George Bush has recently shown a keen interest in African affairs, from moves to combat the spread of HIV to the strengthening of diplomatic and military ties with a number of governments.
As with the majority of US foreign policy however it doesn’t take long to discover the vital issues of "National Interest" at the heart of this apparent altruism. By 2020 a quarter of America’s oil imports will come from Africa and the Bush administration is keen to ensure that the regimes at the centre of oil production remain stable and totally dependent on US support.
The recent invasion of Iraq highlights the fact that the Middle East continues to be of primary interest to the US as a source of oil. What the State Department called "the greatest material prize in human history" will continue to be the mainstay of oil production in the future. The aftermath of the invasion itself and the continuing rise in opposition to American dominance in the region however, mean that the US can no longer solely be reliant on Middle Eastern oil.
The fear is no longer that the oil cartel OPEC will manipulate prices through reducing production as they did in the Seventies. Only three of the top ten suppliers are now in OPEC and the organisation has openly admitted it is no longer the force it was. The fear is that a Middle Eastern "rogue state" i.e. a state not in thrall to America, will attempt to destabilize world markets by withholding supplies or dealing in a currency other than the dollar. This was one of the main reasons why Saddam Hussein was removed in Iraq and states such as Iran and Syria are under threat.
The Bush Administration is packed from top to bottom with oil executives, many of whom have personally gained from US policy on the industry. Many are also remarkably frank as to the long terms goals of the US. Vice-president Dick Cheney, who chairs the White House Energy Policy Development Group, commissioned a report on ’energy security’ from the Baker Institute for Public Policy, a think-tank set up by James Baker, the former US secretary of state under George Bush Snr. The report describes the US as facing ’unprecedented energy price volatility’ requiring coordinated military and diplomatic action to remedy. It concludes, “Unless the United States assumes a leadership role in the formation of new rules of the game, US firms, US consumers and the US government [will be left] in a weaker position”.
Interest in Africa
From these imperatives came the attack on Iraq but also the Bush administrations new interest in the continent of Africa. In his election campaign Bush made several statements that have now come back to haunt him. He was quoted as saying ’’While Africa may be important, it doesn’t fit into the national strategic interests, as far as I can see them’’. He also indicated that Clinton had been right not to intervene in the Rwandan genocide saying merely “No one liked to see it on our TV screens”. From these beginnings the administration has moved to a policy of closer engagement in Africa.
And when the scale of the new reserves soon to be available in the region are taken into account this is hardly surprising. Most of the nine oil producing states in Africa are expecting large jumps in production in the near future with states such as Nigeria and Angola looking to quadruple production by 2020. To protect these reserves from the inherent instability of the region US imperialism is looking to become more engaged both militarily and diplomatically. They are at present attempting to negotiate a naval base in coup ridden SÃ£o TomÃ© and Principe, a small island off the West African coast, and are sending "training personnel" to Nigeria.
It is indicative of Western policy that so little of the revenue from oil and other natural resources in the region have gone to benefit the populations of these war torn and poverty stricken nations. In oil and diamond-rich Angola for instance an estimated 1.5 million people are living below the starvation line and a child dies very three minutes from a preventable disease. This should come as no surprise to the Bush Administration, however. Both Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were ardent supporters of the murderous Unita movement and the Bush campaign received large donations from Pierre Falcone, an arms dealer who has made a fortune from the Angolan civil war.
US imperialism’s aim is to ensure that it is never reliant on one region of the world for it’s energy needs. As American domestic reserves dry up and imports become more and more important, a number of cheap and reliable sources will have to be maintained at any cost to satisfy the insatiable American domestic market.
What the American’s can’t deliver however is a solution to the eventual depletion of worldwide reserves. The chaotic plundering of global capitalism will never achieve the cooperation needed to plan for future alternatives to fossil fuels and the rational use of remaining reserves. Only a democratically planned socialist economy can do that. All we can expect on the basis of capitalism are ever more dangerous conflicts and crises as the wells run dry.
This article is a slightly edited version of one in the August/September issue of International Socialist, newspaper of the CWI in Scotland.