Somewhat like God, if 9/11 didn’t happen it would have had to be invented. The attack on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon were exactly what US neo-conservatives and US oil interests needed: an excuse for regime change in Afghanistan, and later, in Iraq, as part of an aggressive policy of military, political and economic consolidation and expansionism. It was the tail that wagged the dog.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the only remaining superpower attacked Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power. The excuse was the capture of Osama bin Laden. The invasion occurred despite a proposal by the Taliban regime to surrender bin Laden to the United States if there was evidence that he was indeed responsible. The US rejected the proposal even before bin Laden accepted responsibility for the attack.
The claim that the real reason for the invasion of Afghanistan was to enable Western oil firms to build an oil pipeline across that country to the energy fields of Central Asia has been dismissed as the ravings of conspiracy theorists. But there is in the 1998 US Congressional Record a statement by John J. Maresca, then Vice President of International Operations of the Unocal Corporation, which emphasized the need for a friendly government in Afghanistan so that such a pipeline could be built from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean.
“One obvious route south would cross Iran,” said Maresca, “but this is foreclosed for American companies because of U.S. sanctions legislation. The only other possible route is across Afghanistan, which has of course its own unique challenges. The country has been involved in bitter warfare for almost two decades, and is still divided by civil war. From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of [foreign] governments, lenders, and our company.”
Addressing the Chair of the US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations during a hearing on US interests in the Central Asian republics, Maresca pointed out that —
“The Caspian region contains tremendous untapped hydrocarbon reserves… Just to give an idea of the scale, proven natural gas reserves equal more than 236 trillion cubic feet. The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels. In 1995, the region was producing only 870,000 barrels per day. By 2010, western companies could increase production to about 4.5 million barrels a day, an increase of more than 500 percent in only 15 years. If this occurs, the region would represent about 5 percent of the world’s total oil production.
“One major problem has yet to be resolved: how to get the region’s vast energy resources to the markets where they are needed. Central Asia is isolated. Their natural resources are land locked, both geographically and politically. Each of the countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia faces difficult political challenges. Some have unsettled wars or latent conflicts. Others have evolving systems where the laws and even the courts are dynamic and changing. In addition, a chief technical obstacle which we in the industry face in transporting oil is the region’s existing pipeline infrastructure.”
Maresca’s statement was echoed by Richard Cheney, then an oil company chief executive, and later Vice President of the United States, who declared that “I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian. But the oil and gas there is worthless until it is moved. The only route which makes both political and economic sense is through Afghanistan.”
Iraq, on the other hand, had proven oil reserves of 112 billion barrels when the US invaded that country in March 2003 under the (false) pretexts that it had weapons of mass destruction and was sheltering Al Qaida terrorists.
The US-installed Iraqi government now claims Iraqi oil reserves at 350 billion barrels, which would make the reserves the largest in the world. The pre-invasion estimate of 112 billion barrels, however, were enough of an inducement for regime change in Iraq. US and British oil firms had been excluded from exploiting the bonanza by the 1972 nationalization of oil resources. But under the new regime installed by the US, its oil companies are virtually guaranteed access — provided the Iraqi parliament pass an oil investment law allowing foreign companies a major role in the oil industry.
The post-Saddam Iraqi parliament being rather slow in approving the law, probably because of public opposition to reversing the Saddam-era nationalization policy, the US has threatened to withhold financial and military aid until it’s passed.
The long and the short of it is that the most prominent of US post-9/11 military actions were driven by Big Oil greed as well as US strategic interests, the main thrust of which is to retain its dominance and to pre-empt the rise of any rival power. The strategy is no secret and is detailed in “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” a study in which Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other personalities who later ended up in the George W. Bush government played a dominant role.
“Rebuilding…” was released just before the November 2000 US elections which Bush won. It argues that the fall of the Soviet Union and the entire Eastern bloc affords the US the opportunity to gain total dominance on land, sea, air and space, and that a major condition for this dominance is the projection of its power in the most volatile regions of the world, among them Central Asia and the Middle East, where vast energy resources are also located.
The consequence of this focus is today everywhere evident, including in the Philippines, where for six years the “war on terror” is being fought by US forces, allegedly not involved in combat, alongside Philippine troops. It is of course more evident in Afghanistan and Iraq, where US troops are bogged down in extremely fluid wars of attrition which have already cost hundreds of thousands of civilian lives, among other consequences.
Although these wars, by over-extending US forces and devastating its economy, have had the opposite effect of weakening rather than strengthening the US, the likelihood is that given the chance and the means, and driven by the usual imperial aims, the US will continue to wage war across the planet in the years to come in the name of “freedom” and “democracy,” but in furtherance of its economic and strategic interests as it has done so for over a century. As the US war historian Gabriel Kolko has warned, unless the US is stopped, the 21st century will be another century of war as the 20th was, with all its devastating consequences on the planet and its inhabitants.