Michael Klare interview

[January 12, 2004]

from the book

Hijacking Catastrophe

9/11, Fear and the Selling of American Empire

edited by Sut Jhally and Jeremy Earp

Olive Branch Press, 2004, paper

SJ: What role have struggles over resources played in international relations? How central have they been and how central are they now?


Resources have always been central. Since the beginning of recorded human history, resources have played a critical role in international relations as the earliest states fought over control of waterways and arable land. Imperialism was driven by the pursuit of resources. We wouldn't have had the European colonization of the Western hemisphere, of North and South America, if it weren't for the drive to gain control of, really to steal the resources of, the Western hemisphere. That's what brought Europeans here in the first place and drove European colonialism right up to World War I. World War I was a conflict that was triggered to a considerable extent by the competition between the European powers for control of overseas resources. During the cold war that got a little bit overshadowed to some degree by ideology-ideology is the driving force of world politics-but even during the cold war, you'll find that many of the crucial events were really driven by struggle over the control of key resources, particularly in the Middle East. The Truman Doctrine, the Eisenhower Doctrine, the Nixon Doctrine, and the Carter Doctrine are really all, to some degree or another, about protection of the oil of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, so that this has been an important part of international relations and conflict between states for a very long time. Now what I argue is that we are in a qualitatively new period where the struggle over resources is intensifying because of economic globalization. There are more actors out there trying to gain control over what remains of the world's resources and we are using these at such a frantic pace that we're beginning to reach the limits. We are beginning to approach scarcity of many crucial materials, so the competition for what is left intensifies. And the risk of violence over resources intensifies.


SJ. In terms of the Iraq war, how central was oil?


Oil was absolutely central to the Iraq conflict, but this should be seen in a historical context. The US concern over Iraq goes way back. It goes back to 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait and posed a threat to Saudi Arabia. At that time George H. W. Bush said that the Iraqi presence in Kuwait posed a threat to the oil of Saudi Arabia and the oil of Saudi Arabia is absolutely essential to the United States, to US security. Therefore we had to use military force to protect Saudi Arabia and then to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait, and that was the first Persian Gulf War of 1991. That war was followed by the containment of Iraq. Rather than go all the way on that first encounter to Baghdad, as some advocated, the first President Bush and then Bill Clinton said that we will instead contain Iraq, we will surround Iraq, we'll bomb its facilities whenever necessary to try to keep Saddam Hussein in a cage and leave it at that.

Then the new President Bush came along and it was clear from the very beginning that he felt that the strategy of containment was inadequate. It was a failure; it demonstrated weakness on America's part. More importantly, it also precluded the United States from going into Iraq and developing Iraq's oil, which this president had determined was absolutely essential down the road for America's oil requirements. So it was very clear that at the beginning, President Bush and his advisors were determined to continue where the war had been left off in February 1991, and move on to Baghdad as had been talked about at the time.


SJ: Why did the Bush administration want to move beyond containment? What's behind the new policy?


I think we all have to remember that when George Bush entered the White House in February 2001 his top priority was not terrorism or national security, as it has become since then. The top priority in the 'White House was energy. The very first thing he did was to create a national energy policy working group headed by Vice President Cheney to address the nation's energy security. This was brought about because there was an energy crisis at the time. There were blackouts in California. There were oil shortages around the United States, and more importantly, just a year earlier the United States had passed the 50 percent-mark of dependence on petroleum for the first time. This was deeply distressing to American policymakers-it meant that from that point on, as America continues to consume more petroleum than it produces, it will become ever more dependent on imported petroleum.

This issue more than any other preoccupied the president and his cabinet in their first few months in office. Vice President Cheney conducted a study and produced a report, the National Energy Policy (NEP) report on May 17, 2001, which was a blueprint for the nation in terms of its energy; and much of this is known. He called for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge and a lot of subsidies to domestic oil and coal and nuclear and electricity producers to ramp up domestic energy production. The part that is not well known about the NEP is that the plan also calls for a substantial increase in US involvement, political and otherwise, in foreign areas that the US is becoming increasingly dependent upon. The plan calls for increased oil procurement from the Persian Gulf, from the Caspian Sea, from Africa, and from Latin America. Because those areas were assumed to pose resistance of one sort or another to American involvement in their oil either for nationalistic, political, or historical reasons, or the fact that many of those areas harbor anti-American sentiments, it was understood that the US would have to play a much more aggressive, assertive role in gaining access to the rest of the world's oil. This was the backdrop for September 11, 2001.

During the entire summer of that year, right up to September 11, President Bush was campaigning for implementation of the NEP That was what was in the forefront of his mind, and I think you can see the invasion of Iraq as a consequence of this, as well as many other things. The aggressive US intervention, insertion into the Caspian Sea basin, with bases being set up in Uzbekistan, Kurdistan, Tajikistan, American troops being sent to Georgia, talk of building up a naval presence in the Persian Gulf area. All of this shows how the pursuit of energy became intertwined with the strategy of anti-terrorism. Those two policies have become one and the same under Bush; from now on, you will not be able to separate them. Wherever the US is interested in oil, there is an anti-terrorist component to that. We see that in Columbia, for example, where the US intervention was originally about drugs, but now the thrust is protecting the oil pipelines, and with a much more visible presence of American forces. Same thing in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and in other parts of the world; there's talk about building bases in Africa. All of this, on one hand described as part of an anti-terrorist strategy; but underlying it is a blueprint, a Cheney blueprint, for increasing American's access to and control over the rest of the world's oil.


SJ: So the war on terror is being used as a kind of camouflage?


In my view, the strategy of anti-terrorism, the war on terrorism, has a certain identity of its own, but it was imposed on top of an early, geopolitical framework of resource strategy, of resource predation. So one became inserted on top of the other, in a way that you can't separate them anymore. It's true that in some of the areas where the US is interested in oil, there is also a threat of terrorism, like in Central Asia, and in the Caucacus, there are terrorist groups that could be said to pose a real danger, but the US also has geopolitical interests there, so you really can't separate the two. The war on terror is being used as a vehicle to get the financing and the resources and the manpower to vastly increase America's military presence in these areas of geopolitical interest to the United States, like Columbia, Africa, and Central Asia. So there is an intertwining of the two policies. One way you see this interconnection between anti-terrorism and oil is the increasing focus on the protection of pipelines, maybe not something that Americans think about so much, but more and more oil is coming from inaccessible places, and it has to flow through pipelines. Pipelines are natural targets for saboteurs and terrorists, and so more and more, American military policy is going to be focused on the protection of these very vulnerable facilities. We see that in Iraq. The pipelines have become a major target for the anti-American resistance; hence more and more American military effort is going into protecting the far-flung Iraqi pipelines. We're involved in protecting the pipelines in Columbia, in Georgia, in other parts of the world. I think you'll see how anti-terrorism and the protection of oil have coalesced into one single activity.


SJ: Could you just explain what is different about the Bush Doctrine, especially as compared with the Carter Doctrine?


I think there are two features of the Bush Doctrine that are distinctive and dramatic. One of them is the infatuation with the use of military force, of the effectiveness of military force as a tool. Prior leaders including the President's father, George Bush I, Bill Clinton, and other recent American presidents, ever since Vietnam-have been very reluctant to use military force because of the risk of it producing a counter-action of American forces being trapped in quagmires around the world, and the fact that the public is reluctant to experience casualties. In any case, for a combination of reasons, there has been real reluctance to use military force. The Bush people feel very differently. They feel that the use of military force is a useful instrument of power, that it has to be exercised periodically or other people won't respect us, won't be fearful of us, which is their intention-to make other people fearful of us. That's dramatically different. They don't hide this. They're very explicit in the national security strategy of the US and in other speeches. They say that the use of military force is a necessary component of American policy that must be exercised periodically for it to remain effective. So that's very different. For example, I think that the invasion of Iraq was partly about Iraq, specifically what happens inside Iraq. But it was just as much intended as a signal to Iran, to China, to Russia, to other countries in the region, to Saudi Arabia, that the United States will use military force when its officials deem it necessary. Therefore, you had better manage your relations with Washington in a way that satisfies American objectives. And this policy implies that force will be used on a recurring basis-has to be used on a recurring basis-so that the efficacy of the threat remains strong. And I really do think that if there's another Bush administration, we should expect that occasions will arise in which the use of force will be likely can't say when or where or for sure-but that this project of retaining the efficacy of the use of military force will be a feature of the second Bush administration.

The other aspect of the Bush Doctrine that strikes me is the global scale of it, the sense that America must be the dominant world power. In the past, we've had regional policies-a European NATO policy, an Asia Pacific policy, a Middle East policy. Now we have a policy of global intervention and domination. I think that's the essence of the Bush Doctrine; the US has to be prepared to overcome adversaries anywhere in the world that they might arise. There are no safe havens, no safe areas. We must be able to operate everywhere. Again, this is explicit in the national security doctrine of the US and you see it now in the plans to revamp the disposition of American military forces, the deployments with the acquisition of new bases in Central Asia, Africa, in Southeast Asia. They're making American forces have the capacity to operate anywhere in the world, without being tied down as they were in the cold war period, when we had a large military infrastructure in Europe and NATO and another one in Japan. This is now seen as a hindrance to the exercise of America's global power. It ties us down. So instead, we're going to have less elaborate bases, but they're going to be like a checkerboard everywhere, so the Pentagon can move its forces overnight to anywhere in the world where the higher authorities think they may be needed. This too is very dramatic a departure from the past.


SJ: The term "empire" has been used a lot to describe this new constellation of forces. Do you think it's appropriate to call this a new American empire?


I don't think that it's an accurate term, perhaps because of my study of history. I think empires of the past have had an explicit project of exercising control-down to the last item-over what happens in the places that came under colonial rule, to readjust their institutions, to impose language and culture and all of that. I don't think that these people have the same project in mind. They're much more interested in overall domination, of playing the world policeman, of using force when they see it necessary. Behind that, really, I think there is a strategy of predation, that the world has to be made safe for the procurement of resources that are needed by the United States, especially oil, wherever they are. As long as the local potentates cooperate in that project, we're really not interested in how they manage their local affairs, or imposing our culture on them. That could happen; it might not happen. But we want access to their resources, and access for our corporations to do business there. In that sense, you could call it an imperial project. But it's not like the British and French empires of the past.

SJ: Do you think that a second Bush term will make the world more secure, will make Americans safer from a terrorist threat?


History tells us a lot about this; after all, Rome operated under much the same fashion for a very long time. And there's no doubt that being able to threaten the use of military force will intimidate some people from doing things that they might otherwise have done. So you might say that it will have some effect. But at the same time, it's going to produce hostility and resentment from a lot of people who don't like this heavy-handed behavior, and what it's going to lead to is the search for vulnerabilities in the United States, for what the military calls "asymmetrical advantages." For ways of getting back at the United States through unconventional means. I fear that this heavy use of military force will inspire others to look for ways to get behind our defenses and to cause havoc in one way or another, and that could be very dangerous. So over the long term, it could be counter-productive. Yes, in the short term it may show a certain amount of self-restraint on possible adversaries, assuming there are any, and Iran would be an example. I think Iran is not going to do anything with Syria that's going to provoke the United States, because they're fearful that what happened to Iraq will happen to them. But at the same time, I think others in other parts of the world will be seeking ways to get around America's strengths in unconventional means, and that could be far more dangerous in the end.


SJ: Some people have argued that it really Dick Cheney who is pulling the strings in the Bush administration. Is he a neoconservative or is he more of an old-fashioned oil man?


My sense, first of all, is that Dick Cheney is the most important policymaker in the Bush administration, other than the president himself, that it's Cheney who makes the crucial decisions on big economic and foreign policy issues. We have to recall that he was the secretary of defense during the first Bush administration. He was the architect of the first Persian Gulf War. At the time, he made it very clear that he followed a geopolitical model of US security affairs, that geopolitics was prime. He was the one who determined that the United States had to intervene in the first Gulf War because of the threat of oil supplies. It was he who pushed that.

I think the Cheney energy report that came out in 2001 also reflects his obsession with conventional, classical geopolitics. Of the Earth, the sea lanes, the crucial sources of supply in a way. This is different than the neoconservative agenda in some respects. I think he's less interested in ideology and politics, more with power and control and wealth.

Now, I guess you could say that the Bush administration really is an alliance between this more traditional, power-seeking, geopolitical perspective, and the ideological interests of the neoconservatives. They have shared interests in some places, like in Iraq, where the two came together. Both saw an advantage in invading Iraq. But I don't think they're always going to align. For example, in Asia, I think you see a different path being taken. I think the neoconservatives are much more ideological and zealous about Taiwan and going after North Korea, but I think this would be detrimental to America's long term economic interests. Therefore, that kind of extremism, of adventurism, has been ruled out in Asia, and I think that shows the influence of Cheney in this administration.


SJ: What are the specifics of the Bush/Cheney energy policy?


Bear in mind, when Dick Cheney sat down in February 2001 to study America's future energy policy and to devise an energy blueprint for the US in the 21st century, it was clear that the nation was at a crossroads. We understood that if we continued to go down the same path, we were going to become increasingly dependent on Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian, and so on, and that this would lead to increasing military adventures. But people were saying at the time: there is another path of developing alternative sources of energy, of diminishing our dependence on petroleum, of improving fuel efficiency, of vehicles, of developing hydrogen as an alternative source. This was not new. This was on the table. And Dick Cheney and his allies in the administration clearly and consciously chose to go down the route of more imported oil, more petroleum, more of the conventional energy strategy that we've pursued.

Now, here's where the influence of the big oil companies comes into play, because we know, from the records, that commission-it's called the National Energy Policy Development Group, the NEPDG-we know from the records of that group that all of the advice they solicited was from Big Energy, especially the Enron corporation, more than any other. These companies were also major donors to the Republican campaign in 2000. Of course, Cheney and Bush and others were themselves inclined to support that point of view, and they understood that a radical shift towards an alternative energy system would be costly to Big Energy-they would have to make huge investments in environmentally safe technology; they would lose some of their profits. So Cheney and his allies made a conscious choice to proceed down the path of petroleum addiction, of imported oil dependency. That's what's so striking about this administration and its commitment to preserving the existing energy infrastructure. It's not for lack of an alternative, or lack of information and ideas about what has to be done. Everybody knows what has to be done. We have to move swiftly away from dependence on petroleum as our major source of energy and natural gas, and rapidly begin to develop the alternatives that will be absolutely essential in another ten to twenty years, when oil and natural gas become more scarce and the environmental consequences of relying on these carbon-based fuels become so threatening, so perilous, that we must make this shift.

What they've done, and this is one of their biggest crimes, is to push way into the future the transition that must be made, that we all know must be made. We pushed it ten, twenty, thirty years into the future, when the costs of doing so will be colossally greater than they are now, and the pain of making this transition will be so much greater. A second Bush administration will dig us deeper into the grave of this old energy system, make it harder to move forward, when it's clear that this is something we must do rapidly and soon.

SJ: So there really is difference this time between the Democrats and the Republicans?


Let me put it this way: we don't know what a Democratic alternative to Bush might favor, so I can't speak to what they would do. What I could say is that a Bush administration is going to continue the policies we've already seen, and, in my mind, they will all make us all much less safe than we are now. They'll do so in two respects. First of all, by increasing our dependency on oil from volatile, dangerous areas like Saudi Arabia, Central Asia, the Caspian region, and Africa. They're absolutely committed to that. Pursuit of the oil of those countries is going to stir up hostility, resentment, and terrorism against the United States. So, that's for sure: they'll make us less safe in that respect. Secondly, it seems clear that they're determined to pursue a strategy of unilateralism in international affairs, the unilateral use of force, giving up on international institutions, and our allies. This is absolutely catastrophic for the United States. They could pretend that we live in a world where only what we do matters, but anybody who understands the international economy, the international environment, the political and social forces underway in the world, economic globalization, clearly understands that the United States cannot solve the problems facing us alone. We must have the cooperation and the support of other countries in the world to solve the big problems we're going to face. By behaving in a unilateralist fashion, we're alienating our allies, we're pushing them away, we're making enemies. We're undermining the international institutions that we will need to support, to preserve, to protect our vital interests, in a vastly more complex and threatening world, a world in which terrorism is just one part of the problem, but where economic malaise and migrations and environmental decline and international crime are all part of a larger framework of dangers. We cannot deal with these dangers alone. We must have the help of other countries, and the Bush strategy is weakening our security by pushing them away.

Hijacking Catastrophe

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