Wikileaks' Cables Suggests that Oil Motivates U.S. Policy More than Fighting Terrorists
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Among the batch of classified diplomatic cables recently released by the controversial whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, several have highlighted the vast extent of the financial infrastructure of Islamist terrorism sponsored by key U.S. allies in the ongoing "War on Terror."
One cable by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December 2009 notes that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Despite this, “Riyadh has taken only limited action to disrupt fundraising for the UN 1267-listed Taliban and LeT [Lashkar e-Tayyiba] groups that are also aligned with al-Qaeda.”
Clinton raises similar concerns about other states in the Gulf and Central Asia. Kuwait remains reluctant “to take action against Kuwait-based financiers and facilitators plotting attacks outside of Kuwait.” The United Arab Emirates is “vulnerable to abuse by terrorist financiers and facilitation networks” due to lack of regulatory oversight. Qatar’s cooperation with U.S. counter-terrorism is the “worst in the region,” and authorities are “hesitant to act against known terrorists.” Pakistani military intelligence officials “continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban [and the] LeT.”
Despite such extensive knowledge of these terrorism financing activities, successive U.S. administrations have not only failed to exert military or economic pressure on these countries, but in fact have actively protected them, funneling billions of dollars of military and economic assistance. The reason is oil.
It's the Hydrocarbons, Stupid
Oil has always been an overwhelming Western interest in the region, beginning with Britain’s discovery of it in Persia in 1908. Britain controlled most Middle East oil until the end of World War II, after which the United States secured its sphere of influence in Saudi Arabia. After some pushback, Britain eventually accepted the United States as the lead player in the region. “US-UK agreement upon the broad, forward-looking pattern for the development and utilization of petroleum resources under the control of nationals of the two countries is of the highest strategic and commercial importance”, reads a 1945 memo from the chief of the State Department’s Petroleum Division.
Anglo-U.S. geo-strategy exerted this control through alliances with the region’s most authoritarian regimes to ensure a cheap and stable supply of petroleum to Western markets. Recently declassified secret British Foreign Office files from the 1940s and 1950s confirm that the Gulf sheikhdoms were largely created to retain British influence in the Middle East. Britain pledged to protect them from external attack and to “counter hostile influence and propaganda within the countries themselves.” Police and military training would help in “maintaining internal security.” Similarly, in 1958 a U.S. State Department official noted that the Gulf sheikhdoms should be modernized without undermining “the fundamental authority of the ruling groups.”
The protection of some of the world’s most virulent authoritarian regimes thus became integral to maintaining Anglo-U.S. geopolitical control of the world’s strategic hydrocarbon energy reserves. Our governments have willingly paid a high price for this access – the price of national security.
Still Funding Radicalism
One of al-Qaeda’s chief grievances against the West is what Osama bin Laden dubs the “Crusader-Jewish” presence in the lands of Islam, including support for repressive Arab regimes. Under U.S. direction and sponsorship, many of these allies played a central role in financing and supporting bin Laden’s mujahideen networks in Afghanistan to counter Soviet influence. It is perhaps less well understood that elements of the same regimes continued to support bin Laden’s networks long after the Cold War – and that they have frequently done so in collusion with U.S. intelligence services for short-sighted geopolitical interests.