By Michael Orion Powell
In all of the debate around the government shutdown, the focus on Syria, the Middle East, and American foreign policy in and around this region was lost. However, something really incredible happened when Barack Obama spoke before the United Nations on the subject on September 25th. Obama, a man who made his first appearance in mainstream American politics before an Iraq war protest in Chicago and who called the Iraq war “senseless” and “dumb,” publicly endorsed neo-colonialism right in front of the United Nations General Assembly:
“The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region. We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War. We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world.”[i]
It should be obvious to anyone honest with themselves that this government and other governments, like the Russians, are not involved in the Middle East – whether setting up bases or taking part in wars there – because they care about the personal lives and prosperity of the people in that region. We are reliant on that part of the world for our energy needs. Even if it has been policy for a long time (our negative relationships with Iran, for instance, are certainly all about petroleum), it is nothing short of incredible to hear President Obama actually confirm the worst suspicions of American foreign policy so openly and unapologetically.
Obama is basically endorsing plantation economics – force can be used as necessary on the people producing certain resources as long as it ensures those whom consume have unlimited supply.
There is a very cynical logic to all of this. Think about your daily life and the daily life of your family. Most of your day is spent acquiring resources and spreading such resources to your family. Most of your feuds are over resources. Most of your arguments are over resources. The economic system we have requires fossil fuels for all sorts of things – from gasoline to plastics, which is used in nearly all of our electronics.
Politics inevitably will be about resources, and it should not be a surprise that world leaders, who naturally seek to maintain popularity with their own people, support policies that will ensure resources continue flowing into their country. Obama’s comments about using military force to gain and maintain access to Middle East oil are unique because, for the sake of maintaining popularity with other countries and simply selling policies as humane and not exploitative, most American presidents have tried to avoid the petrol issue as much as possible, instead touting things like “democratization” and “human rights.”
What Obama has just made more open than any president before him is that the largest supply of petroleum, in the Middle East, is the given right of the developed world. If Obama is going to take that position so openly, we are going to really have to discuss this. His position, which represents blatant neo-colonialism, goes against much of the philosophical assumptions many of us have, such as the right to the fruits of our own labor.
Interestingly, it was none other than Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul who articulated this well when he said, “Rights mean you have a right to your life. You have a right to your liberty, and you should have a right to keep the fruits of your labor.” (That quote’s original context was actually in the midst of him proclaiming that “entitlements” aren’t rights – but they definitely apply in this context [ii].)
It is the labor of the people of the Middle East that produces the fruits of petroleum – Obama believes that we, being the United States, have an inherent right (due to our power) to the fruits of their labor, andthat military force should be used if they do not give their fruits over to us.
Obama’s position also goes against the assumptions we have about warfare – many of us assume that military force and the death it creates by definition should only be used either in self defense or the defense of others. For the most part, this country adhered to that standard for decades – our more “selfish” policies usually coming to fruition in stealth rather than right out in the open. Obama’s policies, along with his predecessor’s, indicate a very different world – a world where those with the most weapons and the most money can violate the weak as much as they want because they are simply entitled to do so.
There is no such thing as “human rights” if we are operating under the assumption that the works and its resources belong to us because we have superior weaponry. Barack Obama, as a world leader, must choose between the two. During the Syria episode, he routinely cited “human rights” in making the case for another war in the Middle East. He called the alleged chemical attack by Bashir Assad on civilians an “atrocity on human dignity” [iii] – what worse attack on human dignity is there than having one’s natural resources and the fruits of one’s labors taken by force?
There were also reports during the confrontation with Syria, which thankfully ended somewhat peacefully (though the country is still in the midst of a civil war), that the small but wealthy Arab country of Qatar was seeking to build a pipeline in Syria [iv]. Since Syria does not actually produce much oil, this could very well explain why the Obama administration went so hard in selling a war – a pipeline through Syria would help integrate larger petroleum production throughout the entire region. Obama’s open confirmation that American policy is to take petroleum by force certainly adds much credibility to the suspicion that a Syrian intervention would be about ensuring energy supply.
One cannot endorse neo-colonialism and then claim to be an advocate of “human rights.” Obama has now attempted to do both within the matter of a few months.
[i] Goodman, Amy. “Obama: U.S. Will Use Military Force to “Ensure Free Flow of Energy” from Mideast.” Democracy Now! Pacifica Radio, 25 Sept. 2013. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.
[ii] Edwards, David. “Ron Paul: ‘Entitlements Are Not Rights’ | The Raw Story.” Ron Paul: ‘Entitlements Are Not Rights’ | The Raw Story. The Raw Story, 8 Jan. 2012. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.
[iii] Robinson, Dan. “Obama: Syria ‘Atrocity’ Must Have Response.” VOA. Voice of America, 31 Aug. 2013. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.
[iv] Klein, Aaron. “Is This What Syria War Really About?” WND. World Net Daily, 7 Sept. 2013. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.