Published today at Independent Australia, as Australia, the United States, the Islamic State and oil. The IA version has some excellent videos included.
There was a story from one of the Gulf Wars about a reporter asking Western troops why they thought they were there. A US soldier said something like “Ah’m here to serve mah country ma’am.” A British soldier said “Wool, itsa oil, innit?”
As yet another Western intervention/invasion in the Middle East gathers pace, why is the commentariat apparently oblivious to the role of oil? Oil has driven a century of meddling by Western countries, meddling that has fed generations of resentment and radicalisation, and you can be sure oil is behind the current interest of the US in Islamic State.
If you listen to what US presidents say, they always invoke freedom, peace, democracy and human rights as they launch their brutal forays into other countries. However if you look at what the US does in the world, then it is clear freedom, peace, democracy and human rights are irrelevant to US policy.
The US talks democracy, but doesn’t hesitate to cuddle up to brutal tyrants, nor to overthrow elected governments. The CIA’s very first postwar adventure was to orchestrate, in cooperation with the British, the overthrow of the elected Mossadegh government of Iran in 1953. Mossadegh’s crime was to take control of his nation’s oil industry from an exploitative British Company. He was removed and the compliant Shah of Iran was installed. The Shah ruled as an absolute monarch, and his repression, and the introduction of Western culture, fed the rise of the islamic fundamentalists who eventually overthrew him in 1979, and who have caused the US such chagrin ever since.
The US has since undermined or overthrown a string of other democratically elected governments, such as in Indonesia (1965), Chile (1973), Nicaragua (1990). Its attempt to promote the overthrow of the Chavez government of Venezuela in 2002 flopped due to popular support for Chavez. In all cases the democracies were replaced by repressive, and commonly corrupt, governments with power bases among the wealthy elites. The Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is among the most notorious for his reign of terror, involving torture, murder and “disappearances”, from 1973 until a popular uprising ousted him in 1990.
The US also backed and armed the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, until he over-reached and invaded Kuwait, triggering the first Gulf War. Iraq played no direct role in the 2001 attack on New York’s World Trade Centre, but President Bush II used the attack as an excuse to invade Iraq, which was allegedly harbouring Al Qaeda groups. Somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 civilians are reported to have died as a result of the invasion and subsequent fighting, effectively retribution for the 3,000 who died in the WTC attack.
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia, governed by a repressive family plutocracy, is maintained as a staunch ally of the US, though it too is accused of supplying some groups in the Middle East that are accused of terrorism. The key, of course, is that Saudi Arabia hosts a large fraction of the world’s oil reserves.
The group Islamic State is certainly brutal and extremist, but would the US be taking any interest if its access to a strategically important resource was not being threatened? Human-rights abuses are being cited as a prime reason for US intervention, yet the US saw no reason to intervene directly in other barbarities, including even genocidal violence, in places like Cambodia 1975-79, Rwanda 1994, the civil wars in the Congo over a long period, in Liberia in the 1990s, and many other parts of Africa and the world. Evidently human rights abuses are ignored unless they conveniently align with reasons considered more compelling.
The public beheading of Westerners is clearly intended as a provocation. Sure enough it is provoking widespread outrage that, more than anything perhaps, is fuelling uncritical calls for intervention. That is exactly the response IS wants, as it will incited more locals to their kind of extremism, and unite reluctant locals against the outside threat. Anyway, Saudi Arabia beheads people on a weekly basis, but that evidently is of little interest, so long as no Westerners are involved.
The consistent factor in US policy clearly is to defend or enhance US “interests”, which means the commercial interests of US business. Oil underpins all the other interests. This is not a recent feature of US foreign policy. Howard Zinn, in his classic A People’s History of the United States, concludes that US presidents have always allowed their foreign policy to be bounded by the interests of the country’s rich and powerful.
So a century of Western meddling has generated progressively more resentment and more extreme responses in the Middle East. Violence begets violence, and IS and the US are merely embarking on yet another turn in the cycle of violence. Why is this apparently so beyond the critical faculties of what passes for Australia’s political conversation?
The solution, not easy but clearly available, is to desist from further military intervention. There will, unfortunately, continue to be violence within the Middle East, but the defensible course is to try, by nonviolent means, to reduce the violence as much as possible. Intelligence analyst Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning argues for the viability of such an approach.
Of course there is the possibility that Western access to oil will become more difficult or more expensive if IS continues to take over more territory, though in the medium term it is more likely to stall and fragment. There is already an overwhelming case, from global warming, for a rapid shift away from oil to renewable, non-polluting sources of energy, such as solar-generated hydrogen. The further pursuit of control over oil is wrong-headed in every respect, not least because of the costs in blood and money.
As to the so-called leadership of Australia, it adds the spectacle of being a pathetic lap dog to all the US follies it chooses to be complicit in. There is a photograph doing the rounds of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, flanked by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Attorney General George Brandis. The banner behind them, apparently in their own words, reads “Warning. There are people among us who pose a serious threat to Australia’s future.” As many of the commenters to the photograph understand, the threat starts with those three. It is the continuing follies of US policy, and our involvement in them, that make us a potential target for domestic terrorism.