources and economic privileges to pro-regime elites. Prior to GW, Dr. Marshall was a fellow at The Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University and the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton University. Her current research focuses on patterns of military entrepreneurship in Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE.