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Escaping George Bush’s Future

It always comes back to oil. The continuing misguided interventions in the Middle East by the United States and the United Kingdom have their roots deep in the Arabian sand. Ever since Winston Churchill led the conversion of Britain’s navy from coal to oil at the start of the last century, the Western powers have meddled incessantly in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries to keep the oil flowing, toppling governments and taking sides in wars in the supposed “great game” of energy resources. But the game is almost over, because the old approaches are obviously failing.

Just when one is lulled into thinking that something other than oil is at the root of current US and UK action in Iraq, reality pulls us back. Indeed, President Bush recently invited journalists to imagine the world 50 years from now. He did not have in mind the future of science and technology, or a global population of nine billion, or the challenges of climate change and biodiversity. Instead, he wanted to know whether Islamic radicals would control the world’s oil.

Whatever we are worrying about in 50 years, this will surely be near the bottom of the list. Even if it were closer to the top, overthrowing Saddam Hussein to ensure oil supplies in 50 years ranks as the least plausible of strategies. Yet we know from a range of evidence that this is what was on Bush’s mind when his government shifted its focus from the search for Osama bin Laden to fighting a war in Iraq.

The overthrow of Saddam was the longstanding pet idea of the neoconservative Project for a New American Century, which was already arguing in the 1990’s that Saddam was likely to achieve a stranglehold over “a significant proportion of the world’s oil supplies.” Vice President Dick Cheney reiterated these fears in the run-up to the Iraq War, claiming that Saddam Hussein was building a massive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction to “take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies.”