It has been said of Iraq that if the country produced no more than oranges and lemons, the United States would never have declared war on it. The implication being, of course, that oil is the single most motivating factor behind the conflict.
This accusation neglects the fact the US has never sought to possess the world's major reserves of oil. It also fails to take into account the intricacies of the global oil market and, in particular, the wider regional consequences of the toppling of Saddam Hussein and his regime.
That Iraq's oil reserves are the second biggest in the world is seen as proof enough that the western world wants to get its hands on them, but, in reality, Iraq produces no more than 3% of the world's output. With tens of billions of dollars invested in an outdated system, that output might rise to 5% in five or 10 years time.
And with the oil resources of West Africa, the Caspian Sea and Russia being developed, the time, money and trouble inherent in upgrading Iraq's oil industry is barely worth the effort. The US interest in oil begins and ends with its unhindered flow and cheap availability--upon which its economy depends.
But now that the conflict in Iraq is in its final stages and preparations for the post-Saddam era are being made, the bigger picture is beginning to come into focus.
Afghanistan, with its leader, Hamid Karzai, appointed by the US and maintained in his position by US special forces is, in all but name, an American protectorate. And now, with US influence in Iraq implicit if not official, it too may be viewed as such.
Sandwiched between those two transformed states is Iran, now flanked by the outposts of a country whose president openly &dared them an enemy in his now infamous Axis of Evil speech.
Any keen player of chess will surely appreciate the significance of such regional upheaval. With American pieces so well placed, the opposing king is running out of moves.
Communist states in Eastern Europe collapsed, one by one, and at astonishing speed, during the 1990s--prompted by the fall of communism in Russia.
Iraq's dominant Shi'a population have been emancipated overnight with the help of the US and Britain. It is difficult to envisage any future Iraqi government in which the Sh'ia do not figure strongly.
The Shi'a make up almost 90% of the Iranian population. The young are increasingly Frustrated at the pace of reforms promised by the liberal President Mohammed Khatami. The sight of their fellow Shi'a...