If energy and armaments are the agents behind America’s ‘empire of bases’ and its ‘empire of markets’, how influential are they? On security, barely; on terrorism, hugely.
Aladdin used to make whatever he wished happen by simply rubbing his oil lamp and calling up a compliant genie. Now, oiling the wheels and rubbing shoulders with the right people are what a gas company called Genie Energy of Newark, New Jersey, is doing in the Middle East.
Although its oil and shale sites in the Golan Heights are in Syrian occupied territory, Genie was authorised by Israel in 2013 to drill there (‘Black gold under the Golan’. The Economist. 7 November 2015). On its influence-heavy advisory board are former US Vice-President Dick Cheney, former CIA director James Woolsey, former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers, former US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, and Rupert Murdoch, whose media rarely criticise Israel. He and Lord Rothschild are both investors in Genie. These people and their Israeli interlocutors understand energy politics and how strategically essential it is for Israel to exploit the Golan deposits. In turn, administrations in Washington have been ordering bombing in Syria and supporting rebels there since 2011.
The Genie advisors are only the latest in a long line of Americans who, ever since World War II, have tried to influence Middle Eastern, and particularly oil, affairs. In 1953, the CIA at Britain’s urging overthrew Iran’s first democratically elected leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, who had tried to nationalise Iran’s oil industry. From 1949 on, a succession of Syrian leaders who did so met the same end. The ‘Bruce Lovett Report’ in 1957 described CIA coup plots in Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Egypt, all of which were common knowledge on the Arab street, but virtually unknown to the American people who believed their government’s denials (Robert F. Kennedy jr, ‘Syria: Another Pipeline War’ www.ecowatch.com 25 February 2016). Not only did the coups in Syria and Iran tarnish America’s reputation in the Middle East, Kennedy writes, they sowed the seeds of Islamic jihadism which ironically, the US has purposefully nurtured. A succession of Syrian dictators, including Bashar al-Assad and his father, have invoked the history of the CIA’s bloody coups to justify their need for Russian support.
Both US and Saudi governments have supported a proposed oil pipeline from Qatar on the Persian Gulf, through Saudi Arabia and Jordan to Turkey and on to Europe. But it has stalled because Syria stands in its way and because it threatens Russia’s large oil market in Europe, which is the US intention. In 2009, according to WikiLeaks, soon after Bashar Assad rejected the Qatar pipeline, the CIA began funding opposition groups in Syria. A rival proposal for a pipeline from Iran, passing through Iraq and Lebanon, through Cyprus to Europe has Russian support (Robert F. Kennedy jr, ‘Syria: Another Pipeline War’ www.ecowatch.com 25 February 2016). But neither plan has much change of being implemented until civil war ends in the region.
Oil has driven British and American policies in the Middle East for a century, but geo-political interests have also been agents of influence. Between 1980 and 2001, according to Andrew Bacevich (‘Even if we defend the Islamic State, we’ll still lose the bigger war,’ Washington Post, 3 October 2014), American forces had invaded, occupied or bombed 12 countries with Islamic populations ─ Iran, Libya, Lebanon, Kuwait, Somalia, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kosovo, and Yemen – inciting hostility towards the United States which blew back fatally on 11 September 2001. But it was not so much al-Qaeda’s attack as America’s action and overreaction that changed the post-9/11 world.
‘Anti-American blowback’ is the result of three-quarters of a century of US interventionism, says John Dower (The Violent American Century: war and terror since World War II, 2017). America has killed many more than the terrorists. The US, Dower shows, has led the world in developing instruments of mass destruction, supporting repressive foreign regimes, and destabilising others through overt and covert interventions. It has funnelled massive resources into an ‘intrusive and ever-expanding national security state.’ Many unpublicised facilities around the world are integrated with CIA ‘black operations,’ which since 2002 include an expanding campaign of targeted assassinations by unmanned drones. For the US combatting terror, Dower concludes, means creating terror.
Since 1996, the Pentagon’s mission has been to maintain ‘full-spectrum dominance’ of land, sea, air, space, and information in every part of the world. In 2015 the US Department of Defense maintained 4855 ‘sites’ of which 587 were in 42 countries abroad. Special Operations forces were active in at least 150 countries. About 150 000 US troops in some 80 countries are located in 800 US military garrisons, which include 181 bases in Germany, 122 in Japan, and 83 in South Korea. Between World War II and 2002, the US engaged in 263 military operations, more than two-thirds of them after 1991. And yet since World War II, the massively-armed US has won no wars (apart from Grenada, Panama, the brief 1991 Gulf War, and the Balkan conflict). As a candidate, Donald Trump complained about this: but as President, he declared the US had many victories, including Vietnam. Inexplicably, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in late May agreed with him, and said Australia would join America in ‘whatever war it chose to pursue’ (Richard Butler, Pearls and Irritations, May 2017)
If energy and armaments are the agents behind America’s ‘empire of bases’ (Chalmers Johnson 2004) and its ‘empire of markets’ (Julian Assange 2015), how influential are they? On security, barely; on terrorism, hugely.
Dr Alison Broinowski FAIIA, a former Australian diplomat, is Vice President of Australians for War Powers Reform and Vice-President of Honest History.