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Wikileaks' Cables Suggests that Oil Motivates U.S. Policy More than Fighting Terrorists

Cables released by Wikileaks demonstrate that control of the world's strategic energy reserves has always been a key factor in the direction of the "War on Terror".

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In fact, Afghanistan provides a rather revealing example. From 1994 to 2001, assisted by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the Clinton and Bush II administrations covertly sponsored, flirted and negotiated with the Taliban as a vehicle of regional influence. Congressman  Dana Rohrabacher, former White House Special Assistant to Ronald Reagan, also testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on South Asia about the “covert policy that has empowered the Taliban,” in the hopes of bringing sufficient stability to “permit the building of oil pipelines from Central Asia through Afghanistan to Pakistan.”

The Great Game is still in full swing. “Since the U.S.-led offensive that ousted the Taliban from power, the project has been revived and drawn strong U.S. support” reported the  Associated Press in 2005. “The pipeline would allow formerly Soviet Central Asian nations to export rich energy resources without relying on Russian routes. The project’s main sponsor is the Asian Development Bank” – in which the United States is  the largest shareholder alongside Japan. It so happens that the southern section of the proposed pipeline runs through territory still under  de facto Taliban control, where NATO war efforts are focused.

Other evidence demonstrates that control of the world’s strategic energy reserves has always been a key factor in the direction of the "War on Terror". For instance, the April 2001  study commissioned by then-Vice President Dick Cheney confirmed official fears of an impending global  oil supply crunch, energy shortages, and “the need for military intervention” in the Middle East to maintain stability. 

Energy and Iran

Other diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show clearly that oil now remains central to U.S. policy toward Iran, depicting an administration desperate to “ wean the world” off Iran’s oil supply, according to the London  Telegraph. With world conventional oil production most likely having  peaked around 2006, Iran is one of few major suppliers that can potentially  boost oil output by another 3 million barrels, and natural gas output by even more.  The nuclear question is not the real issue, but provides  ample pretext for isolating Iran.

But the U.S. anti-Iran stance has been highly counterproductive. In a series of dispatches for the  New YorkerSeymour Hersh cited U.S. government and intelligence officials confirming that the CIA and the Pentagon have funneled millions of dollars via Saudi Arabia to al-Qaeda-affiliated Sunni extremist groups across the Middle East and Central Asia. The policy – officially confirmed by a  U.S. Presidential Finding in early 2008 – began in 2003 and has spilled over into regions like Iraq and Lebanon, fuelling Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian conflict.

Not only did no Democratic members of the House ever contest the policy but President Obama reappointed the architect of the policy – Robert Gates – as his defence secretary. As former National Security Council staffers Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett observe,  Obama’s decision earlier this year to step up covert military operations in North Africa and the Middle East marked an “ intensification of America’s covert war against Iran.”

This anti-Iran directive, which extends covert U.S. support for anti-Shi’ite Islamist militant networks linked to al-Qaeda, hardly fits neatly into the stated objectives of the "War on Terror." Unless we recognize that controlling access to energy, not fighting terror, is the primary motive.

Beyond Dependency

While classified covert operations continue to bolster terrorist activity, the Obama administration struggles vainly to deal with the geopolitical fall-out. Getting out of this impasse requires, first, recognition of our  over-dependence on hydrocarbon energy sources to the detriment of real national security. Beholden to the industry lobbyists and the geopolitical dominance that control of oil provides, Western governments have supported dictatorial regimes that fuel widespread resentment in the Muslim world. Worse, the West has tolerated and until recently colluded in the sponsorship of al-Qaeda terrorist activity by these regimes precisely to maintain the existing global energy system.

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