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Are They Really Oil Wars?

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A most widely-cited factor behind the recent U.S. wars of choice is said to be oil. “No Blood for Oil” has been a rallying cry for most of the opponents of the war. While some of these opponents argue that the war is driven by the U.S. desire for cheap oil, others claim that it is prompted by big oil’s wish for high oil prices and profits. Interestingly, most antiwar forces use both claims interchangeably without paying attention to the fact that they are diametrically-opposed assertions.


Not only do the two arguments contradict each other, but each argument is also wanting and unconvincing on its own grounds; not because the U.S. does not wish for cheap oil, or because Big Oil does not desire higher oil prices, but because war is no longer the way to control or gain access to energy resources. Colonial-type occupation or direct control of energy resources is no longer efficient or economical and has, therefore, been abandoned for more than four decades.

The view that recent U.S. military adventures in the Middle East and the broader Central Asia are driven by energy considerations is further reinforced by the dubious theory of Peak Oil, which maintains that world production of conventional oil will soon reach—if it has not already reached—a maximum, or peak, and decline thereafter. It follows that, therefore, war power and military strength are key to access or control of the stagnant, shrinking, or soon-to-be-shrinking oil.

In this study I will first argue that while, prima facie, Peak Oil sounds like a reasonable thesis, it is dubious on both theoretical and empirical grounds. I will then show that war and military force are no longer the necessary or appropriate means to gain access to sources of energy, and that resorting to military measures can, indeed, lead to costly, not cheap, oil. Next, I will demonstrate that, despite the lucrative spoils of war resulting from high oil prices and profits, Big Oil prefers peace and stability, not war and geopolitical turbulence, in global energy markets. Finally, I will argue a case that behind the drive to war and military adventures in the Middle East lie some powerful special interests (vested in war, militarism, and geopolitical concerns of Israel) that use oil as an issue of “national interest”—as a façade or pretext—in order to justify military adventures to derive high dividends, both economic and geopolitical, from war.

Has Oil Really Peaked, or Is Peaking—and Running Out?

The Peak Oil theory maintains that world production of conventional oil will soon reach a maximum, or peak, and decline thereafter, with grave socio-economic consequences. Some proponents of the theory argue that world oil production has already peaked, and is now in a terminal decline [1].

Although, on the face of it, this sounds like a fairly reasonable proposition, it has been challenged on both theoretical and empirical grounds. While some critics have called it a myth, others have branded it as a money-making scam promoted by the business interests that are vested in the fossil fuel industry, in the business of war and militarism, and in the Wall Street financial giants that are engaged in manipulative oil speculation.

Regardless of its validity (or lack thereof), the fact is that Peak Oil has had significant policy and political implications. It has also generated considerable reactions among various interest groups and political activists.

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While environmental and similar activists have used Peak Oil to promote more vigorous conservation and more energetic pursuit of alternative fuels, the oil industry and its representatives in and out of the government have taken advantage of Peak Oil to argue in support of unrestrained extraction of oil and expanded drilling in the offshore or wildlife regions.

Because of its simple logic and facile appeal, Peak Oil has also led many ordinary citizens, burdened by high fuel bills during periods of energy crisis, to support unrestrained or expanded drilling. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, 57 percent of Americans favor more offshore drilling. Misled and misplaced popular perceptions, in turn, play into the hands of the oil industry and their representatives to lobby for the lifting of the Federal ban on oil production in hitherto restricted regions.

Citing voter anger over soaring energy prices, Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential nominee, recently argued that opening vast stretches of the country’s coastline to oil exploration would help America eliminate the dependence on foreign oil. "We have untapped oil reserves of at least 21 billion barrels in the United States. But a broad federal moratorium stands in the way of energy exploration and production," he said. "It is time for the federal government to lift these restrictions" [2].

Perhaps the financial giants of New York and London have benefited the most from the misleading implications of Peak Oil. Wall Street financial monsters that created the Third World debt crisis in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the tech bubble in the 1990s, and the housing bubble in the 2000s are now hard at work creating the oil bubble. These powerful market manipulators tend to blame the artificial oil shortages they create (through speculative hoarding) and the resulting oil price hikes on Peak Oil.

Just as Peak Oil plays into the hands of manipulative speculators and beneficiaries of fossil fuel, so too can it be used by the champions of unilateral wars and military adventures, as it implies that war power and military strength are key to access or control of the “shrinking” or “soon-to-be-shrinking” oil. It thus provides fodder for the cannons of war profiteering militarists who are constantly on the look out to invent new enemies and find new pretexts for continued war and escalation of military spending—that is, for the looting of the national treasury, or public money.

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By the same token that Peak Oil can serve as a pretext for war and military adventures, it can also serve as a disarming or pacifying factor for many citizens who accept the Peak Oil thesis and, therefore, internalize responsibility for U.S. foreign policy every time they fill their gas tank. In a vicarious way, they may feel that they own the war!

Thus, Peak Oil serves as a powerful trap and a clever manipulation that lets the real forces of war and militarism (the military-industrial complex and the pro-Israel lobby), and the main culprits behind the soaring energy prices (the Wall Street financial giants engaged in manipulative commodity speculation) “off the hook; it is a fabulous redirection. All evils are blamed on a commodity upon which we are all utterly dependent” [3].

The fact, however, is that there is no hard evidence that world oil production has peaked, or will be picking anytime soon, or that the current skyrocketing price of oil is due to a supply shortage. (As shown below, there is actually an oil surplus, not shortage.)

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Ismael Hossein-zadeh is a professor of economics at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. He is the author of the newly published book, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism His Web page is http://www.cbpa.drake.edu/hossein-zadeh

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According to most independent scientific studies, ... by Clifford Wirth on Tuesday, Sep 9, 2008 at 9:32:30 AM
Ismael Hossein-zadeh claims "that there is no... by Randy Park on Tuesday, Sep 9, 2008 at 12:14:02 PM