Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

‘Oil Wars’: Is This an Accurate Summary of U.S.-Led Interventions in the Middle East of the 21st Century?

Duncan Whitmore argues that US imperialism in the Middle East is about maintaining the hegemony of the petrodollar, countering the influence of Russia and China, and advancing the interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia. To all of that I would add maintaining hegemony over the oil trade by US and Western oil corporations, advancing the interests of politically-connected individual oil companies, justifying expenditures on the military-industrial complex, gaining control over supplies of natural gas, maintaining the dominance of US-backed international financial institutions, maintaining US world hegemony on a general level, along with the individual motivations of policy-makers, and a range of ideological influences such as neoconservatism, liberal internationalism, American exceptionalism, Christian Zionism, and democratic peace theory.

By Duncan Whitmore

Ludwig von Mises Centre

“America is addicted to oil”

So said President George W Bush, echoing a contemporary cover of The Economist, in his State of the Union Address on January 31st 2006.

Although President Bush’s speech was a lament for the fact that the United States is the world’s biggest consumer of oil (reaching 19.4 million barrels per day by 2015[1]), this candid admission by the architect of American interventionism lent support to the notion that his country’s forays into the Middle East have been either wholly or mostly motivated by the desire to have a greater, physical control over oil. In this essay we will, however, conclude that this theory is, at best, incomplete, and, at worst, false and misleading, and that America’s interventionist efforts can be best understood through the explanation of three distinct, yet connected objectives:

  • To maintain the petrodollar system and the global reserve status of the US dollar;
  • To appease and promote the interests of the US’s biggest regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia;
  • To serve as proxy wars against Russia and China and to contain and minimise Sino-Russian influence in the region.

All of these objectives are subsumed by the greater, overarching aim of preventing the outbreak of a multi-polar world and maintaining a US hegemonic international order. As we shall see, any part that the physical control of oil has to play in this picture owes itself to aiding the achievement of this final objective and has little to do to with America’s appetite for gas guzzling.

The first issue to address, then, is why oil is not a satisfactory explanation for US interventions in the Middle East – or, at least, why is control of oil not the final objective?


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