Should the cost of maintaining a military presence in the Middle East be viewed as a subsidy to oil companies? This idea has been repeated often enough to become unchallenged conventional wisdom codified by the “NO WAR FOR OIL” bumper sticker.
It has been argued that the Gulf and Iraq wars were not necessary to keep the global price of oil stable and neither is our continued military presence in the Middle East. There is no way to rerun the experiment to see what the world would look like had we not had the Gulf and Iraq wars. My guess is that the Gulf war was probably a smart move, the Iraq war, maybe not so smart.
As for the continued military presence, it is money well spent if it is helping to maintain peace in the Middle East. As Steven Pinker effectively argues, one key to reduced levels of violence is an effective police force:
As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960′s, I was a true believer in Bakunin’s anarchism. I laughed off my parents’ argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose. Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8:00 am on October , 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike. By 11:20 A.M. the first bank was robbed. By noon most downtown stores had closed because of looting. Within a few more hours, taxi drivers burned down the garage of a limousine service that had competed with them for airport customers, a rooftop sniper killed a provincial police officer, rioters broke into several hotels and restaurants, and a doctor slew a burglar in his suburban home. By the end of the day, six banks had been robbed, a hundred shops had been looted, twelve fires had been set, forty carloads of storefront glass had been broken, and three million dollars in property damage had been inflicted, before city authorities had to call in the army and, of course, the Mounties to restore order.
In my neck of the woods the “No War for Oil” bumper stickers are typically found on cars burning biodiesel because most biodiesel stations here give them away to promote their product. So, are these people really more concerned about world peace than the rest of us, or are they just victims of marketing? I cede the point that if it were not for oil (and Israel), our elected officials might do nothing to prevent a Middle East version ofDarfur, but would that be a good thing?