Remember when the President was an unjust tyrant, threatening to engage in military conflicts overseas that we had no business in being a part of, all because of that money-making commodity known as oil?

Were you thinking of Iraq? Think again: that nation is now Syria.

The theory that former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney were evil warmongers who sought to empower oil companies to explore untapped resources in Iraq is well known, and has been resurrected as recently as this past April. Of course, part of that theory broke down at the difficulties oil companies faced when negotiating for contracts in Iraq, and part of it broke down again as researchers learned that “peak oil” theory–which suggested that oil supplies would eventually run out, so companies had to lock down resources fast to ensure continued profitability–was actually quite wrong (though that hasn’t stopped some from coming up with other explanations).

Who knows, maybe that was really a part of the incentive to invade Iraq. There were certainly some ne’er-do-wells in the Bush administration who would have probably liked to see that happen. But President Barack Obama, who is sort of like God, freed us of those Bush-era dirtbags and replaced them with good, clean, upstanding leaders who would aid him in his quest to fundamentally transform the United States of America.

Or are these new folks just more dirtbags getting us into wars over foreign oil? According to the UK Guardian in an article from May, the Obama administration’s dirtbaggery in Syria is becoming more and more visible.

Nafeez Ahmed wrote that a combination of factors–among which he includes global warming, food shortages, and oil demand–has contributed to the war in Syria. While I disagree with many of Ahmed’s conclusions (he makes a really specious jump in asserting that the weather patterns contributing to food shortages are most likely global-warming related), his mention of the oil controversy was something I found highly enlightening:

…the US, Israel and other external powers are hardly honest brokers. Behind the facade of humanitarian concern, familiar interests are at stake. Three months ago, Iraq gave the greenlight for the signing of a framework agreement for construction of pipelines to transport natural gas from Iran’s South Pars field – which it shares with Qatar – across Iraq, to Syria.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the pipelines was signed in July last year – just as Syria’s civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo – but the negotiations go back further to 2010. The pipeline, which could be extended to Lebanon and Europe, would potentially solidify Iran’s position as a formidable global player.
The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan is a “direct slap in the face” to Qatar’s plans for a countervailing pipeline running from Qatar’s North field, contiguous with Iran’s South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, also with a view to supply European markets.
The difference is that the pipeline would bypass Russia.

Ahmed’s article goes into more detail, and other pundits including Glenn Beck have become awakened to the oil pipeline reality in the past few weeks.

Here’s my question: why is it that the Guardian article didn’t get more play? Why is it that we are JUST NOW figuring out that oil resources and money are once again a major part of a Middle East conflict?

President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and other members of the administration have been trying to couch the situation in the Middle East as as simple case of enforcing what is “right” against what is “wrong” when it comes to international norms. Indeed, that’s exactly what President Obama argued in his recent speech to the nation about the situation in Syria. No doubt some of what he is saying about the need to deter dictators from using chemical weapons is true, but that’s only a very superficial component. What is really playing out here is a power and dominance game for control and influence in the Middle East.

At the core of that power game is oil. If Assad stays in power, he will be able to more effectively guarantee the Iraq-Syria-Iran pipeline route that will pump oil through Russia to the European Union. This gives Russia and its allies access to the extremely lucrative oil royalties. Assad’s defeat guarantees difficulties for that project, thus ensuring that the Qatar-Saudi Arabia route will be able to go forward first. In this scenario, American-allied interests are the ones who have access to that same income.

Unfortunately, the world we live in means that these sort of power games go on all the time. But it is very rarely so easy to see exactly how these games treat the lives of people who are caught in the middle like pawns on a chess board. Russia, which has been supplying Assad with the chemical weapons he has been using, could seemingly care less about the innocent lives lost in the conflict. The Russians must really need that oil money.

And America, it seems, only cares when those currently in charge realize they might actually lose (again). Hence, we must now engage in the rattling of our incredibly small sabers and grant a modicum of acknowledgement that innocents have been killed.

Hooray for morality when it serves as a thin veneer over our base economic interests.

I recently wrote that the situation in Syria cannot be won, and that it’s just a matter of figuring out how badly we all lose. I hate to say it, but I was wrong.

We’ve already lost; we were just too uninformed to realize it.

David Giffin

David Giffin | Wake Forest University School of Law | @D_Giffin