Religion, Oil, and the Middle East

Although many discussions about Middle East arrangements, disagreements, wars, and rearranging alliances focus on religion, oil is a much more important causative factor in past and present Middle East events and developments.  Oil drives U.S foreign policy in this part of the world and the same can be said about foreign policies of France  and other provinces of the American Empire, such as Britain-once-called-Great, now nothing more than  “an American aircraft carrier”.

The importance of oil in the Middle East is the theme of  Irene L. Gendzier’s book, Dying to Forget: Oil, Power, Palestine, & the Foundations of U.S. Policy in the Middle East.  Here’s a descriptive Kirkus Reviews blurb: “A Middle East scholar uncovers the post-World War II history of American policy in Palestine.  From the beginning it’s been about oil, . . . the origins of the continuing conflict in the Middle East”.

Here are 2 quotes from Dying to Forget concerning the centrality of oil in US Middle East policy: “Washington’s principle goal in the Middle East–protection of its untrammeled access and control of oil”.  “petroleum . . . shaped U.S. policy in the Middle East, including Palestine.”

In light of the question about what’s the problem in the Middle East?–is it religion? or is it oil?–here’s a poem by Ailish Hopper (Did It Ever Occur to You that Maybe You’re Falling in Love) that I’m addressing to those who think religion is the problem.  I’ve re-titled the poem, Did It Ever Occur to You That Maybe You’ve Got the Wrong Problem? 

Today, 1/24/16, I came across a New York Times article that comments on the prominence of oil, reducing religion–even the dreaded Wahhabi version of Islam–to third, at best, status, with “intelligence” in probably second place: “the alliance [between the US and Saudi Arabia] persists, kept afloat on a sea of Saudi money and a recognition of mutual self-interest [including] . . . Saudi Arabia’s vast oil reserves [and] . . . the long intelligence  relationship . . . [This,] helps explain why the United States has been reluctant to openly criticize Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses, its treatment of women and its support for the extreme strain of Islam, Wahhabism that has inspired many of the terrorist groups the United States is fighting.  The Obama administration did not publicly condemn Saudi Arabia’s public beheading of this month of a dissident Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who had challenged the royal family.”   Oil is primary, not human rights.  Oil is primary, not treatment of women.  Oil is primary, not Islam/Wahhabism/beheading.

In the June 2, 2016, issue of the London Review of Books, Naomi Klein comments on the overriding significance of oil in US Middle East foreign policy: “[O]il,. . . . unlike renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar, are not widely distributed but highly concentrated in very specific locations, and those locations have a bad habit of being in other people’s countries. . . . This is why the project of Orientalism, of othering Arab and Muslim people, has been the silent partner of our oil dependence from the start. . . . [When] nations and peoples are regarded as other–exotic, primitive, bloodthirsty, as Said documented in the 1970’s–it is far easier to wage wars and stage coups when they get the crazy idea that they should control their own oil in their own interests.  In 1953 it was the British-US collaboration to overthrow the . . . elected government of Muhammad Mossadegh after he nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP).  In 2003, exactly 50 years later, it was another UK-US co-production–the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. . . . [I]n the Middle East, Western fighter jets. . . . [and] bombs follow oil”.


About georgebeam

George Beam is an educator and author. The perspectives that inform his interpretations of the topics of this blog–-as well as his other writings and university courses -–are system analysis, behaviorism, and Internet effects. Specific interests include quality management, methodology, and politics. He is Associate Professor Emeritus, Department of Public Administration; Affiliated Faculty, Department of Political Science; and, previously, Head, Department of Public Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago
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2 Responses to Religion, Oil, and the Middle East

  1. Pingback: Review: Irene Gendzier, Dying to Forget: Oil, Power, Palestine, and the Foundations of U.S. Policy in the Middle East | George Beam's Blog

  2. Pingback: Addition to Blog Post, “Religion, Oil, and the Middle East | George Beam's Blog

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