Oil as a determinant of social, political and economic history of the United States from 1981 to the present

Length: 1247 words

American military intervention in world affairs has risen drastically since the end of the Second World War. The period following the Second World War saw America assume the role of a superpower that headed the western coalition in what was then a bipolar world. Since the collapse of Soviet Union in the late 80’s, America has had at its disposal the most potent military force. Its economic structure complements military spending, leading to a military industrial complex. Energy resources are a key motivator for the actions of this military industrial complex. The 2003 invasion of Iraq will have to be studied in this context. Understandably, there were questions raised about its legitimacy. There are those who claim it to be a venture to garner strategic oil resources of the country, while others advocated the threat of terrorism posed by dictators like Saddam Hussein. Supporters of the Bush Administration further argued that toppling Saddam Hussein was a just act that needed no elaborate legitimacy. Liberating the country from an oppressive dictatorship was deemed a just act in and of itself. Thus, opinion is divided among public intellectuals, politicians, journalists and activists. But

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a careful analysis, especially as laid out by Stephen Pelletiere in his insightful book Iraq and the International Oil System, clearly reveals America’s material interests in the Gulf region:

“In the last chapter we speculated on the condition of the oil system after the demise of the oil cartel. We suggested that it would have been hard for the system to carry on once the cartel had expired. The events of 1986 would seem to prove that the system was moribund; there was not a single influential group in the United States interceding for the Gulf with the Reagan (or, as we shall see, the Bush) administration….The whole thing is particularly odd, because Reagan had throughout this whole period been faced with one oil-related crisis after another.” (Pelletiere, 2001, p.200)

American foreign policy took a new hue since the time of the Reagan Presidency, which began in 1980 and lasted two terms. In many ways the foreign policy framework in the wake of 911 terror strikes is a continuation, if not an accentuation, of the Reagan doctrine. To the disadvantage of the George W. Bush Administration, the events that unfolded after the initiation of the war exposed its real interests, namely material resources and strategic goals. First of all, no WMDs were found. On top of that, investigation carried out by neutral agencies found that Saddam Hussein had not pursued any WMD program during the period following the Gulf War of 1991. To add to their declining credibility, the Bush administration kept modifying its rhetoric to suit every new discovery. From a clear and simple claim of “presence of weapons of mass destruction”, the rhetoric evolved to such phrases as “weapons of mass destruction related program activities.” (Hamill, 2003, p.326) Use of such complex and ambiguous language has weakened what little support the administration had at the beginning of the war operation. George Bush’s later rhetoric also exposes a lack of requisite urgency that underpinned his decision to invade and his determination that America could not wait for the rest of the world to join it in this endeavor. (Hamill, 2003, p.329) Hence in the backdrop of this expose, America’s real agenda becomes clear.

It is an open secret that the middle-east region is of strategic importance. Any country with aspirations to dominate the world will have to have “control” over the region’s resources (read oil) and governments. The United States, the only superpower at the time, was not above this ambition. Noted American intellectual Noam Chomsky points to glaring misinformation released by the White House in his recent scholarship. In Chomsky’s own words,

“The US wasn’t upholding any high principle in Iraq, nor was any of its allies. The reason for the unprecedented response to Saddam Hussein wasn’t his brutal aggression — it was because he stepped on the wrong toes. Saddam Hussein is a murderous gangster — exactly as he was before the War. He was even our friend and favored trading partner at one point in time. His dictatorship of Iraq comprises many atrocious acts, but well within the range of many similar crimes conducted by the US and its allies, and nowhere near as terrible as some.” (Chomsky, 2003, p.45)

Hence it obvious that oil plays a key role in determining the political, military and economic policies of the United States. It seems then, that Iraq was invaded for reasons other than those stated officially. These include, oil resources, settling scores with a dictator who tried to resist American domination and to gain strategic control of the Middle East region, among other things. The Project for the New American Century, a conservative think tank, supported the war against Iraq as early as 1998, and its advocates later became key members of the Bush administration. Their chief motive was not extending democracy and freedom but ‘anticipatory-self defence’ founded upon the fictitious claim of Iraq’s strategic threat to the United States. (Buchanan, 2000, p.1)

A little further back in America’s history, we once again witness the centrality of oil to policy-making. The series of events that took place during the 1980s illustrate this point:

“we detailed a whole slew of disasters, all related to the Third Oil Shock, when the Saudis ran the oil price practically into the ground. Then, as we saw, hard on the heels of that came the 1987 reflagging episode. In other words, Reagan had plenty of examples of how dangerous it was, in a manner of speaking, to play around with oil, and yet he did it… America’s view that the Gulf was vital was based on the negative perception that the area might fall into Soviet hands.” (Pelletiere, 2001, p.200)

Geo-political power equations have changed in recent years with the advent of oil deposits in certain emerging economies. Russia is expected to be a key player in the global energy markets of the future. In fact, Russia alongside China and India is touted to replace the traditional energy superpowers in the Middle East and Latin America. All the three countries have expanded their industry bases and are in ever more need of energy supplies to feed those industries. Consequently, oil and gas producers have reaped rich returns due to the greater demands. While Russia is able to make good profits out of foreign trade, the situation at home is quite different. (O’Neill, 2006). These developments make the station of United States in the global oil market quite vulnerable. In other words, there are potential dangers associated with the rising dominance of Russia in the energy market, to go along with obvious positive aspects. For one thing, Russian ascendancy will neutralize the clout held so far by Saudi Arabia and Venezuela in setting global oil prices. But, with the introduction of Russia and China into leadership positions in the energy market, tougher competition will persist, which will ultimately benefit the consumers across the world (The Economist (US), 2006, p.13). On the flip side, the United States will be reluctant to give up its hold on the oil markets and would likely accelerate its military activities to maintain its position. This situation is not only undesirable, but also deeply hurtful for the American domestic affairs, reeling as the country is under a protracted economic slowdown. The United States is complicating the matter for itself by being incapable of drawing an agreeable solution in the Gulf.

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