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This article examines the nature of US oil intervention in West Africa and in particular the ways in which US strategic policy is increasingly being wedded to energy security. It argues that academic debates of a ‘new oil imperialism’ overplays the geostrategic dimensions of US policy, which in turn underplays the forms of globalization promoted by Washington in the postwar world. Specifically, the US has long sought to ‘transnationalize’ economies in the developing world, rather than pursue a more mercantilist form of economic nationalism. This article argues that US oil intervention in Africa conforms to this broader picture, whereby processes of transnationalization and interstate competition are being played out against the backdrop of African oil. The recent turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa will add to these dynamics in interesting and unpredictable ways.