WHO EXCLUSIVE: Gen. Wesley Clark on Oil, War and Activism

War for Oil
Oil well fires blaze out of control outside Kuwait City on March 23, 1991. Photo credit: US Army.

Recently, we ran video of a little-known 2007 talk by General Wesley Clark (Ret.). It was, to say the least, explosive. Clark said that shortly after 9/11, on a visit to the Pentagon, he was told of a memo laying out plans to use the 2001 attacks as a justification to invade seven countries in five years.

WhoWhatWhy now has an exclusive conversation with General Clark, filmed this year by our friend Mike Gray.  In it, Clark explicitly lays out the central role of oil in American military strategy, and advocates for increased use of clean energy alternatives. He also says that the only way to change policy on energy and the military is for a mass public movement to stand up to the oil industry, the richest and most powerful in history. He says young people have the most to gain, and will have to take the lead.

Watch Here:


So energy is about generating electricity. There you can move pretty quickly into solar and wind. Not only are the costs coming down through better engineering and better scientific development, but also battery technology is improving so you can store it and feed it into the power grid at the time you need it, not just when it’s generated.

But on the other hand, there is transportation fuel. And that’s mostly oil. And that’s mostly imported. And that’s what people fight wars about, mostly they don’t fight war about coal, they fight about oil.

In the summer of 1973 in Washington, I wrote three reports about the energy crisis for the Pentagon, one of which looked at the impact of being an oil-importing nation on the United Sates. And it was pretty clear even then that this would distort America’s foreign policy, spread lots of money abroad, and might ultimately require us to use U.S. troops to secure access to these energy supplies abroad.

Of course that’s exactly what happened. This led then to the creation of al Queda, 9/11, our invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration decision to invade Iraq. It’s led to expenditures of a couple of trillion dollars and more, much more to follow. And we’re not done yet.

Q: What would you estimate we’re spending annually on keeping the oil pipeline open?

Wesley Clark: Well, it’s 300 billion dollars of US foreign exchange to buy the oil, another 600 billion dollars for the defense budget. Not all of that is directed toward energy but you could say that 150 billion dollars a year we‘re spending on the wars is certainly about oil, directly or indirectly.

And you could probably say half of the rest of the defense budget is one way or another connected to stationing troops abroad, trying to protect access to oil, exercises, procurement of equipment. And then you could look at the bill for the Veterans Administration. So this comes out to be half a trillion dollars or more a year, is going to this. It’s been a tragic failure of policy and a failure of US leadership.

How can we replace these barrels of oil with other means of energy? The alternatives are there now, and bio fuels, compressed natural gas, electric automobiles increasingly, liquefied natural gas, coal to liquids. There’s lots of different ways to make liquid fuel.

So I think that it’s a matter of a struggle for political organizations. I think it does take the kind of movement that you’ve talked about. I think you have to mobilize young people. I think you have to, not just young people, but young people in particular. After all, they have the most to gain from the future – and the most to lose. And they need to speak up on behalf of these issues.

Because they’re going against some very, very powerful forces. Forces of big oil are the most powerful economic forces in the world. If you look at the entire wealth of mankind, the value of oil reserves in the ground is like 170 trillion dollars. It’s the most valuable commodity as currently priced in the world. You’re going against people who control those reserves. So this can only be done through a mass movement that overturns the established structure of energy markets. It can’t be done in a smooth transition.

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