Mapping Planet America
What's that shimmering in heat above the Iraqi sands? Is it that fuzzy notion called democracy? No. Is it an oasis of oil profits? Sort of. But look closer and something much greater emerges: a vision of total global supremacy, Planet America.
Indeed this war is about much more than getting at oil. Rather it's part of the ongoing project by American elites to control the entire world by direct and indirect means. More specifically, conquering Iraq is about leveraging the future economic and political directions of the EU and East Asia, particularly China, that region's new economic engine. After the U.S., these are the world's two most important and developed economic regions with massive labor forces, huge markets, high levels of investment, profitable production, advanced technology and developed infrastructures. If you were a multimillionaire rentier chances are the bulk of your loot would be invested in these core economies, not in Africa, Latin America or hinterland Russia.
During the Cold War, Europe and Asia were beholden to the U.S. for protection against Soviet power and regional communist rebellion. But that's all gone now, so how does the U.S. leverage these possible "peer competitors"? The key is oil, or rather American military control and influence over the Persian Gulf and Caspian Basin where most of the world's oil lies and, crucially, where Europe and East Asia get the majority of their petroleum.
Europe imports more than half of its oil mostly from the Middle East and the EU's dependence on foreign petroleum is expected to rise to almost 80 percent by 2020 as North Sea reserves run dry. Economies in Asia are even more dependent: Last year China got almost 60 percent of its oil from the Gulf and its energy consumption is expected to double or triple in the next two decades. Japan has only five month's worth of reserves and 88 percent of its oil is imported from the Gulf.
The American economy, on the other hand, only draws about 11 percent of its total consumption from the Middle East. The bulk of our imports come from Canada, Mexico and Venezuela.
Thus, conquering Iraq isn't about putting more Arab oil into American SUVs so much as it is about positioning U.S. military might as the sole security arbiter and global energy cop upon which all advanced economies will be dependent. Controlling the Middle East and its oil gives America massively important political leverage over the EU and East Asia.
As energy gendarme, America will "dissuade" friends and foes alike from, say, imposing trade tariffs, or favoring local national firms over U.S.-based multinationals in contracting; it will help open markets to heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural products; it will help line up European and Asian votes when U.S. business elites want to ditch environmental, debt relief, or arms control agreements. It will generally keep the other core economies in the role of junior partners in the Global North's domination of the Global South.
Such imperial visions are evident in the deeds and words of American political leaders dating back to at least the days of Admiral Alfred Mahan and Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the last century. FDR also thought this way. But only with the death of the U.S.S.R. is the project of Planet America actually feasible. And central to this project is preventing "the rise of a great-power competitor." The two possible candidates for this are an independent EU or, down the line, China. This project of dissuading and leveraging friends is even outlined in various public documents including "Rebuilding America's Defenses," a now-infamous report from the Project for the New American Century, a think-tank with massive influence on the current administration. It is also hinted at in President Bush's published "National Security Strategy of the United States."
In the short term, American control of Iraq (with the second largest oil reserves in the world) will be a boon for U.S. firms like Haliburton, the Carlysle Group and Chevron. It could also break OPEC and drive down oil prices, which in turn could kick off a national or global recovery.
A recovery and relatively clean victory could then help launch Dubya to a second term. But underneath this more immediate level of politics exists the larger project of global supremacy. Clinton too pursued it; only his methods were more multilateral and less overtly aggressive. The Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo interventions were all part of the great game. As was the recent war in Afghanistan which produced a useful string of U.S. bases in Central Asia.
The price of victory in this mad quest is environmental degradation, mass civilian casualties, possible terrorist attacks here, and behemoth deficits to be funded by cutting federal aid to education, transportation and health care. Because this is a sick and unjust war and part of an equally twisted project of empire we must continue to protest and oppose it in all its manifestations, no matter who is president or what seemingly plausible "humanitarian" justification is given for the brutality of running occupied Iraq or launching America's next war.
Christian Parenti is the author of "Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in
the Age of Crisis." His new book, "The Soft Cage: Everyday Surveillance Past
and Present," will be published by Basic Books in Fall 2003.