Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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4.7.1 A war for oil? (i)

Opponents of the Iraq intervention claimed that the war was essentially a ‘war for oil’ that owed much to the fact that the US and the UK were beginning to run out of secure hydrocarbon energy supplies. Former UK Labour minister Michael Meacher was one proponent of this view:

It seems that the so-called “war on terrorism” is being used largely as bogus cover for achieving wider US strategic geopolitical objectives ... . By 2010 the Muslim world will control as much as 60% of the world’s oil production and, even more importantly, 95% of remaining global oil export capacity ... .The conclusion of all this analysis must surely be that the “global war on terrorism” has the hallmarks of a political myth propagated to pave the way for a wholly different agenda – the US goal of world hegemony, built around securing by force command over the oil supplies required to drive the whole project.

(Meacher, 2003)

This line of argument contains two distinct components:

  1. That ‘the war on terror’ was intimately bound in with (and conditioned by) the US’s commitment to exercise and maintain its hegemonic role in global affairs.
  2. That the pursuit of this objective was equally closely linked with activity to preserve and enhance control over global oil resources.

While the first component sounds like a criticism of US foreign policy in the early twenty-first century, and could indeed appear as such in many formulations and in terms of specific US actions, it was also to a large extent just a matter of fact. There was no doubt that at the beginning of the new century the US did occupy a position of unprecedented global dominance and was in many respects the global hegemon. (Next section we will examine the nature of this hegemony and the problems faced by the US in exercising its role with due wisdom and effectiveness, so we shall not pursue this further here.) It should be noted, though, that while US global hegemony itself might be a fact, both the way it is exercised and the degree to which the US might be committed to transform de facto hegemony into outright global control is another matter. The latter aspect in particular remains a matter of great controversy.

The second component, and a specific basis for criticism of US actions in the war on terror, is that of whether the US’s overriding concern to secure its control of oil resources as a primary economic asset and guarantee of security in the foreseeable future has been a major motive for the war on terror. This line of argument sees the invasion of Iraq, a country that on the face of it had few links with al-Qaeda, but which is oil-rich, as evidence for this. The link has been an easy one to draw in the popular mind. Other public figures drew the same connection, among them no less an establishment figure than Alan Greenspan, the former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve. Greenspan made this point in his memoirs: ‘I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil’ (Sunday Times, 2007).

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