The U.S. government has a known and explicit policy, discussed below, concerning Persian Gulf oil. The visible foreign results of this policy, so far, include the Gulf War of 1990, the subsequent sanctions on Iraq, the U.S. actions during the Iran-Iraq War, the U.S. attack and war on Iraq (2003-present), the U.S. sanctions against Iran, and now the U.S. war in Libya. This is not to say that these actions have been well thought out or have succeeded in their aims with respect to the government's prime objective. In fact, blunders dominate the list.
The domestic results of this policy, so far, include such items as the Patriot Act, curtailment of various freedoms and rights, the Transportation Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, travel restrictions, financial restrictions, militarization of police forces, and vast invasions of privacy. Other results include the encouragement of terrorism, the war on terror, use of torture, abductions, and holding prisoners incommunicado for indefinite terms.
What then is this policy? A RAND document reviews the U.S. oil policy in the mid-East and associated regions. It points out (p. 60) that President Carter enunciated this policy on January 23, 1980 in his State of the Union Address:
"Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."
Even before this, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in September of 1978 issued a strategy assessment in which it wrote of "continuous access to petroleum resources" as priority #1 in the region, along with seeing that Israel survived. In 1979, the military put together a "Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), which soon gained full, unified command status as the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM)."
Every President since Carter has supported this doctrine, added to it, strengthened it, expanded it, or implemented it by policy actions including making war.
Hence, there is no question that the U.S. considers the uninterrupted oil flow from this region as a vital interest. The U.S. has made war over Kuwait in 1990, in Iraq in this century, and now in Libya. It has gone into related areas such as Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan. It has confronted Iran for decades. It has armed and aided all sorts of dictatorial regimes in the region.
The U.S. government has done all of these things under the doctrine that oil flows must not be interrupted. It has acted strongly even when such an interruption was a remote prospect. It acted under false pretexts in Iraq. It has imposed sanctions on Iran. It has threatened war on Iran over its nuclear activities on more than one occasion.
The U.S. is acting now in Libya. Although Libya poses little risk of interrupting U.S. oil supplies, the U.S. wants to control the outcome in Libya. The U.S. must demonstrate control if it is to maintain control in neighboring regions such as Saudi Arabia where revolts, possible revolts, and revolutions are likely.
There is more. The Rand document informs us that the U.S. has "deepened its ties — economic, political, and military — with oil-producing states in central Asia, South America, and West Africa." An assistant Secretary of State has stated that "African oil is of national strategic interest to us." A U.S. supreme military commander has observed that carrier groups in the future will spend "half the time going down the west coast of Africa". The U.S. has a permanent military presence in the Gulf of Guinea.
The U.S. government acts as if oil is king. It doesn't seize the oil or conquer the countries that have the oil. It doesn't try to get it for nothing or for the costs of conquest. But it is establishing control over the oil using all means at its disposal, including war. In this way, the U.S. has made the oil the jointly-held property of the U.S. and the regimes that control the countries where the oil sits. In this sense, the U.S. government regards the oil as "ours" and it has committed the U.S. to making sure that it stays "ours".
These commitments are large, continuing, and widespread. They raise the likelihood of wars and multiple concurrent wars. In every land that has oil and that forms connections with the U.S. on economic, political, and military grounds, the U.S. becomes the de facto supporter of the existing regime and rulers. There are always groups in any lands that have problems with their governments. They then object to the presence of U.S. forces, U.S. economic connections, and U.S. political influence. These groups may have many other reasons for seeing the U.S. as an enemy. They may adopt terror tactics. The U.S. then gets drawn into a worldwide attempt to stamp out organizations using terror.
The Carter policy, which is now the established U.S. policy, of viewing oil as a vital interest of the U.S. and then using military force to protect it leads to continual warfare. It has already done this. The U.S. government decides when this vital interest is being threatened and it acts on its own initiative because it has the power to do so, the means to do so, and a compliant electorate. It naturally leans over backwards to exercise this power even under the thinnest of threats to oil. This shows everyone that it means business.
The bombs going off in these foreign lands are supposed to demonstrate the ability of the U.S. to control events and protect the oil flow. But at the same time, the outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan show the weakness of this policy of control. The U.S. expenditures run up to fantastic figures along with its debts. The U.S. blunders into regions and upsets the political and religious equilibria. Consequently, it strengthens Iran and increases the threats to Saudi Arabia and the oil it wants to protect. Consequently, it increases the chance of a larger war. It also stimulates Iran to develop nuclear weapons against the threats that it feels coming from the U.S. Meanwhile the U.S. imports terrorism and raises the chances of direct attacks against Americans. It curtails the freedoms of its citizens and subjects them to many indignities, assaults, and unconstitutional measures.
I can easily argue that, from the point of view of the American oil-user, the Carter-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama policy is totally useless and counterproductive. Oil-users all over this earth who do not have such a policy are buying and consuming vast quantities of oil every day without interruption. They don't need to use force to get the oil they want. All they need is to produce some goods that are in demand that they can exchange for that oil. And that is exactly what people in hundreds of countries that do not have much oil of their own do. They produce goods and they exchange them for other goods they want, including oil.
Despite this intense focus on oil, it is not what primarily motivates the U.S. government. Oil is a means to an end. If the U.S. possessed all the oil it required, the U.S. government would still be projecting itself and its power overseas. It would be seeking its main objective, which is The World — American Style.
We have to dig deeper than oil. Why did the U.S. government decide that oil is a vital interest that needs its worldwide protection? Why does it stick to this policy? A clear answer appears in a Council of Foreign Relations document (National Security Consequences of Oil Dependency) produced by establishment figures such as James Schlesinger. It says
"Major energy consumers – notably the United States, but other countries as well – are finding that their growing dependence on imported energy increases their strategic vulnerability and constrains their ability to pursue a broad range of foreign policy and national security objectives."
This says that the government wants to pursue its foreign policies without having to take into account the threat of oil supply interruptions coming from other countries that possess oil. The government wants to exercise its power in foreign affairs in an unimpeded fashion. If, for example, Iran controlled the Saudi Arabian and Iraqi oil fields, it might threaten to interrupt supply to the world market or to the U.S. unless the U.S. altered its policy toward Israel.
Hence, the U.S. government, or at least some persons in it or near it, view oil as something to control so that the government has freedom of action, that is, unimpeded power in foreign affairs. This raises questions: Exclusive of oil, which is a means to an end, what are the foreign policies of the U.S.? What are its objectives? What were its objectives when the Carter doctrine began? What are its objectives now? These questions cannot be addressed in detail here, but we can mention a few important facets of them.
Presidential Directive/NSC-30, dated February 17, 1978, stated that
"It shall be a major objective of U.S. foreign policy to promote the observance of human rights throughout the world."
The directive spelled this out in more detail:
"It shall be the objective of the U.S. human rights policy to reduce worldwide governmental violations of the integrity of the person (e.g., torture; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; arbitrary arrest or imprisonment; lengthy detention without trial, and assassination) and, to enhance civil and political liberties (e.g., freedom of speech, of religion, of assembly, of movement and of the press; and the right to basic judicial protections). It will also be a continuing U.S. objective to promote basic economic and social rights (e.g., adequate food, education, shelter and health)."
These objectives are strikingly at odds with what the U.S. government has actually done! To LRC's great credit, its archives contain hundreds of articles documenting that the U.S. government, in its pursuit of a steady flow of oil, has accomplished the very opposite of the objectives listed here. Furthermore, this utter failure in the human rights department, this complete inversion, is not getting any better. It's getting worse.
The pursuit of oil flow stability was meant, among other things, to free up U.S. activity in foreign affairs. One purpose of the foreign policy was that the U.S. promote human rights. This pursuit has utterly failed. It has brought about the very opposite.
People differ greatly on what the foreign policy objectives of the U.S. have been and are. Carter's human rights directive reveals but one objective. Carter's National Security Advisor was Zbigniew Brzezinski. In one passage, he tells us something very different:
"For the United States, Eurasian geostrategy involves the purposeful management of geostrategically dynamic states and the careful handling of geopolitically catalytic states, in keeping with the twin interests of America in the short-term preservation of its unique global power and in the long-run transformation of it into increasingly institutionalized global cooperation. To put it in a terminology that hearkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together."
He says that the interests of the U.S. empire are (1) to maintain its "unique global power", and (2) turn it into institutions of "global cooperation". That is to say, the objective is The World — American Style. He wants the U.S. to prevent other states from ganging up on it so that the U.S. can keep its power. In other words, the U.S. needs steady oil so as to maintain its foreign policy, the objective of which is the extension of the U.S. empire and power. Power is to be used to maintain and extend power in ways that the U.S. government prefers. This statement, by the way, does not preclude that the U.S. government is the tool of special interest groups that operate behind the scenes. The roles of many of these groups and the persons who travel back and forth among lobbying positions, foundation positions, university positions, and government positions are well known.
Maintaining power and putting it to work in its interests and those of its patrons are the motivating forces at work behind the war-making decisions of the U.S.. Their idea is that holding and applying this power demands taking the oil in the sense of controlling it. Their idea is to murder or lose this power. Kill or accede to the power of others.
Even though many of us regard such wars as unjust and unethical, knowing for a fact that they kill and maim hundreds of thousands of innocent people and lead to even more people being killed, such as on 9/11/2001, U.S. leaders sacrifice justice and rights for their own power. They commit crimes so that they can keep and wield that power.
They do not follow Carter's directive. The objective is not human rights. The objective is not an humanitarian concern for Libyan lives or Iraqi lives living under Saddam Hussein. The U.S. leadership follows Brzezinski's objective: power and The World — American Style.
One of the lines of propaganda or myths that the U.S. leaders put to the American people is that oil is critical to the economy. Left unsaid is the notion that this justifies murdering innocents abroad, but anyone with eyes and ears knows that that is the second half of the equation. We need only look at how many folks cheer this killing on. That is a sad tale. It is very sad that so many Americans have been fooled by the trick being played on them. They think that these murders and wars are necessary for their own survival. Nothing of the sort is the case. They'd be far better off without these wars and attempts to control oil in so many different countries.
If oil's criticality explains America's killing of innocents and America's entering foreign lands with armies or airplanes, then America has no argument against acts of terror by non-Americans that kill and wound innocent people for the sake of some urgent or critical needs that these non-Americans perceive. Criticality is for America no argument against Osama bin Laden's or anyone's terror tactics. The West cannot claim that it has a better need than bin Laden or any other terrorist. In fact, the West cannot even claim that its needs take precedence over the needs of those whom it murders or those whose lives it disrupts, wounds, and shortens. There is no way to make these comparisons and build support for murder based on them. Simply being American doesn't elevate one's claim to murder above the claim of a non-American, such as a Palestinian who blows himself up and kills Israelis. What we may call terrorist acts are, in the eyes of bin Laden and other terrorists, worth the price paid, including the suicides of many terrorists. People committing suicide in terrorist acts are soldiers in the eyes of those fighting for their survival. In their eyes, the Americans are the terrorists. Indeed, a fair evaluation of the American actions is that the Americans are just as much terrorists as the terrorists they condemn. American leaders cannot logically invoke a "criticality" or "security" rationale while condemning the people they are killing who have their own critical "needs".
Nearly everyone will disagree with what I've just written. How can this man equate brave American soldiers with terrorists? I don't have to do the equating. Our own leaders make it clear. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright disagreed with this analysis. Her belief has also been expressed on numerous occasions by other high American officials, by neoconservatives, by President after President, and by commentators. It is a belief that has seeped into the public discourse. She said
"If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future."
Albright claimed that being American did elevate the American claim to murder, or that it explained why using force by us was called for or, reading between the lines, was necessary or justifiable or right or a good thing.
Is America indispensable? I fail to see how its murders relate to anything indispensable about it. Has any politician or any neoconservative spokesperson ever made a coherent case for this indispensability? Assertions that a murderous hegemony is benevolent do not make it so. The facts tell the opposite story. There are certain ideas that would set civilization back a long time if they were lost, but America has no monopoly on these ideas. America has no inherent right to use force on others except if it chooses to defend itself against attack. America has no future vision superior to anyone else's. Ths condition of this country's economy, culture, and politics hardly suggest that American leaders have had a superior vision or have implemented it.
America stands no taller than any other nation. Albright is simply expressing a species of nation-state superiority that reminds one of the nasty racial superiority theories that were prevalent in earlier centuries and still remain today. She is expressing a false rationale for domination and thus murder. This rationale may comfort its users, but they do not bring forward anything to support it.
It is important from a religious point of view to mention that this rationale for murder is also an un-Christian rationale despite the fact that many who invoke it call themselves Christians and think of themselves as good Christians. I single out Christians because America is thought of by many as a Christian nation.
It is not hyperbole to use the term "murder" within this analysis of western action and to describe the actual killings and deaths that Americans and other nations have brought about as murders. Madeleine Albright was asked by Leslie Stahl regarding the U.S. sanctions on Iraq
"We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?"
"I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it."
Here we have one of the highest American officials admitting to murders of innocents far in excess of any terrorist activities because she thinks it was worth it. If consciously bringing about the deaths of 500,000 children is not murder, what is? If this is not terrorism, what is?
What's the bottom line? The power structure in the U.S., comprising an establishment elite that moves among positions in companies, foundations, universities, political parties, lobbies, and government, has a longstanding government policy that the U.S. control the flow of oil to these shores.
The objective of this policy is not oil itself. The deeper objective is freedom of U.S. foreign policy to extend U.S. interests throughout the world via a set of institutions that embed U.S. control and dominance. The U.S. doesn't want oil to be used to limit its foreign policy actions. That is the reason for seeking to assure an uninterrupted supply. The human rights objective of foreign policy that is often invoked is a cover story. It is not an objective at all. The U.S. routinely sacrifices and undermines human rights in its attempts to control oil and thereby assure itself of freedom of action in foreign policy.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.