Not the Oil? Really?

In a rather surprising article over at Reason, Shikha Dalmia writes not only that oil is not a driving force in the U.S. intervention in Libya, but that it doesn’t even drive our broader Middle East policy. Indeed, it is a “tired saw invoked by U.S. critics.”

Dalmia is responding to Glenn Greenwald’s criticism that I also cited and expanded upon in this piece. She writes:

The idea that oil lust drives America’s Middle East policy is a perennial—and tired—saw invoked by U.S. critics both at home and abroad. But why, then, does America keep spurning this oil through sanctions on hostile regimes? In the decade between the two Iraq wars, America wouldn’t let Saddam Hussein sell any oil except for food. Washington’s sanctions on Iranian oil are costing America $38 billion to $76 billion annually in lost revenue. And America had sworn off Libyan oil until Gadhafi abandoned plans to develop weapons of mass destruction and compensated the victims of the Lockerbie terrorist bombing.

That we are after Libya’s oil is particularly untenable for the simple reason that Libya is only a bit player in the world oil market. It is not even among our top 15 crude oil suppliers. The U.S. consumes about 20 million barrels a day and Libya produces 1.7 million barrels for the whole globe…

First of all, the notion that the Middle East’s vast energy resources is not a driving factor in U.S. policy towards the region runs directly counter to every cogent, authoritative academic analysis I’ve read on the issue. It also drastically contradicts what every declassified or leaked national security document (some of which I link to here and here) says about U.S. interests and policy in the region.

Further, Dalmia is caught in a very common misconception. American policy towards the Middle East is not about cheap oil prices for U.S. consumers or to help shore up jobs. The U.S. Empire is not entrepreneurial. America keeps “spurning this oil through sanctions on hostile regimes” in order to prevent any state from gaining too much regional hegemony, thus presenting a threat to U.S. power and military prerogative. This is standard knowledge within the foreign policy community. The national security planners in Washington are perfectly fine with cutting off large supplies of oil from “hostile regimes” if it means those regimes are kept weak. The vast energy resources there are extremely important and a strategic game changer, and Washington knows it. The policy is about control.

Libya might be “only a bit player in the world oil market,” but that was changing with the lifting of sanctions in recent years, the opening up of Libya to U.S. oil corporations, and the estimated 43.6 billion barrels of oil in reserves there. Add to that what was revealed to us about the U.S. stake in Libya’s oil from Wikileaks diplomatic cables. Some major Italian and Russian oil deals were developing in Libya and it was revealed through the cables – clear as day – that the U.S. wanted to offset those deals for fear of a power grab by anyone other than America.

Indeed, it seems difficult to make any sense at all of what we know about U.S. policy in the Middle East without oil being viewed as a primary motivating factor. We have troops stationed in and/or prop up client governments in Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Is it a coincidence that the region also possesses some of the world’s greatest oil reserves?

We have mountains of evidence from the scholarship as well as from the defense policymakers themselves as to why America stations military bases, props up Middle Eastern governments, and starts wars over this region (again, see here). So why does Dalmia think we went into Libya? She buys the humanitarian excuse Obama and his team put forth. Exclude the fact that this is becoming even more unlikely as the days pass with NATO now being responsible for more civilian deaths. There is a perfectly good litmus test for whether humanitarian concerns drove our Libya intervention. First of all, do we intervene in the world’s worst cases of humanitarian injustice and genocide? No. Second, do we ourselves conduct and encourage much worse atrocities inside many of Libya’s regional neighbors? Yes.

  • Are you trying to distract the issue?

    If Israel has been carved out of India the United States would be attacking the various states in the subcontinent that would then exist.

  • WillieD

    US policy in the Middle East is centered on support for Israel. Once this is understood, it all makes sense.

    • andy

      Agree 100%.

  • Jamal

    Israel is the only friends that US have to protect in middle east; therefore, Israel becomes the only friend that US ever will have in the region., although Saudis and Arab Emirates are US "friends – allies" yet they only called that because of two reason, one: they have the oil that US needs and been supplied to.., second: they buy the US war machinery and other stuff where the sold oil money comes back to US, at least some of it which is good for US manufacturing companies.., so they need to keep them for future needs like in Libyan war or when they were helping out in Afghanistan during the USSR occupation.

    US don't need any foreign Oil so is the fact in Libyan war.., USG never had a military base in Middle East until early 1980s.., the last English military base was located in the dessert city of Sharjah about 60 miles from Dubai, they left the Arab Emirates in early 1970.., after the first Iraq war it became clear that US needed to have their bases in the area not only because of Saddam regime but the Iranian as well not willing to negotiate with US in any way. US and Europe – NATO, beside France, they don't have any military base/s in Africa,

    Obama – Hillary Clinton plan by starting the Libyan war is just for that reason, Saudis so as Arab Emirates and their Muslims Brotherhood with their few affiliated terrorist groups are involved helping with the plan, they did it in Afghanistan helping US to dismantle Afghanis national unity when Shah Massoud was assassinated by the Saudis, and they are doing it in Libya by sending the leftovers from that time fighting Libyan government…, remember: Osama Bin Laden was from Saudi Arabia, so as those who hijacked the planes attacking WTC.

    Libyan war is also about $53 billion dollars which US, EU and China trying to steal, this money were going to be used in verity of developing projects in Africa headed by Libyan government, which would involve Russian and mostly South American country to invest in these projects, that would leave the US EU and perhaps China flat out of any deals.., Look, the US first lady Michel Obama she is in South Africa on a “official visit”.., question: what is her official visit, is it a diplomatic visit or Obama doesn’t trust Hillary Clinton gangs any more and that’s why sending Michel..,! But.., why now..,

    Hillary Clinton was on a Official visit to Bahrain before Saudis invaded the island.., that happened just before the UN security council vote and NATO started bombing Libya.., Question.., why then and not before.

    Look: Barack Hussein Obama needs to be reelected.., for that he needs to create lots of job.., over 5-7 million of it.., not that is enough with unemployment figure which is about 20 million people.., but with that number there is enough vote for him to be reelected.., just think for a moment.., where and in which sector in USA he is going to have that opportunity creating so many jobs..,! the middle class and small businesses are very happy getting what they been given in term of incentives‘ making them just survive the month.., helping the US economy to be at today’s level, so they are not going to hire any jobless nor the big companies will do. They (big companies) got their money in terms of a Obama “Gift” – incentives long time ago and they are very happy thanking and laughing at Obama for it.., however they would help out if there is a place where they invest in new jobs doubling the production at home and have some return which would compensate their past “losses”…!

    Here is where that $53 billion dollars and jobs opportunities in Africa becomes a reality, here is which Kaddafi needs to go, because they don’t buy US stuff, here is where Syrian regime needs to be changed, because they don’t buy American made stuff.., here even the Swedish JUNK fighter jets are to be marketed and sold. But look at Iraq and Afghanistan.., all the army or government vehicles are either made by Chevrolet or Ford and US – EU have their new customer at hand like Libya. These wars are not about Oil nor about other natural resources but it is about to stealing it, opening a new market for US and China and for US-China and EU dividing the world wealth among themselves letting these little terrorist groups develop as worms against what is a people power – socialism and is from South America, it has become a power where these regimes are afraid of, not because of who they are but rather what people have made them to be.., China a communist.., laughable.

    • andy

      With a "friend" like Israel, America doesn't need any enemies.

  • liberal

    "First of all, the notion that the Middle East’s vast energy resources is not a driving factor in U.S. policy towards the region runs directly counter to every cogent, authoritative academic analysis I’ve read on the issue."

    Of course it's _a_ driving factor.

    But our support for Israel clearly trumps it _when the two are in conflict_.

  • Bruce Richardson

    If the lust for fossil-fuel is but a "tired old saw" from ant-war critics, why is it that when Taliban favored Bridas of Argentina over American concern UNOCAL to build the Trans-Afghan-Pakistan-Pipeline, US official threatened them with "you either accept our carpet of gold or we will bury you in a carpet of bombs?" And why, at the Berlin conference on Afghanistan during the summer of 2001, months prior to 9/11, did US officials tell Pakistan Secretary Niaz Naik, that "We will attack Afghanistan before the snow flies in October?" In my view, it is Ms. Dalmia that is the "tired old saw."

  • s from South America, it has become a power where these regimes are afraid of, not because of who they are but rather what people have made them to be.., China a communist.., laughable.

  • They should never have gon. It's as simple as that!

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