Under the capitalist system, in order that England may live in comparative comfort, a hundred million Indians must live on the verge of starvation--an evil state of affairs, but you acquiesce in it every time you step into a taxi or eat a plate of strawberries and cream. The alternative is to throw the Empire overboard and reduce England to a cold and unimportant little island where we should all have to work very hard and live mainly on herrings and potatoes".-George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier.
George Orwell wrote that back in 1937 in order to jolt people, not least on the left, out of their complacent assumptions. If this were to be brought up to date, it could be said that you collude with the oppression of Arabs living under dictatorships every time a car owner drives to the filling station.
Obviously, it's far more complex than that. But it has the virtue of drawing attention to the fact that both defenders and opponents of Imperialism back then and some form of "Neo-imperialism" in 2011 have utterly failing to grasp what has been at stake with regards diminishing supplies of oil and increasing global demand.
None of this has percolated into the world view of commentators such as Sir Simon Jenkins who writes in The Guardian today,
Welcome to 21st-century war, liberal style. You do not fix an objective and use main force to get it. You nuance words, bomb a little, half assassinate, scare, twist, spin and make it up as you go along. Nato's Libyan campaign is proving a field day for the new interventionism.Simon Jenkins made some good observations on the contradictions of the Western powers in using propaganda about 'humanitarian intervention'. The No Fly Zone was originally posited as a means of protecting the rebels in Benghazi and their supporters from a bloodbath. In reality, it was about "regime change".
Stalling Gaddafi's advance on Benghazi appears to have prevented its fall. Whether there would have been a genocidal massacre, as interventionists maintain, is not known. There would surely have been bloody retribution against ringleaders, which is what dictators do to those who cross them.True, but what Jenkins fails to mention is the key role of oil in the conflict, one consistently mentioned by leftist critics of "Western Imperialism" as if it were merely the gambit of the elites and corporations to profit from war. It's all about the mere idiocy of "Them".
The upshot of such rationalisations from the conservative non-interventionist right and the anti-imperialist militant left is that political elites are to blame for Iraq, Afghanistan and the potential for the Libyan intervention to become another quagmire.
Conservatives such as Jenkins are against this as it is simply "nothing to do with us". Despite the fact that the invasion of Iraq in 2003, for all the lies, duplicity and spin was not about WMD, Saddam's dictatorship or the Kurds but about grabbing one of the the world's largest supplies of oil.
Those like Milne, Pilger and Galloway and those in the Stop the War Coalition leadership such as Hudson and Murray then think that because Western intervention in Iraq and, indeed Libya, is "all about the oil" a decisive populist trump card has been played that proves the Western elites are sinister.
Yet the more disturbing and chilling fact is that interventions such as that now occurring in Libya no less than the previous rapprochement with Gaddafi after 2004 reflects the geostrategic desperation caused by nations such as Britain being overdependent upon oil.
Oil is essential to maintain the consumer economy that the vast masses of the British people have accepted as a given right. That the entire prosperity of post war Europe and North America was based on abundant supplies of cheap and readily available oil has become a fact of modern existence.
In which case, one issue that has not been addressed is the one that looks at all these wars as the necessary consequence nations such as Britain pay for a system of high octane consumerism in which higher prices for petrol can lead to the kind of strikes carried out by the road hauliers in 2000.
The trope that recent wars were "all about oil" is as obvious as it is vacuous. If those protesting on March 26th against expenditure on wars such as Libya instead of on public libraries etc could grasp the situation , they would realise that increased militarism and war is the price to be paid by failing to find alternatives to oil.
When George Osborne's "Ford Focus" budget promised to put "fuel into the tank of the British economy" by reducing the cost of petrol, few bothered to link it with events in Libya or Iraq, and this populist gesture was to avoid the populist outrage that greeted high petrol prices in 2000 under Blair's government.
The twists, follies and perversions inherent in Britain's foreign policy are determined by the government wanting to keep the petroleum fuelled Great Car Economy going, no less than offering the growth Utopia inherent in the ghastly future envisioned by progressives.
The fact that nations such as China and India have joined in the global race for controlling oil and gas only makes the necessity of intervention more likely wherever there is the chance to get it ( this is a statement of what "is" rather than what "ought" to be ).
Face facts: Libya produces 41.5% of all African reserves of petrol and 46.5% of its natural gas. The petrol is of the light and sweet variety prized by refiners in the US, China and Europe. From the British perspective, the colossal oil concessions in the Ghadamis Oil block and the Gulf of Sirte are key interests.
The reason is not merely to make profits for BP but, as Michael T Klare has argued in Blood and Oil, that high octane consumerism, the very way that life has been moulded to the use of the car and determined by supermarkets and all year available produce makes Western lifestyles dependent upon oil.