The War for Iran: Juan Cole's "Thought Experiment"

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The relentless war stalker Juan Cole stopped dead in his tracks over the weekend. The war in Lebanon has no rational explanation, he decided. Tearing up a democracy with a young government that President Bush had embraced at the White House just months ago? Erasing vast tracts of a recovering capital city? Killing many hundreds of civilians in the name of ransoming two Israeli soldiers? It makes no sense at all, Professor Cole concluded. Unless, unless… what if: straight out of the movie “Syriana,” there is a ruthless logic of oil driving the US government (and its client Israel) in the direction of a showdown war with Iran, or more precisely: for Iran. Cole spins it out as a fascinating “thought experiment” that has drawn scores of comments on his Informed Comment blog.

The notion came to Juan Cole in an email, drawing on a briefing in Europe among oil analysts and strategists — at a meeting that itself reads like a “Syriana” scene. In the emerging era of peak oil production and critical oil thirst in China (the workshop of the world) and India (the office of the world), Iran sits in strategic lordship of the Persian Gulf (the gas station of the world). Iran becomes, in the words of the Euro presenter of the oil case, as “the most valuable country on the planet,” and the required prize for the world hegemon.


Oil flare, Iran [VISTA / Flickr]

Hizbullah in this view is nothing more or less than a provocative point man for Iran in the hostage nation of Lebanon. So the showdown for Iran’s petroleum treasures “starts with the destruction of Lebanon.” The war on Hizbollah and the destruction of Lebanon are to be seen as the daylight murder of Iran’s bodyguard before the real battle begins. The European oil analyst in the background of Cole’s mind game has made the point that “the US government is convinced that this battle will decide the future of the world.” Picture Vice President Cheney stewing, and pulling strings.

So there it is: an oil explanation that trumps all the other accounts of Islamic fundamentalism or the “existential” threat to Israel, that sweeps aside mere national interest or any “clash of civilizations” in favor of a mass-murderous race for the last drop of oil. Can you deal with it? Can you knock it down? It sounds to me all too plausibly like the oil addicts’ coda to the original Great Game… a war to end civilization for the last bag of heroin.

We will have at it this evening with Juan Cole, and with the ever-interesting historian of resource wars: Michael Klare of Hampshire College.

Juan Cole

Professor, Modern Middle East and South Asian History, University of Michigan

Blogger, Informed Comment

Michael Klare

Professor of Peace and World Security Studies, Hampshire College

Roger Owen

Professor of Middle East history, Harvard University

Author, State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East

Extra Credit Reading

Juan Cole, One Ring to Rule Them, Informed Comment, 8/6/06

Jim Kunstler, Heating Up, Melting Down, Clusterf*ck Nation by Jim Kunstler, 8/7/06

Richard Heinberg, Middle East at a crossroads, Energy Bulletin, 8/4/06

brotherbeat, Is Preparing the World for the Second Coming Appropriate Middle Eastern Policy?, the bastards’ last stand, 8/7/06

frog, Peak Oil and the crisis in Lebanon, frogblog, 8/8/06

Pigilito, How intellectually lazy is Prof. Juan Cole?, Pigilito says…, 8/8/06

Bryant Urstadt, Imagine There’s No Oil, Harper’s Magazine, 8/06 (not currently available online)

Hubbert Peak Theory, Wikipedia

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