President Roosevelt is the father of American global superiority for three reasons. First, he gave the world freedom of the seas in the name of trade. Second, he used the American military to protect this freedom. The third action Roosevelt took to safeguard American dominance of the global economy was to make sure that the main commodity which drove it, oil, was traded through the dollar. By doing this, Uncle Sam tacitly controlled world trade: the marriage between Green Back and oil was, in many ways, like a marriage between European medieval royal houses.
The Yalta conference between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill arrived at a (sort of) understanding about what was to be done after the war. When the summit finished Roosevelt flew directly out to Egypt, unbeknown to the other two leaders, to meet Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz. The venue for the meeting was the naval cruiser USS Quincy, anchored on the inland sea of Bitter Lake.
We’d know little about this meeting had it not been for Roosevelt’s interpreter, a US Marine, Colonel Bill Eddy, who recorded the conversation in his book FDR Meets Ibn Saud.
King Abdulaziz had a problem. His power was dependent on a violent and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism, whose fighters got him the top job. To stay on the throne, he needed to keep supporting this unsavoury group. The king was worried the US (or Soviets) could kick him out of power by going to war with his Wahhabi fighters.
However, Roosevelt had a problem too. The US needed to ensure it could buy Saudi oil, through the dollar, to control a key energy supplier and global oil markets.
The two leaders came to an agreement. America could gain control of Saudi’s oil market on two conditions: America had to keep it nose out of Saudi internal politics, and protect her from external threats.
The trade off has dominated Middle East politics ever since; from the Suez crisis to the Gulf Wars. The US dollar has also become increasingly linked to the commodity of oil. The Nixon shock of the 1970s, for example, effectively moved the dollar from an easily corruptible valuation against gold to the trade-able commodity of oil. The dollar and oil became intrinsically linked, and powered the global economic engine. US protection of the marriage was key.
However, the trade off hasn’t been one way. The cult of Wahhabism, which the House of Saud needed to keep it in power, has been the incubation chamber for Mujahideen, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and IS. Effectively the US created the very foundations of its war on terror.
It’s a salient lesson for all. Even the best looking of romances might come back to bite in years to come.