War for oil was, in my opinion, always too simplistic. More accurately, perhaps, is war for power. Within that power, among many things, is the power to influence and/or determine who gets the spoils of a particular location. There are few left who seriously advocate going to war to secure raw materials. However, there are many who believe that maintaining a military presence in the Middle East is the only way to secure oil for the United States. This is patently false.
Maintaining a military presence in oil-rich regions does not alleviate the need to actually buy the oil. Furthermore, keeping troops stationed (and in some cases fighting, as in Iraq, for example) is expensive, not to mention deadly. I don’t know what the true cost of oil would be if one factored in US military engagement in the area, but one can assume it would be more expensive.
Some might say that if the US weren’t in the Middle East, the oil cartel OPEC could cut off the supply. Although this cannot be proven either way, OPEC would still need a buyer for the oil. It would be similar to a fast food establishment adopting a policy where they no longer sold food to people who are obese. It doesn’t take an economist to see that they would lose money. What about the Chinese? Couldn’t OPEC just sell all of their oil to the Chinese and other non-US nations? There is no doubt that China is a huge market for oil and will continue to grow in that respect in the future. However as of 2009, the US used well over twice as much oil as the Chinese, so again, cutting out by far the largest market for oil is a money losing proposition.
On a moral note, how does the US maintain the right to aggressively pursue its natural resource interests as per oil whereas other countries do not enjoy such a right? Reading through Ludwig von Mises’ Omnipotent Government I came across something, while not novel or earth-shattering, offers an interesting perspective on neo-colonialism’s desire for raw materials. He wrote in 1944:
The citizens of Texas and Louisiana are eager to sell their cotton crops to anyone who wants to pay for them; but they do not long for German or Italian domination…The Swedes do not believe their supply of iron ore justifies Germany’s aspirations. The Italians would themselves consider the Danes lunatics if they were to ask for an Italian province in order to get their fair share of citrus fruits, red wine, and olive oil.
Does might make right? Do we live in such a Machiavellian world that simply because one has the power to do something that it gives them the right to do so? Should Libya, having to import most of its food, have a claim to the American corn belt? Of course not.