'Death by a thousand duck bites' for Mideast oil

The crisis in Syria—including the possibility of U.S. military action there—is just one of many problems in the Mideast that drove oil prices recently higher, John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil, said on Friday.

"The problem across the Mideast right now is the oil industry is facing essentially death by a thousand duck bites," he said in a "Squawk Box" interview, citing pressures from regional unrest in Libya and Egypt that have nothing to do with Syria.

(Read More: Sell the Syrian threat, buy any action: Market pro)

Syria has never been a big oil producer, explained Hofmeister, founder and CEO of Citizens for Affordable Energy. But if the conflict were to widen, he added, prices could really go higher.

Even if the U.S. has to go it alone, President Barack Obama seems prepared to launch a military strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad for an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds in a rebel-held area outside the capital of Damascus last week.

(Read More: Lawmakers: Obama must do more before hitting Syria)

"It depends on the magnitude of what happens. And what are the consequences," Hofmeister said. "If this single event that the White House proposes starts to have other national implications in the Mideast, then who knows?"

In the last couple of days, oil prices did drop a bit from their two-year highs of earlier this week when military action in Syria seemed imminent.

(Read More: Don't hit Syria; goto Congress if you do: NBC poll

"The real outcome here [is] the global economy suffers the high price of oil. And if we stay on this path, we're not going to have a very good decade," Hofmeister predicted.

If Syria was not a factor, the price of oil would be much lower, he argued. "It would go down because there's not enough strength in the global economy … to really push the price from a demand standpoint. The supply is the issue. People are worried about the supply. The demand is pretty weak."

By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC.