Ukraine is a lot more portentous than it appears. It is fundamentally about the play for Persian Gulf oil. So was World War I. The danger lies in the chance of runaway escalation, just like World War I.
Let’s put Ukraine into a global strategic context.
The oil is running out. God isn’t making any more dinosaurs and melting them into the earth’s crust. Instead, as developing world countries aspire to first-world living standards, the draw-down on the world’s finite supply of oil is accelerating. The rate at which known reserves are being depleted is four times that at which new oil is being discovered. That’s why oil cost $26 a barrel in 2001, but $105 today. It’s supply and demand.
Oil recalls that old expression: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” In industrial civilization, the nation that controls the oil is king. And 60% of the known oil reserves are in the Persian Gulf. That’s why the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003: to seize control of the oil. Alan Greenspan told at least one truth in his life: “I hate to have to admit what everybody knows. Iraq is about oil.”
But the U.S. lost the war in Iraq. Remember? The U.S. was going to install a democracy and 14 permanent bases there. They’re not there. The U.S. was run out after proving unable to pacify the Islamic jihad it had unleashed under the pretext of searching for non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Instead, Iraq allied itself with Iran, its Shi’ite comrade-in-arms in the Muslim Wars of Religion.
So today, the battle for the Persian Gulf is being carried out through its two regional powers, Saudi Arabia, the champion of Sunni Islam, and Iran, the torch carrier for Shi’ite Islam. Think of the Wars between the Protestants and Catholics in the 1500s. The U.S. backs Saudi Arabia, as it has done since 1945, when Roosevelt cut a deal with Ibn Saud to protect his illegitimate throne in exchange for the House of Saud only selling oil in dollars.
Iran, of course, is implacably hostile to the U.S. after the U.S. overthrew Iran’s democratically elected president, Mosaddegh, in 1953 and installed its own fascist puppet, the Shah of Iran. The Iranians overthrew the Shah in 1979 and installed a fundamentalist theocracy that continues to this day.
Iran’s main ally in the region is Syria, which the U.S. has been trying to overthrow for three years by helping the al-Qaeda-linked rebels that are attacking Syria. Syria’s chief military patron is Russia, which conveniently bailed Obama out of his childish “red line” declaration last year, a declaration he had neither the military nor political nor diplomatic capacity to carry out.
So, the upheaval in Ukraine is really about the U.S. trying to weaken Syria’s patron, Russia. If Russia is weakened, Syria is weakened. If Syria is weakened, Iran is weakened. If Iran is weakened, the U.S. has a better chance of seizing control of the world’s largest reserves of oil. That is the Great Game that is going on here.
The problem is the risk of escalation. It’s not at all fanciful to imagine some ambitious Ukrainian colonel firing at Russian forces. Russia fires back, decisively. This puts Ukraine at risk for its European suitor, the EU. So NATO intervenes to try to intimidate Russia. Russia retaliates to blacken NATO's nose. And before anyone knows it, the U.S. is dragged into a shooting war where no one can understand how it ends. This is almost exactly how World War I started.
The Germans were gunning for Persian Gulf oil via their relationship with the Ottoman Empire. But this would have given Germany a choke hold on England, which had only just converted its navy to oil. So, England reversed its historical rivalry with France, in 1904, and with Russia, in 1907, to try to contain Germany. But a minor, unanticipated dust-up in the Balkans in the summer of 1914 escalated into The Greatest War The World Had Ever Known.
In a freak event, a Serbian teenager killed the heir-apparent to the Austrian-Hungarian throne. So Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia. Russia couldn’t stand idle as its sole Balkan ally, Serbia, was humiliated. So it mobilized on Austria-Hungary, an effective declaration of war.
Germany moved to defend its ally, Austria-Hungary, by attacking Russia’s ally, France. England, France’s ally, responded by declaring war on Germany. Within less than one month of a minor incident in a minor region of the continent, all the major powers of Europe were at war.
World War I would inflict 27 million casualties through the industrialization of human slaughter. It destroyed four great empires, more than had expired in any single event, ever. Eleven new nations were created in its aftermath, including Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. It was the event that shifted the locus of global power from Europe to the U.S., where it has resided ever since. It rearranged the architecture of global power more than any event of the last thousand years.
So the portent of Ukraine is a global strategic order hanging in the balance. The U.S. must subdue Russia to gain control of the world’s oil. It is the same strategic objective that is driving the U.S.’s subversion of the democratically elected government in Venezuela: it sits on one of the world’s largest reserves of oil. Indeed, all of the U.S.’ aggressions on Iran, Syria, and Venezuela, and its subversion of the democratically elected government of Ukraine, can be understood in this context.
The wild card in the whole fracas is China. China is the biggest customer of Iranian oil, and the largest international investor in Venezuela. These represent some of China’s moves to counter the U.S. attempt to control the world’s oil. The potential escalation from Ukraine as the U.S. pressures Syria, Iran, and Venezuela, inescapably involves China. If China becomes involved, trying to defend its allies and its supply of oil, it is anybody’s guess where it ends. But it won’t be pretty.