The first oil gusher — the geyser of crude that erupted towards the sky was not in any Arab land, it was from a giant pool of oil that lay under a salt dome south of Beaumont Texas, USA. The day was January 10, 1901 and after this first oil gusher the world would not remain the same. In 1900 an estimated 300,000 horses pulled cabs on the London streets, 100,000 in New York streets.
Every morning the streets of the biggest cities of the world were found covered with muck and fly infested dung heaps making a mockery of the clean living environment. Then came Henry Ford introducing combustible engine cars and by 2012 cars outnumbered horses in New York.
Almost 100 years ago oil was seen as an environmental savoiur, a substitute to environment degrading horses that created manure that was a source of uncleanness and a cause of worsening public health. How wrong was the early world in its assessment because the discovery of the oil was to change the world history and expose the world not only to the troubling oil spills and oil shocks but worst of all — oil wars?
War clouds are again on the Gulf horizon. The United States has already dispatched an aircraft carrier and a bomber task force to the Middle East. Some of the oil tankers in the Gulf have already come under ‘sabotage- attacks’ as Iran is blamed for using these ‘sabotage tactics’ to threaten the world’s interest (40% of the world’s traded oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz) and thus seek the broader world’s attention to find a way out from the US imposed economic sanctions.
Most recently the attack on Saudi oil facilities by the Yemeni drones has further escalated the tension in the region. This drone attack by the Iranian backed Houthi Yemeni drones is again being seen as a soft reminder by the Iranians to the world that when and if the Strait of Hormuz is blocked even the Saudi’s alternative means of transporting the oil, the East-West 1200 KMs pipe line that connects with the Red Sea port of the city of Yanbu will not remain safe.
This rapidly-changing security environment in the Gulf has some very harsh and unwelcoming repercussions for Pakistan. It only makes me think: Why are we located where we are located? Why are we blessed with a neighbourhood that is not too friendly? An erstwhile enemy on the East signing defence deals worth billions of dollars with US and purchasing hundreds of AH -64D Apache Longbow Helicopters and F-21 fighter aircraft’s — these are not toys with which the Indian kids will play — the purchase of these very high tech and sophisticated war machines by India will affect the balance of power equation in the region and would necessitate a somewhat matching response that would only cost more capital expenditure.
On the western front as well, we have a permanently dissatisfied neighbour that keeps testing our resolve from time to time and is more our enemy’s friend than ours. As if being squeezed from East and West was not enough, we now have Iran that is waking up to the gravity of its economic troubles because of the American economic sanctions and preparing to or already executing consequential actions that would have huge spillover effects for Pakistan. In a relatively short history of seventy-plus years, we have already fought three wars with India; witnessed a revolution in Iran and dealt with its repercussions; participated in two covertly overt wars in Afghanistan; and continue fighting an unending War on terror (WOT). With this background, can we still afford to be in the neighbourhood of yet another war in the making — the Third Gulf War?
Would this region ever see an extended period of peace? Would its unending and unwanted war exposures ever end? Maybe our independence has led us to the land where God wants to put our resolve to test — the resolve to uphold, sustain and maintain our sovereignty and independence. Interestingly, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also termed the current showdown between the US and Iran as ‘a test of resolve rather than a military encounter’ further stating that ‘in this showdown America will be forced to retreat… because our resolve is stronger’. Iran has further raised the ante by stating that unless the world powers protect Iran’s economy from US sanctions within 60 days, Iran will start enriching uranium at higher level — an activity that it agreed to desist from in the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) it settled and signed with P 5+1 in November 2013.
English philosopher Aldous Huxley famously observed that ‘men don’t learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach’. History reminds us about the two American presidents famous for fighting the last two Gulf Wars.
The father George H W Bush had remained a vice president with Regan for eight years and is credited with fighting the first Gulf War. In the book For the Presidents Eyes Only written by Christopher Andrew and published in 1995, the author writes that after hearing Saddam Husain’s speech of April 1, 1990 in which Saddam posed as the leader of the Arab world, boasted of having stockpile of chemical weapons, threatened to make fire eat half of Israel if anything was done to Iraq, the American president ordered the CIA to commence with following: begin covert action to destabilise Iraq regime; strangle Iraq’s economy; provide support to Saddam’s opponents inside and outside Iraq and lastly identify alternate leaders. This only provoked Saddam Husain further who announced to fight ‘mothers of all battles’. One can only hope that President Trump unlike the senior Bush would desist from unnecessarily provoking Iran.
The senior Bush in 1991 acquired UNSC authorisation and built up an international coalition to fight the first Gulf War. Twelve years later, his son president George W Bush who lacked his father’s significant exposure to foreign policy and also the statesmanship indulged in fighting an unnecessary second Gulf War. The Bush doctrine of ‘pre-emptive strikes against potential enemies and also against countries harbouring terrorists’ was flawed and consequently resulted in an ill fought second Gulf War.
During the junior Bush’s tenure, neither reason nor intelligence flourished. Basing on wrong intelligence junior Bush — ‘the much acclaimed savoiur of the world’, ‘the mission accomplished president’, ‘the winner of the war on terror’ only proved to be the greatest loser who only sowed the seeds for the current international turmoil.
The world cannot afford yet another ‘Bush blunder’. President Trump may do well not to add his name to the list of US ‘war-making’ presidents. Neither the US nor the world can afford this anymore.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2019.
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