One of the most conspicuous facts of the twenty-first century is complete failure of the globe’s “sole” super power in achieving any of its major foreign policy objectives. Perhaps, one of the major reasons for this failure is the US’ strategy of solely relying on its military power. However, the fact that the increased militarization of the Middle East/West Asia and Central Asia and other regions of the world, such as Africa, has now started to blow back on the US is a remarkable evidence of complete failure of the US’ twenty-first century grand strategy. Not only has the US been unable to achieve its critical, vital or even peripheral objectives in Afghanistan, it has also failed on other fronts such as Iraq, Syria and Iran—hence, the emergence of ‘new’ trends both in policy and the instruments of executing that policy.
Nonetheless, the basic objective of the US’ policy remains the same, that is, the establishment of unchallenged politico-economic and military global hegemony. At the heart of the US’ policy orientation is stubborn and deliberate refusal to accept change—the emergence of other super powers—-that has been taking place in the world since the dawn of this century. In fact, it would not be wrong to argue that the US’ grand strategy and grand objectives are in themselves a response to this very reality; however, refusal to acknowledge this reality continues to influence and shape the “mad-dog” behaviour of the policy makers of the US’ successive governments.
The cardinal point of the US’ grand objectives was to control politically as well economically the energy rich regions of the world. It also aimed at checking the rise of potential adversaries in the entire world, particularly in Asia. As a part of its strategy of economically conquering the world, the US found it extremely significant to establish control over energy resources and their transportation routes in the Eurasian landmass. Therefore, from the US’s point of view, the dependence of the Eurasian industrial economies on the security umbrella provided by the US was to be sustained through the use of military power. To put it clearly, the US’ objectives and policies in the wider Caspian region (Central Asia, Caucasus and West Asia) and elsewhere were and still are part of a larger grand strategy that aims to underpin and strengthen its regional hegemony and thereby make it the global hegemon in the twenty-first century.
It is in this context that we have to understand why the US keeps on triggering violence and war, using its own force or proxy “warriors”, in different parts of the world. Control over oil and gas is the driving force behind all this drama of ‘peace’ and development; for, oil and gas are not just two commodities traded on international markets. Control over territories and its resources are also critical strategic assets. This is a significant point to comprehend the raison d’ etre of the very location of today’s “conflict zones” across the world.
In this behalf, let us begin with this question: Why the US does not wage direct or indirect wars in Mexico or Venezuela, despite the fact that these states also have huge reservoirs of oil and gas? A simple answer to this question is that these states don’t share borders with any of the US’ global competitors, that is, Russia or China. Conversely speaking, the Eurasian heartland is important for the US not merely for oil and gas, but also because it shares borders with the most formidable adversaries of the US: Russia and China. It is precisely for this reason, and it not just a coincidence, that today’s conflict zones are the Middle East (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) and Central Asia/Caucasus (Ukraine).
Again, this is not just a coincidence that war in Afghanistan was preceded by a breakdown of talks with the Taliban regime over the construction of pipeline (TAPI project) from Central Asia into the Indian Ocean. Failure to find a secure way through Afghanistan was the core factor that led to the war in Afghanistan; and, still, it is the same factor that continues to guide the US policies in Afghanistan. To emphasize this one point further, we can give the example of the location of military bases that the US has developed in Afghanistan: all of them are located on the proposed route of TAPI pipeline. The intention behind choosing this particular location is simple enough to understand: to keep control over the flow of energy in order to control economies of the receiving/dependent states. It also indicates the US’ intention of perpetuating its presence in Afghanistan in the name of providing ‘security’ to the pipeline, and further to ensure ‘safe and continuous flow.’
It is this very policy that has been the guiding principle for the US in the last two-three decades; for, the principal interest of the US is the establishment of a secure global order in a context that enables the US-controlled global economy to flourish throughout the world without any obstacles or interruptions. This is also simply the case for the openness of oil trade. In oil, as more generally, the forward deployment of military power to guarantee the general openness of international markets to the “mutual benefit” of all leading states remains at the core of the US hegemony. An attempt to break this pattern, carve out protected spaces for the US economy and firms against other ‘national’ or ‘regional’ economies would undercut the US leadership and pose a serious challenge to its hegemony; and, any such attempt is most likely to be met by military attack or economic sanctions.
Since the US imports energy resources from international energy markets, any serious threat to these markets is a clear threat to the interests of the US. As such, the grand strategy of the US requires that it never loses the ability to respond effectively to any such threat—hence, hundreds of military bases of the US across the world. No wonder, the US is the only state in the world having the ability to swiftly respond to any threat anywhere in the world; and, no wonder, it has itself been at the heart of manufacturing such threats to create a justification for launching a major attack.
In this behalf, the case of Iraq and the emergence of the ISIS there is a clear manifestation of this policy. Needless to say, the ISIS fighters were (and still are) both trained and funded by the US and its allies to oust Asad in Syria. Their failure in Syria has now diverted them to Iraq to achieve the same objective: unchallenged hegemony over the entire Middle East, by eliminating the “Shia crescent”, to secure non-stop flow of oil and gas. The on-going spate of violence is thus only a prelude to a long lasting and fresh US intervention. In other words, those objectives which the US could not achieve in Iraq through direct military intervention are now supposed to be achieved through indirect/proxy “warriors” aided by frequent air strikes.
It is a fact that the world’s energy resources are fast depleting, and the scarcer they become, the more dependent oil importing states would be. In order to avoid this situation of dependency, the US plans to have full control over the Middle East. According to some very careful estimates made in the US’ National Energy Report of 2001, the US was expected to import nearly two of every three barrels of oil produced in the world—a condition of “increased dependency” on foreign powers that was most likely to seriously jeopardize the US’ global position. According to the same report, by 2010, the US would require an additional 50 million barrels of oil a day, 90 percent of which will be imported and thus under the control of foreign governments and foreign national oil companies. Therefore, given its strategic importance for a country’s economy, it can be plausibly argued that oil (including its price, its flow, and its security) is as much a strategic matter as economic. Despite the area’s political and economic instabilities, the Middle East’s untapped oil reserves are still the cheapest source of oil in the world; furthermore, they amount to two thirds of the world’s remaining oil resources—hence, the need to keep the Middle East in perpetual turmoil in order for keeping the prices low, to ensure safe flow and to place its own military to maintain “peace.”
However, notwithstanding the US’ military might and capacity to “kill” well beyond its borders, it has failed to achieve its objectives. A crucial aspect of the indented ultimate success was successful installation of military bases in the target states. But, this could not be materialized for various reasons. Due to the failure to install its own forces to maintain a situation of “controlled instability”, the US now has to extensively rely on militias to maintain that situation. Such is the case in Syria and in Iraq, and is now expected to begin in Afghanistan as well, where numerous CIA funded warlords are ready to fight for the US once its own forces withdraw.
The chaos and an unimaginable damage done to life and property in a number of states in the world is thus a direct result of what the US has been doing, at least since 9/11, to perpetuate the self proclaimed status of the “only” superpower—pa power that which claims to be the harbinger of “peace, development and democracy.” However, in reality, it is the reason for most of the chaos, destruction and devastation which the world has been facing for last many years, and will be facing in the years to come.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.