The Petroleum Triangle

The Petroleum Triangle: Oil, Globalization, and Terror

Steve A. Yetiv
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Petroleum Triangle
    Book Description:

    In The Petroleum Triangle, Steve A. Yetiv tells the interconnected story of oil, globalization, and terrorism. Yetiv asks how Al-Qaeda, a small band of terrorists, became such a real and perceived threat to American and global security, a threat viewed as profound enough to motivate the strongest power in world history to undertake extraordinary actions, including two very costly wars.

    Yetiv argues that Middle East oil and globalization have combined to augment the real and perceived threat of transnational terrorism. Globalization has allowed terrorists to do things that otherwise would be more difficult and costly: exploit technology, generate fear beyond their capabilities, target vulnerable economic and political nodes, and capitalize on socio-economic dislocation. Meanwhile, Middle East oil has fueled terrorism by helping to bolster oil-rich regimes that terrorists hate, to fund the terrorist infrastructure, and to generate anti-American and anti-Western sentiments about American support for oil-rich regimes and perceived Western designs on Middle East oil. Together, Middle East oil and globalization have combined in various ways to help create Al-Qaeda's real and perceived threat, and that of its affiliates and offshoots. The combined effect has shaped important contours of the Petroleum Triangle and of world affairs.

    A sweeping analysis of contemporary world politics and American foreign and military policy, The Petroleum Triangle convincingly argues that it is critical to understand the connections among oil, globalization, and terrorism if we seek to comprehend modern global politics. What happens within the Petroleum Triangle will help determine if the death of Osama bin Laden will ultimately cripple Al-Qaeda and its affiliates or be yet another milestone in an ongoing age of terrorism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6339-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-24)

    In August 2009, President Barack H. Obama told the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars conference that the war in faraway Afghanistan was not a war of choice but rather a “war of necessity.” He believed that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a grand mistake and had run strongly on that platform during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, but his view of Afghanistan was different. He warned in dramatic language that those “who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which...

    (pp. 25-52)

    The quest for energy starts with the mythical Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods to help shivering humans, and runs through to the modern struggle to ensure oil supplies to a global economy, whose lifeline is black crude. One American official asserted in 1944, referring to the Persian Gulf, that the “oil in this region is the greatest single prize in all history.”¹ He could not have known what travails would await America, especially after it assumed responsibility from Great Britain in 1971 for the security of the Persian Gulf, a region that includes Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,...


    • 2 EXPLAINING SEPTEMBER 11: The Oil Factor
      (pp. 55-86)

      Few events have received greater global scrutiny in the annals of history than the attacks of September 11, 2001. Those events came as a shock to Americans and non-Americans alike, not only because they were barbaric, sudden, and bizarre and struck American sites of symbolic importance but also because they clashed with the times. The Cold War was over, dictators had recently fallen all across Europe, and some scholars were even celebrating the end of history—the notion that, since major conflicts are driven by ideological disagreements and since American liberalism had triumphed over Soviet-style authoritarianism, it followed that serious...

      (pp. 87-106)

      The September 11 attacks were motivated in part by issues related to Middle Eastern oil, but such issues have been germane beyond their impact on Al-Qaeda. These issues are followed by a global audience, partly due to their emotive importance but also because globalization has allowed world politics to become a mass spectator event. The response of the audience of Muslims and non-Muslims matters to the broader question of transnational terrorism. We cannot understand it well if we treat it as a phenomenon in isolation from the larger context in which it gains meaning and which affects its nature and...

      (pp. 107-142)

      The September 11 attacks cost roughly half a million dollars, but that is a small fraction of what it costs to run the entire infrastructure of terrorism.¹ This infrastructure includes recruitment, ideological indoctrination, salaries, housing, arms, support for various cells and like-minded terrorist organizations, payoffs to local governments and warlords, public promotion, communications, and enforcing discipline.

      The terrorist infrastructure also consists of adaptation against dogged counterterrorism efforts. Just as countries fighting terrorism have developed new capabilities and techniques against Al-Qaeda, so too must the organization adapt in order to develop, to continue its operations, or just to survive.² Counterterrorism, especially...

    • 5 OIL MONEY AND HATED REGIMES: Fueling Terrorism
      (pp. 143-156)

      The administration of President George W. Bush shifted gears after the September 11 attacks, adopting a strategy that the United States had employed elsewhere for decades but had not previously promoted in the Middle East, much less by the use of massive force. The Bush team had entered office largely as foreign policy realists but, after September 11, it sought to democratize Iraq and, as a more distant goal, a region that was largely undemocratic and whose peoples, many decades after their states had achieved independence, remained dominated by a variety of autocrats. As Francis Fukuyama put it, “Realists by...


      (pp. 159-186)

      The impact of Middle Eastern oil on transnational terrorism is only half of the story that this book seeks to tell. We also have to consider the global context, which produces its own important contributions. The other half of the story about terrorism concerns the role of globalization. Middle Eastern oil and globalization contributed individually to the threat of transnational terrorism, but they have also combined to enable its rise as a serious international security problem.

      Globalization took off as the oil era was also gaining significant traction, after World War II. Our ancestors would probably be surprised by the...

      (pp. 187-200)

      Imagine, for a moment, a massive terrorist attack at a less globalized moment. A bomb goes off in the heart of seventeenth-century Madrid. The bomb kills only twenty people because the lack of mass transportation deprives terrorists of deadlier targets. The media are limited in technology and cannot even imagine what real-time coverage would mean. The global impact is likely modest, because a limited number of actors are connected to Madrid economically and are therefore insulated from its travails. No videos are broadcast repeatedly around the world, allowing the terrorists to spread their message and to instill fear. Stock markets...

    (pp. 201-216)

    When oil held great promise as the unabashed driver of the industrializing world economy, the great robber barons, the Rockefellers and the Gettys, were celebrated. They were heroes, pioneers of a new age. Their companies would move the world, and they would become enormously wealthy. But their fortunes would slowly begin to change. Once viewed as bold capitalists, the major oil companies and their chief executives would over time start to be viewed in some quarters with greater skepticism, as price gougers and polluters, as repositories of inequitable wealth beholden to dangerous regimes, as managers of a dirty good. The...

  11. References
    (pp. 217-236)
  12. Index
    (pp. 237-242)