Obama's carrying out Dick Cheney's energy plan

Former Vice President Dick Cheney speaks at the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute Cardiovascular Symposium April 27, 2012, in McLean, Va. Getty Images

(TomDIspatch) As details of his administration's global war against terrorists, insurgents, and hostile warlords have become more widely known -- a war that involves a melange of drone attacks, covert operations, and presidentially selected assassinations -- President Obama has been compared to President George W. Bush in his appetite for military action. "As shown through his stepped-up drone campaign," Aaron David Miller, an advisor to six secretaries of state, wrote at Foreign Policy, "Barack Obama has become George W. Bush on steroids."

When it comes to international energy politics, however, it is not Bush but his vice president, Dick Cheney, who has been providing the role model for the president. As recent events have demonstrated, Obama's energy policies globally bear an eerie likeness to Cheney's, especially in the way he has engaged in the geopolitics of oil as part of an American global struggle for future dominance among the major powers.

More than any of the other top officials of the Bush administration -- many with oil-company backgrounds -- Cheney focused on the role of energy in global power politics. From 1995 to 2000, he served as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Halliburton, a major supplier of services to the oil industry. Soon after taking office as vice president he was asked by Bush to devise a new national energy strategy that has largely governed U.S. policy ever since.

Early on, Cheney concluded that the global supply of energy was not growing fast enough to satisfy rising world demand, and that securing control over the world's remaining oil and natural gas supplies would therefore be an essential task for any state seeking to acquire or retain a paramount position globally. He similarly grasped that a nation's rise to prominence could be thwarted by being denied access to essential energy supplies. As coal was to the architects of the British empire, oil was for Cheney -- a critical resource over which it would sometimes be necessary to go to war.

More than any of his peers, Cheney articulated such views on the importance of energy to national wealth and power. "Oil is unique in that it is so strategic in nature," he told an audience at an industry conference in London in 1999. "We are not talking about soapflakes or leisurewear here. Energy is truly fundamental to the world's economy. The Gulf War was a reflection of that reality."

Cheney's reference to the 1990-1991 Gulf War is particularly revealing. During that conflict, he was the secretary of defense and so supervised the American war effort. But while his boss, President George H.W. Bush, played down the role of oil in the fight against Iraq, Cheney made no secret of his belief that energy geopolitics lay at the heart of the matter. "Once [Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein] acquired Kuwait and deployed an army as large as the one he possesses," Cheney told the Senate Armed Services Committee when asked to justify the administration's decision to intervene, "he was clearly in a position to be able to dictate the future of worldwide energy policy, and that gave him a stranglehold on our economy."

This would be exactly the message he delivered in 2002, as the second President Bush girded himself for the invasion of Iraq. Were Saddam Hussein successful in acquiring weapons of mass destruction, Cheney told a group of veterans that August 25th, "[he] could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East [and] take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies."

For Cheney, the geopolitics of oil lay at the core of international relations, largely determining the rise and fall of nations. From this, it followed that any steps, including war and environmental devastation, were justified so long as they enhanced America's power at the expense of its rivals.

Cheney's World

Through his speeches, Congressional testimony, and actions in office, it is possible to reconstruct the geopolitical blueprint that Cheney followed in his career as a top White House strategist -- a blueprint that President Obama, eerily enough, now appears to be implementing, despite the many risks involved.

That blueprint consists of four key features:

  • 1. Promote domestic oil and gas production at any cost to reduce America's dependence on unfriendly foreign suppliers, thereby increasing Washington's freedom of action.
  • 2. Keep control over the oil flow from the Persian Gulf (even if the U.S. gets an ever-diminishing share of its own oil supplies from the region) in order to retain an "economic stranglehold" over other major oil importers.
  • 3. Dominate the sea lanes of Asia, so as to control the flow of oil and other raw materials to America's potential economic rivals, China and Japan.
  • 4. Promote energy "diversification" in Europe, especially through increased reliance on oil and natural gas supplies from the former Soviet republics of the Caspian Sea basin, in order to reduce Europe's heavy dependence on Russian oil and gas, along with the political influence this brings Moscow.

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Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author most recently of "The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources" (Metropolitan Books). To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Klare discusses imperial geopolitics as the default mode for Washington since 1945, click here or download it to your iPod here. This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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