Defeat Terrorism: Abandon Oil
by Gar Smith
Earth Island Journal, Spring 2002
In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon, George W Bush declared that America had been targeted
"because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity
in the world." Maybe there's another reason.
In his February 23, 1998 call for a "Jihad against the
Crusaders," the wealthy Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden
argued that it was a religious duty "to kill the Americans
and their allies - civilians and military" to force US soldiers
"out of all the lands of Islam." He cited "three
facts that are known to everyone."
* Bin Laden wrote bitterly of King Fahd's decision to invite
thousands of US soldiers to establish a stronghold inside Saudi
Arabia, the homeland of the holy Islamic City of Mecca. "
[F] or more than seven years," bin Laden wrote, "the
US has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places...,
plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its
people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases... into
a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples."
* Bin Laden also railed against the US's "continuing
aggression against the Iraqi people... despite the huge number
of those killed, in excess of one million."
* Finally, he proclaimed that the real "aims behind these
[US Middle East] wars are religious and economic," designed
to "divert attention from [the] occupation of Jerusalem and
murder of Muslims [in Palestine]."
In the aftermath of the September attacks, Reuters, the BBC
and the Associated Press monitored public reaction throughout
the Middle East in search of an answer to the question "Why
was the US attacked?" The same three points carne up repeatedly
- Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Israel-Palestine. The consistency of
these complaints should draw our attention.
A Government's First Duty
Writing in response to bin Laden's 1998 fatwa, Ivan Eland,
the Cato Institute's director of defense-policy studies, argued
that the first goal of any nation's security policy should be
"to protect citizens and property"
Eland noted that, "One of three terrorist attacks worldwide
is directed against a US target. And that's not because the US
is a rich capitalist nation. No, terrorists attack the US primarily
for what it does, not what it is.... Because terrorist attacks
are extremely difficult to prevent," Eland concluded, "the
administration needs to concentrate its efforts on minimizing
the motivation for such attacks in the first place.... Americans
should not have to live in fear of terrorism just so Washington's
foreign policy elite can attempt to achieve amorphous and ephemeral
gains on the world chessboard."
Instead of taking the civilized course of tracking down the
guilty parties and trying them before a world tribunal (as was
the case in the Lockerbie airline bombing, the first World Trade
Center bombing and the Beirut Manne barracks bombing), the Bush
administration launched a massive aerial bombardment against Afghanistan.
Such a response threatens to unleash the kind of endless escalation
that Eland feared.
The bombs, which initially were intended to destroy Afghan
air defenses and assassinate the Taliban's leaders, soon wound
up destroying Red Cross humanitarian warehouses, hospitals and
homes. The sympathy that the world expressed for the US in September
began to wane with the first photos of Afghan children whose bodies
had been torn apart by cluster bombs. An investigation by University
of New Hampshire Economics Professor Marc W Herold produced a
shocking discovery: In the first 61 days of the US attacks, 3,767
Afghan civilians were reported killed by US bombs - a death toll
that exceeded the revised estimates of the 3,000 civilians killed
in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
The military tactic of "massive retaliation" may
not be an effective response to acts of terrorism. Israel provides
a gruesome test-case. "If we have learned anything from Israel's
treatment of the Palestinians," observes attorney Adam Gutride
of A Jewish Voice for Peace, "it is that terrorism cannot
be ended through retaliation, occupation or militarism."
A Foreign Policy Based on Oil
... there is one factor that links US foreign policy to Saudi
Arabia, Kuwait and a rogue's gallery of repressive regimes, dictators,
juntas and despots around the world. The glue that binds nearly
every one of these unsavory alliances is the same: oil.
Our foreign policy is captive to oil. The Pentagon runs on
oil. Our position as a superpower is dependent on oil. The US
has 200,000 troops stationed in 40 other countries, mostly deployed
to secure our access to foreign oil. As Tom Cutler, the former
head of NATO's Petroleum Planning Committee, observed in the Armed
Forces Journal International, the military's primary objective
is not to maintain peace or safeguard liberty, but "to ensure
adequate oil supplies for the national defense."
As author Barbara Kingsolver observed: "In the Persian
Gulf War, we rushed to the aid of Kuwait, a monarchy in which
women enjoyed approximately the same rights as a 19th-century
American slave. The values we fought for and won there are best
understood, I think, by oil companies."
As the Worldwatch Institute notes, the Pentagon is the world's
largest oil consumer, burning n "enough energy in 12 months
to run the entire US urban mass transit system for almost 14 years."
In peacetime, the US military consumes more than 150 million tons
of oil annually.
Oil supplies approximately 34 percent of the world's energy
needs but 79 percent of the Pentagon's energy. A US aircraft carrier
burns 5,628 gallons per hour while a B-52 bomber swallows 3,612
gallons per hour. At full throttle, an M-1 Abrams tank burns through
252 gallons of fuel per hour while an F-15 on afterburners can
torch 240 gallons per minute.
Like the weapons industry, the petroleum industry prospers
on the revenue of conflict. Many members of the Bush administration
were drawn from the ranks of the petroleum industry and the military-industrial
elite. Dick Cheney's former employer, Halliburton, not only builds
oil pipelines around the world, it also provides security for
150 far-flung embassies, supplies housekeeping services for US
armed forces abroad and has recently begun offering teams of "privatized
soldiers" to pump up the ranks of foreign armies.
A Green Response to Conflict
If the US economy were redirected to run on clean, renewable
energy, we would not only be on the path to mitigating climate
change, we would also be on the path to eliminating one of the
major causes of terrorism. With towns, factories and homes powered
by solar, wind and geothermal energy, no one country could dominate
the world's energy-based economies.
Encouraging Americans to buy new automobiles to "keep
America rolling" economically only encourages further oil
dependence. Ultimately, the best way to counter the likes of Osama
bin Laden is to reduce - or eliminate - the consumption of polluting
petroleum fuels. As Yossef Bodansky, director of the Congressional
Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, pointed out,
bin Laden's funding comes from two main sources: Afghanistan's
opium trade and $400 million in annual contributions from wealthy
patrons in Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing states.
Energy conservation, fuel-efficient engines and renewable-energy
technologies are already available. Unfortunately, no US government
is likely to adopt this solution as long as oil money dominates
the political landscape. Even with Al Gore in the White House,
the US still might not have moved to relinquish its oil-based
foreign policy since, to do so, would require the US to give up
its position as the world's sole superpower It is our control
of oil supplies and the threat of our oil-powered military might
that largely define the US as a superpower.
A New Economy from the Old? Some economists have predicted
that the economic repercussions of the September 11 attacks may
signal the "end of globalization."
While the part of the global economy represented by travel,
finance and consumer goods may be facing collapse, the arms industry,
surveillance services and the personal protection sector - all
dominated by US companies - stand to prosper from war and from
the fear and repression that it can unleash.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has used the terrorist assault
to launch an attack on American citizens, civil freedoms. Calling
October's anti-terrorism legislation the "Patriot Act"
does nothing to conceal the fact that it marks one of the gravest
attacks on civil liberties in our nation's history The FBI has
proposed that the US might wish to adopt torture as an investigative
A New Foreign Policy
Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo has joined the call for
a "new foreign policy" that addresses the root causes
of terrorism. Cuomo has challenged America to fight terrorism
by responding to unmet human needs and to counter the "quiet
tragedies" of injustice, poverty, hunger, inadequate healthcare
and education that plague our world.
In an editorial essay penned one month before the September
attacks, historian and author Chalmers Johnson noted with regret
that the US, "as the lone surviving superpower, could have
led through diplomacy and judiciously distributed foreign aid....
Instead, it has resorted most of the time to bluster, military
force and financial manipulation.... American leaders believe
that they are above the very concept of international law - unless
defined and controlled by them.... History suggests that this
country is riding for a big fall."
It is time to move to a world beyond oil, beyond repression
and beyond superpowers. By demanding an economy based on clean,
free renewable energy, we can replace our current outmoded foreign
policy - based on military force, overseas bases, economic intimidation
and political unilateralism - with a foreign policy based on human
rights, social justice and environmental security
While struggling to protect our freedoms at home, we must
become actively involved in the debate over a new foreign policy
We need to campaign to stop the suffering of the innocent civilian
population in Iraq. We need to call for the withdrawal of troops
from Saudi Arabia and other countries where they are not welcome.
We need to become more involved in finding solutions to the Israel-Palestine
Bush, Cheney and Ashcroft have given Americans a choice: Are
we prepared to sacrifice our freedoms for our foreign policy?
Unfortunately, too many Americans appear all too willing to make
We must challenge the White House agenda, with its promise
of endless war, more terrorist attacks and the steady erosion
of our civil freedoms. A new world is possible, but we will now
have to work harder to bring it about.