Oil: Vital interests make strange bedfellows
When discussing the relations of nations, former British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston (1784-1865), opined, “Nations have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests.” Today, because some national interests are only temporary, Palmerston’s “permanent interests” are sometimes restated as: “vital interests.” But, “permanent” or “vital,” Palmerston’s conception of national interests holds true today.
Some Americans pay little attention to our vital interests unless, of course, gasoline rises above $3.00 per gallon and heating bills begin to crimp the family budget. Suddenly, access to the relatively cheap crude oil of the Middle East becomes a vital interest for lots of workaday Americans. Yet many cling to the naïve, Wilsonian, self-deception that the main reason for our presence in the Middle East has more to do with bringing freedom to enslaved peoples than it does with access to affordable oil.
Rarely reported by the Sinistra Media is the fact that our vital interest in access to oil and the vital interests of the oil-selling nations of the Persian Gulf (except Iran) converge. Doing business with the “infidels” is what Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates do. That means their rulers are as alarmed about al Qaeda’s disruptive terrorism and Sunni/Shia infighting as we are.
Prior to 2003, they did not want Saddam Hussein to achieve hegemony over the Persian Gulf and the same goes for Iran. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran nor Kuwait wanted the world’s fourth largest army menacing their oil fields. Indeed, all the Gulf States, to include Iran, openly cheered when we expelled Saddam from Kuwait in 1991 and they even cheered when we ended the dictatorship of Saddam in 2003.
Indeed, the rulers of the Middle East have long looked to Great Britain and the United States to keep the seas free for oil shipments and to prop up their governments. As President Truman said, “They may be S.O.B.s, but they are our S.O.B.s.” Another reason our S.O.B.s relied on our armed might was because they were so afraid of military-led revolutions.
In order to keep those under them divided and powerless, the Saudis make sure their military is weak and divided. Officer status is awarded on the basis of loyalty to the House of Saud. What forces they have are ill-trained reserves, backing up a tiny standing force.
Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Wahhabi Sect is outraged over how the Saudi Royals live their lives while in the infidel’s fleshpots of Paris, London and along the French Riviera. That outrage fuels al Qaeda and stimulates the Wahhabi/Sunni and the odd-couple Wahhabi/Shia insurgencies in Iraq and elsewhere. Note that this internal strife was occurring long before Coalition forces invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. So, it is silly to say that we cause Islamic fascism.
Today, the vital interests of both Iran and Turkey are served by a central government in Iraq that can keep the Kurds from creating a separate nation. The somewhat secular Turks are not terribly concerned if the Sunnis or the Shia control Iraq. But the Iranians want a Shia-controlled Iraqi government to suppress the Kurds.
As is apparent, all of these Islamic nations have their own vital interests – often served by what Coalition forces are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Were it not for the internal religious strife of Islam and were it not for the Wahhabi insistence that the infidels be killed or converted or subjugated, our forces might be overwhelmingly welcomed as the chewing-gum-dispensing GIs of World War II fame.
Given our unwillingness to convert to Islam, our foreign aid and chewing gum are only grudgingly accepted. But, nonetheless, accepted.
Ergo: our forces in Iraq should focus on guarding the oil fields, pipelines and oil ports of Iraq. And, if the Sunnis and Shia want to murder each other in the cities of Iraq, let them. As Machiavelli might suggest: We need to focus more on the teachings of Lord Palmerston and less on the naïve idealism of Woodrow Wilson.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist, a featured commentator for USA Today and self-described “recovering lawyer and philosopher,” is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.