Yes. Yes, we should.
On 5th April, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris landed in her hometown of Oakland, California, to meet with local officials and discuss the state of the country’s infrastructure. Alongside California Governor Gavin Newsom, Harris spoke to the press about the importance of clean drinking water at a water treatment plant in the city. It was Harris’ comments regarding the future of water, however, that many have expressed concern over.
The Vice President said: “For years, there were wars fought over oil; in a short time, there will be wars fought over water.” This transparency over the nature of US foreign policy, particularly in reference to the Iraq War, is arguably quite uncharacteristic of the polished moderation shown by the Biden administration so far.
At the height of the Iraq War, the Bush administration maintained a firm line that US intervention in Iraq was a matter of both national and international security. The administration espoused a rhetoric of “bringing freedom”, going so far as to embellish (if not fabricate) evidence of the production of WMDs to justify military action.
Critics at the time, and to this day, have maintained that these sentiments are false, and that the true reason for US intervention in Iraq was to secure the abundant oil fields that the country had previously nationalised.
To say that the United States’ invasion of Iraq was a matter of necessity for the Bush administration, and thereby leading inevitably to justifying it, would be to drastically oversimplify the situation. A 2001 report on ‘Energy Security’, commissioned by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, detailed the risk of significant disruption to the global energy supply, leading to an energy crisis, supposedly as a result of what was referred to as ‘Middle East Tension.’
What contemporary and modern critics claim, however, is that the report was less of an inquiry into concerns over the volatility of energy markets than it was a rather stern warning that American political hegemony would soon be challenged, unless the Middle East’s oil was in the hands of the US. There’s little reason to believe that there was any necessity for US intervention in Iraq, other than that of political expediency. We ought to be vigilant as to whether Harris’ “water wars” are inevitabilities, or simply a new rendition of a tried and tested scheme.
So, the question is this: are conflicts like the Iraq War models of what Harris expects to see – and possibly replicate – in the near future? Needless to say, the Vice President occupies one of the most powerful seats in the Western world. Her statement – said with an unnerving degree of chirp, I might add (the same tone that seemed to put Mike Pence in his place on the debate stage) – deserves to be dealt the appropriate gravity.
Twitter users were quick to express their concerns over the Vice President’s statements, including her labelling of water as a “commodity.” Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson), who ran for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2020, stated that water “…should not be sold as a commodity. P.S. We’re still fighting wars over oil.”
(@Lackingsaint) tweeted: “The way kamala harris switches so seamlessly between vague humanitarian talking points and a sales pitch on how to use global water shortages to strengthen the US economy, she honestly couldn’t better represent the democratic party [sic].
The Iraq War was a conflict that caused deep wounds, primarily to the uncountable innocents slaughtered because of the bogus pretenses of George Bush and Tony Blair – but, to a lesser extent, to us: the people of the UK and the US. In our name, and funded by our taxes, our governments brewed eminent distrust in not just their incompetence, but also their intentions. Will this distrust make us more vigilant in the future, when politicians like Kamala Harris try to take us to war over water?
Living in a world of abundance and scarcity, we must recognise the difference between crises stemming solely from climate change, and crises born out of political opportunism masquerading as an unavoidable side effect of climate change. In 1873, the US government oversaw the killing of 1.5 million buffalo, effectively to starve and stagnate the Native American opposition and further their material interests.
History has taught us that any resource – from buffalo, to oil, and now water – can and will be exploited if interests align and systems allow.