America’s thirst for oil is unquenchable. According to King Hussein of Jordan, oil is one of the two things Americans are willing to wage war for. The second is Israel’s security. In the wake of American wars, the curse of oil plagues the countries possessing the world’s largest oil reserves. A Gulf diplomat told me that this oil curse has made his country’s sovereign decisions dependent on America’s will. It also caused the country several major problems that involved the wills of other countries, companies and even individuals whose main concern is the oil that many believe to be a blessing from God bestowed upon specific areas in the world. Meanwhile, many others consider it a curse that has negative impacts and consequences, such as wars, conspiracies and suspicious deals. He believed that this curse would haunt his country until the last oil well runs dry.
We have witnessed this in the case of Iraq, one of the top five countries with the highest proven oil reserves. Therefore, it had the oil curse placed on it since the first oil field was found in the city of Kirkuk a century ago. It remained captive to the American-Western vision even in times when it was able to free itself from the control of companies that governed its dealings with oil. Moreover, when it nationalised its oil about 50 years ago, Washington felt threatened and made plans to confront it. Ultimately, it invaded and occupied Iraq, then established a government under its control there.
We are witnessing the same situation in Venezuela today, “Heaven on Earth” as Christopher Columbus called it. It is one of the main nations floating on oil lakes (300 billion barrels, equivalent to a quarter of the world’s proven reserves). America has pursued it since the beginning of the new century, as it wanted it to be a member of a crescent that includes Canada and Mexico, to meet its oil needs, especially after the emergence of fears of the possibility of the Middle East being prone to uncalculated shocks that would make it difficult for the US to access its oil. This is indeed what happened, as Libyan oil production stopped and Iran’s oil production faltered because of the sanctions. Moreover, Iraq was exposed to a series of conflicts and interventions amongst its new leaders and its relationship fluctuated between the US and rival, Iran, thus negatively affecting the new plans for oil management.
While successive US administrations have not publicly expressed their desire for total control of Venezuelan oil (Washington receives about a third of Venezuela’s oil production, accounting for seven per cent of its oil imports), the idea remains proposed in specific circles. This was hinted by Secretary of State under President George HW Bush, James Baker, during a Council on Foreign Relations meeting when he announced that the administration was considering means of lobbying to help political leaders in Mexico and other Latin American countries who are in favour of opening up the energy sector to foreign investment, specifically American investment. He made an explicit reference to Venezuela in the recommendation to the National Commission on Energy Policy.
Thus, the goal of controlling Venezuelan oil was placed on Washington’s agenda in a programmed manner. Although Caracas continued to meet Washington’s need for its oil, successive US administrations were not satisfied with less than total control of oil extraction, production and marketing. It did not stop seizing any opportunity to achieve its goal that turned into a declared policy under President Donald Trump’s administration given the international competition over the energy markets and the fear that China will monopolise Venezuelan oil given the development of its trade relations with Venezuela. Furthermore, Russia has become involved and reached an agreement with Caracas to invest in the oil sector. All of this prompted the Americans to work to topple President Maduro’s regime and the purpose of this is to quench the American thirst for oil, which, from the American point of view, requires the rulers of the oil-rich countries to be subject to Washington’s will and approaches in this regard. Such approaches were documented by Ian Rutledge in his book “Addicted to Oil: America’s Relentless Drive for Energy Security” (Translated into Arabic by Mazen Al-Jandali), which included facts and stories about what the “Yankee empire”, as the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called the US, was doing in the oil world.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 5 February 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.