Iran's nuclear development, the protests in the Middle East and Syria and the resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan, across Northern Africa and the Middle East have made the headlines during the past two years. Are the political arguments smoke and mirrors or is the root of all evil the flow of oil?
Foreign policy has been brought to the forefront during the US election campaign. The events leading up to the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi and its causes are part of the larger argument. The argument, however has been put into its most simplistic terms over whether it was due to an anti-Islamist video or if it was a terror attack. This may make good political fodder, but essentially the bottom line is that four Americans, including an ambassador, were killed.
Whether or not the video was the cause of the outrage or if it is being used as an excuse is not relevant. The fact is that there is a mistrust and an anti-western and anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East. The 100-year history of oil in the region and its global distribution are a large factor in Western and Amercian foreign policy.
Oil provides approximately 40% of the global energy requirement, which makes it an important resource to fuel the global economy. With the increasing confrontation between the Iranian regime and Western power, particularly the United States and its European allies, oil is an important equation in the decision-making process on how to deal with Iran.
Professor E. Roger Owen of Brandeis University in his Middle East brief "One Hundred Years of Middle Eastern Oil" describes the history of Middle East oil and the implications to Western society. He describes how oil was found at Masjed Soleyman in southwestern Iran on May 26, 1908, and three years later was piped down to a newly built refinery at Abadan on the Iranian side of the Shatt alrab, not many miles below Basra. Its global importance was immediately recognized, not just by the Admiralty in London, looking for new sources of supply for its oil-fired battleships, but in other European capitals as well—leading to a brief British-German-Turkish skirmish for control of the pipeline at the start of World War I.
Thus started the struggle in the Middle East and the necessary protection of global sea lanes to ensure the distribution of oil.
During election campaigns the arguments are often phrased in simplistic terms, often misleading the public, which has not been educated in the history of oil in the Middle East region and the manipulations and deal-making to preserve the flow of oil.
Interestingly, CBC TV Canada presented a short documentary on Friday's "The National," which highlighted some of the struggles in the middle east over the past 60 years. The document was done aboard an oil tanker and told the story of the British Empire and its control of the Middle East until about 50 years ago or so. It was done in the name of permitting the free flow of oil to global markets. For Great Britain, it came to a point where providing miitary assets in Middle East the benefits did not substantiate the expense. Britain was going broke with its involvement in the Middle East.
The Americans, realizing that they needed oil, despite being the largest oil producers, made a deal with the Saudi Kings and developed the oil reserves in Saudi Arabia. In order to protect the flow of oil they needed to control the Strait of Hormuz. Thus the US became the power broker that took Britain's place in the Middle East.
Looking back at the last decade, it is easy to see why the US and Britain became involved in the war in Iraq. It allowed them to keep the Strait of Hormuz open and they had a simple way to control the Iranian part of the Strait of Hormuz by exercising its military power. Even if the Strait of Hormuz was closed down temporarily, it would have a devastating effect on the global economy.
National Geographic, in its article, Iran's Undistputed Weapon: Power to block the Strait of Hormuz
"In Iran's confrontation with the West over its nuclear program, the Islamic Republic has one undisputed weapon: The ability to block the most important oil transit choke point in the world.
Although military strategists and diplomatic experts have worried about Iran's capability to throw the global economy into chaos for more than three decades, there has been little progress in developing alternative petroleum routes to defuse the power of Iran's threat to block the Strait of Hormuz." National Geographic
Looking back at the last three decades, it becomes clear that the Iran/Iraq war was a major tension for the West and particularly the United States. The absence of an alternate route to deliver oil to global markets was again threatened by's invasion of Kuwait, which resulted in the first Gulf War and temporary easing of tensions. The threat of Iraq, while Saddam's regime was in power, was still a major irritation.
It doesn't take rocket science to figure out why President Clinton avocated regime change, which was then acted on by the Bush administration by invading Iraq. Whether or not the intelligence, produced by both the United Kingdom and the United States, was fabricated will be open to interpretation for some time. Nonetheless it removed Saddam Hussein, and the rest is history.
This brings us to Afghanistan, the war with the former Soviet Union and the present NATO conflict. Could it be that Afghanistan was really a war to build a pipeline through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean? The Soviets could have been looking for pipeline from the oil rich Caspian to the Indian Ocean. For the US, a similar pipleline could be an alternative to the current route through the Strait of Hormuz.
Neither the Soviets nor the US were successful. As was he case with the former British Empire, the cost of NATO troops in Afghanistan is another example of costs becoming prohibitive.
Empires come and go and it would appear, at least by appearance, that the American empire is slowly coming to its end as well. The US has mounting debt, exceeding $16 trillion, thus the push for energy independence.
While Saudis do relatively well with their oil revenues, the remainder of the Middle East is still mostly in poverty. Unemployment among those 30 and under is rampant. It is no surprise that the extremists are gaining a foothold.
So while the video is a great excuse for the upheaval and hatred against America, much of it can be rationalized by the West's involvement in the Middle East for the sake of oil.
Politics and gaining power is a deceptive game, broken down into the most simplistic terms. As the saying goes, "It is about the money and more money all the time." In this case there is a strong argument that it is about oil.
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