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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    A barrel full of problems

    Five years on, what remains most remarkable about Sept. 11 is not what has changed, but what has not. China and India continue to rise as economic giants. Israel is still sparring with militants in the occupied territories and southern Lebanon. North Korea and Iran are still dabbling in nuclear research – actions that began in the early 1990s.

    However, America has changed. Our view of the world has shifted from casual indifference to active paranoia. While the 9/11 terrorist acts did not immediately do much to alter the geopolitical landscape, they did serve as a wake-up call to America regarding injustices in the global order.

    In much the same way as the ayatollahs’ Iranian revolution of 1979 took policymakers by surprise, 9/11 was something many people just did not think possible. In 1979, resentment toward America’s support of the Iranian shah engendered a social upheaval that the intelligence community did not foresee.

    Fast-forward 20 years. The pressure cooker that is the Middle East blows its lid again – this time on American soil. Sept. 11 was not so much a history-maker as it was the natural result of historical trends that have dominated the Middle East for decades.

    What were the injustices that so offended Osama bin-Laden and his cronies? Or as a Newsweek cover aptly put it soon after 9/11, “”Why do they hate us?””

    The causes are manifold, but they eventually boil down to one all-important commodity: oil. America’s involvement in the Middle East has been predicated on the security of oil supply, not only for ourselves, but for our allies and even our adversaries. America (and her navy) is the primary guarantor of oil supplies worldwide – a charge that necessitates active engagement in the Middle East.

    America has openly supported the repressive Saudi monarchy for decades because it promises efficient delivery of oil. The U.S. navy is deployed in the Persian Gulf, just miles from the Iranian coast, to ensure the unimpeded flow of tankers through the strategic Strait of Hormuz. American diplomacy in the region always has one eye on the global petroleum market: How will noises here or there change gas prices in Iowa?

    It’s no secret that oil corrupts. Or, more appropriately, that huge volumes of oil revenues corrupt. Since most oil is concentrated in a handful of geographic regions – most notoriously in the Persian Gulf – certain governments receive enormous sums of cash. Governance suffers. Political cronyism runs rampant. And while a few elite bureaucrats get fabulously rich, the people in the street rarely see a penny of additional wealth.

    America abets this system to slake its thirst for energy. And America remains the most visible purveyor of the system. For those living in the Middle East and their compatriots abroad, Middle Eastern governments appear to be lackeys of the United States, caught in asymmetrical relationships in which leaders might benefit handsomely, but the average citizen does not.

    Poverty of dignity ensues. People who should be allowed to better their own lives are stifled by the rampant corruption that accompanies countries with oil wealth. There is nothing dignified about being stuck, and understandably, there are those who want to lash out, Osama bin-Laden being only the most notorious incarnation of this phenomenon.

    What 9/11 is still teaching America is that overreliance on petroleum has some nasty consequences – not only environmental consequences, but geopolitical and security ones as well. The way forward demands the diversification of American energy sources away from oil and its worrying effects toward a sensible combination of oil, natural gas, nuclear power, biofuels and renewable energy sources.

    Cutting our demand for oil would mean less need to engage the Middle East, less need to force our will on pliant governments in the region and less chance our actions will engender the type of caustic hostility manifested in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

    American policy toward the Middle East – indeed, toward the world – should aim to ameliorate the poverty of dignity that exists almost everywhere. Not only is it a moral imperative, but increasingly a national security one too.

    Matt Stone is a senior majoring in international studies and economics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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