Michael: World Oil WarMany believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a larger Global War that we have been fighting since 9/11. That’s partly right. But 9/11 wasn’t the opening salvo of a new World War; we’ve been fighting this World War for 25 years already. 9/11 just opened up a new front on American soil. Iraq, Afghanistan, and terrorist bombings around the world are just a new phase of the World Oil War. That’s just one of the insightful conclusions of Andrew Bacevich’s book, “The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War,” that I have been reading.
The WOW was launched on January 23, 1980 by President Jimmy Carter with the declaration of the Carter Doctrine:
”An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
The roots of American involvement in the Middle East has roots that extend back to the 1940s following WWII, and intensifying after the English withdrawal from Suez, but we didn’t define the region as a vital national interest until Carter did so in 1980. His declaration came in response to the Soviet threat to the region via the invasion of Afghanistan, and to a populist threat in the form of the toppling of one of the ‘twin pillars’ of American Middle East policy via the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. The vital interest of America in the region is, of course, the oil supply. Every President since Carter has acted accordingly to protect this vital interest, involving America every more intimately with Middle Eastern affairs.
Just before the creation of CentCom in 1983, its first commander, Lt. General Robert Kingston, gave his basic mission as, “to assure the unimpeded flow of oil from the Arabian Gulf.” (Washington Quarterly, Spring 1982) Being no fool, the General knew perfectly well that his mission was to maintain the American way of life, and he knew exactly what was strategically necessary to accomplish his mission.
Those who locate a causus beli in 9/11 need be reminded that we were already at war in the Middle East on 9/11, and many thousands had already died of that war. The campaigns of WOW are known to all: Desert One; Marine “peacekeepers” in Lebanon and the Beruit bombing; the strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986; the tanker war of 1984-88; covert assistance to Afghani mujahadeen resulting in the growth of al Qaida; the first Gulf war to restore Kuwait to its rulers. Only when these engagements are placed in proper context of America’s larger struggle to dominate the Middle East in order to protect the oil supply, do they form a sensible narrative that strips the mythology away from our current conflicts. In the 1990s, with the first Gulf War, the resultant changes in U.S. military posture converted the Persian Gulf into the epicenter of American grand strategy and the principle theatre of operations of the WOW. The root of it all is the overriding interest of the United States in the energy reserves of the region: not preventing the spread of WMD, not preventing terrorism, and certainly not freeing the oppressed masses or bringing the blessings of liberty.
The irony is that the ultimate strategic goal of WOW is not one that demands a purely military solution. But the only response policymakers seem ever to explore in our overly-militaristic political environment was how to move American forces to the region faster and sustain them there longer (even if that presence deeply goads the hosts into a homicidal rage). The deeper issues of dependency of the American economy on foreign energy sources and the prospects for strategic self-sufficiency, which might undercut the brutal logic of the WOW entirely, are sadly still unaddressed in our impoverished political discourse.