Oil moves the War Machine
by Michael Klare
The Progressive magazine, June 2002
Since its inception, the Bush Administration has launched
two great foreign policy initiatives: a global war against terrorism,
and a global campaign to expand American access to foreign oil.
Originally, each possessed its own rationale and mode of operation.
As time has passed, however, they have become increasingly intertwined,
so that today the war on terrorism and the struggle for oil have
become one vast enterprise.
The underpinnings of the Bush foreign policy can be found
in the international energy policy paper of May 17, 2001, know
as the Cheney report. This report became infamous for two reasons:
Cheney wouldn't release the names of the people he consulted for
it, and the report recommends drilling in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge. But, these controversies distracted attention
away from the gist of the report, which is spelled out in chapter
eight, "Strengthening Global Alliances." There, the
report "recommends that the President make energy security
a priority of our trade and foreign policy."
The report says the United States will become increasingly
reliant on foreign oil. At present, we obtain about half of our
petroleum form foreign sources; by 2020, imports will account
for two-thirds of U.S. consumption, the report predicts. From
this, it draws two conclusions: The United States must maintain
good relations with Saudi Arabia and other oil producers in the
region, and the United States must diversify oil suppliers around
the world. "Middle East oil producers will remain central
to world oil security," it says, but "our engagement
must be global." This means developing close ties with major
suppliers in all oil-producing areas, including the Caspian region,
Africa, and Latin America, which the report calls "high-priority
The Administration was already poised to act on this policy
when Arab hijackers struck New York and Washington on September
11. These plans were then put aside, as the White House concentrated
its attention on efforts to immobilize Al Qaeda and to topple
the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. By December, however, the Administration
was ready to focus again on the security aspects of growing U.S.
dependence on imported oil.
The primacy of oil is clear in several places, most obviously,
Saudi Arabia. Though fifteen of the eighteen hijackers were Saudi,
though Osama bin Laden himself is Saudi, though the Saudis practice
Wahhabism and finance some of the most reactionary madrassas around
the world, the Bush Administration is in no position to break
relations with the kingdom. Saudi Arabia possesses 25 percent
of the world's known oil reserves. And, as the Cheney report notes,
"Saudi Arabia, the world's largest exporter, has been a linchpin
of supply reliability to world oil markets." It seems Washington
has embraced the current Middle East peace initiative by Prince
Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as a way not only to break the Sharon-Arafat
logjam but also to shore up the reputation of this crucial ally.
Or look at the U.S. military training operation in the Republic
of Georgia, which is just getting under way. Ostensibly, the aim
of the operation-which will involve the deployment of several
hundred U.S. Special Forces advisers-is to enhance the capacity
of Georgian forces to fight terrorists and other insurgents along
its border. While this is certainly one of the operation's objectives,
it is also evident that Washington seeks to reduce the threat
to the vital pipelines that will carry oil from the Caspian Sea
across Georgia to ports on the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
Although the main pipeline is still under construction, U.S. officials
are clearly worried that it will become a major target for the
various ethnic militias that operate in the area.
"The Caspian Sea can also be a rapidly growing new area
of supply," the Cheney report notes. "Proven oil reserves
in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are about twenty billion barrels,
a little more than the North Sea." One find in Kazakhstan,
it adds, is "comparable to Prudhoe Bay," the giant oil
field off the north coast of Alaska. Its recommendation to the
President: "Ensure that rising Caspian oil production is
effectively integrated into world oil trade." One way it
is doing this, in the wake of September 11, is to establish permanent
bases in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
A similar situation is developing in Colombia. The United
States has increasingly involved itself in Colombia's civil war,
first on the pretext of fighting the war on drugs. (Both the leftwing
guerrillas and the rightwing paramilitaries are involved in the
drug trade, but the United States shows little interest in the
paramilitaries.) Increasingly, the Bush Administration is seeking
to aid the Colombian military directly in its war against the
guerrilla groups- often described as terrorists by U.S. and Colombian
officials. In the latest incarnation of this effort, the United
States will help the Colombian military to protect the pipeline
that delivers oil from Occidental Petroleum's Cano Limon oil field
to refineries and terminals on the coast-a pipeline the rebels
have often sabotaged.
Several factors are facilitating the merger of the anti-terror
and oil supply missions. The first is geography: Many of the world's
largest reserves of oil are located in areas that are unstable
or rent by internal divisions of one sort or another.
The second is growing U.S. dependency on imported oil. As
domestic reserves are progressively depleted, the United States
will become increasingly reliant on oil derived from sources located
abroad. At the same time, world demand for oil, especially from
the developing nations, will grow, the Cheney report notes, which
could push prices higher. "Growth in international oil demand
will exert increasing pressure on global oil availability,"
With the American public fixated on the threat of terrorism,
however, the Administration is understandably reluctant to portray
its foreign policy as related primarily to the protection of oil
supplies. Thus the third reason for the merger of the war against
terrorism and struggle for oil: to provide the White House with
a convenient rationale for extending U.S. military involvement
into areas that are of concern to Washington primarily because
of their role in supplying energy to the United States.
For all of these reasons, the war against terrorism and the
struggle for oil are likely to remain connected for the indefinite
future. This will entail growing U.S. military involvement in
the oil-supplying nations. At times, such involvement may be limited
to indirect forms of assistance, such as arms transfers and training
programs. At others, it will involve the deployment of significant
numbers of U.S. combat troops.
The Bush Administration has a right and an obligation to take
the necessary steps to protect the United States against further
acts of terrorism. Such efforts have been given unequivocal support
by the public and Congress. But such support does not extend to
an open-ended campaign to procure additional oil from overseas
suppliers and to protect these supplies from hostile forces.
Before committing additional military resources to such an
effort, we should consider if America's energy requirements could
be better provided through conservation and alternative energy
systems, which would reduce the risk of U.S. involvement in an
endless series of overseas conflicts.