4.7.2 A war for oil? (ii)
Other radical critics of the war on terror and post-9/11 US foreign policy find the role of oil as a motivating factor less easy to define. In the opinion of the left-wing US Retort Collective, a self-styled ‘gathering of some thirty or forty antagonists of the present order of things’, the oil lobby certainly gained an unprecedented degree of influence in core US decision-making circles:
The American addiction to cheap petroleum had shepherded the brokers, carpetbaggers, and hustlers of the oil business directly into political office. Five “supermajors” – elephantine oil corporations with wells, pipelines, refineries, and subsidiaries in almost every country on earth, more gluttonous and powerful than ever after the great round of mergers during the 1990s – had scaled the walls of the White House ... . In a bullish five years as CEO of the world’s largest oil-and-gas-services company, Vice President Cheney had siphoned $44 million in salary from Haliburton ... . As if to signal that Cheney’s view of politics now ruled unopposed in Washington, in December 2003 the administration trotted out the Bush family consigliere, James Baker – the consummate oil man – Special Presidential Envoy to restructure Iraq’s $130 billion debt ... . A sector of American capital, in other words – and a commodity whose geo-strategic significance had obsessed the American establishment ever since World War Two – had finally achieved transcendent power.
Proof of the strength of the oil lobby in Washington is, however, not the same thing as acceptance of the idea that the pursuit of oil was the pre-eminent driving force in the war on terror. The Retort authors do not deny the significance of oil but aim to place it:
... on a larger capitalist landscape. American empire cannot forgo oil: its control is a geopolitical priority. But these strategic and corporate oil interests cannot, in themselves, credibly account for an imperial mission, however ineptly prosecuted, of the sort we have witnessed over the last two years. Rather, for them what the Iraq adventure represents is less a war for oil than a radical, punitive, “extra- economic” restructuring of the conditions necessary for expanded profitability – paving the way, in short, for new rounds of American-led dispossession and capital accumulation. This was a hyper-nationalist neo-liberal putsch, made in the name of globalization and free-market democracy. It was intended as the prototype of a new form of military neo-liberalism.
In terms of the oil issue, then, the precise nature and motives underlying the war on terror can again be seen as complex and indeterminate.