Ever since U.S. forces deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm, the overt joke among those against the action and comedians has been that we went to war to, as Dave Chappelle said, “Get that oil!” Though not literally true, the sentiment contain a severe truths: When it comes to oil related matters in the world, the United States will use almost any means necessary, including military force, to secure that oil.
On 14 February 1945, President Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud to ensure U.S. access to Saudi oil reserves, doing so in fear of a possible shortage due to WWII and to gain King Abdul’s support in creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine and immigrating 10,000 Jews there at war’s end. That historic meeting began the trend of the United States serving both as the proxy military for Saudi Arabia and as the guardian of U.S. and NATO dependence on Saudi and Middle Eastern oil. Today, the U.S. Navy is as robust as it is in order to protect the naval trading routes, particularly for the oil supertankers coming from that region.
Due to this longtime dependence on oil, the United States has acted militarily at times to where, if catastrophic events were occurring in Africa, southeast Asia, Latin America, or the former Soviet states, we would not involve ourselves, at least not overtly. Oil is the world’s life-blood; without it, there is no economy — or, better put, society does not exist as we know it.
The proof is evident in our current state of affairs in the Middle East. To date, the United States is publicly involved in direct military action and support in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, as well as identifiable military and diplomatic actions in Libya and Israel-Palestine. The Israel-Palestine “issue” we inherited, but the others are self-inflicted wounds that could have been prevented if the dependence on foreign fossil fuels was not paramount.
At the recent G20 Summit, unbeknownst to most, Russia and Saudi Arabia struck an agreement to jointly cut their crude oil production output; thus, prompting OPEC to do the same. Additionally, Qatar has withdrawn from OPEC. Qatar’s shattered relationship with the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia is the cause for withdrawal because it has realized that it must look after its own financial fate. Though only making up for 1.75 percent of crude oil output, Qatar leaving OPEC at the same time as the Saudi-Russian deal puts OPEC and the United States in a precarious position, for now the market has significantly shifted.
Meanwhile, the dirty little secret about Libya is that British Petroleum (BP) has owned the mineral rights in Libya since 2007. NATO (and the United States) literally supported the overthrow of Mu’ammar Qaddafi so that BP could bypass Qaddafi and operate at a cheaper rate; today, there are still open U.S. Senate and British Parliament investigations into the acquisition. Additionally, Germany pulled out of supporting NATO’s military operation against Libya the day prior to mission execution because it had signed a natural gas contract with Russia, therefore eliminating its energy needs.
The current situation in Iraq is unique because the Iraqi Constitution was written with the shared ownership of oil revenues as its foundation. Kurdistan has roughly one-third of Iraq’s oil reserves, and earlier this year, the region declared it was soon to secede from Iraq. It is logical to assume that the Kurds would not be making such a bold move if not for the oil reserves. Add that with the fact that the U.S. State Department is currently constructing its largest consulate, and it is a safe to assume that the United States is preparing for a foreseeable Kurdistan secession.
Due to our angst with Iran, the United States has sided with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in its territorial war with Yemen and economic war with Qatar. The United States currently provides Saudi Arabia both advisors and special operators in support of its war against Yemen. Yet, our actions against Qatar make no logical sense because the United States has a major installation in Qatar that has existed for decades — a base that has been referred to as CENTCOM’s southwest Asian headquarters and where Army Central Command holds its quarterly conferences.
Syria on the other hand has always been a conundrum. Ever since President Obama drew the “red line” and did not follow through on it when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad exacted a chemical attack on civilians, the door swung open for Russia, which had not been a major player in the Middle East since the fall of the Soviet Empire, and even then, its influence had greatly decreased in the region as Gorbechev assumed the helm of leadership. However, now that Russia is fully involved with a heavy reliance on the sale of oil and natural gas for revenue, NATO has no plausible solutions to create stability in the region.
I cannot say that there would peace in the Middle East if it were not for our oil dependence, but what I can say is that if it were not for our oil dependence, we would not be so embroiled in war-like Middle East actions. We have been in a perpetual state of war in the Middle East for 15 years with no end in sight. We can start to get out by eliminating our (and NATO’s) dependence on Middle East (and OPEC) oil and properly divesting in renewable energies. Fighting wars should always be a last resort, not a means to attain energy or revenues.
Terron Sims is the chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia’s veterans and military families caucus and a former captain with the U.S. Army. He served in Iraq from 2003–2004. He is currently a Security Fellow with Truman National Security Project. Views expressed are his own.