I was talking to a classmate of mine at the university at the beginning of the academic year with the TV playing in the background when I saw one plane, then another, crash into the World Trade Center. Since that moment that changed the face of the world, interpretations and misinterpretations have not ceased. But how did we see the future then, and how do we see the past now?
The US invasion of Iraq was accompanied by a long series of (mis)interpretations, starting from religious extremists who ignored the existence of the takfiri thought that holds other Muslims to be apostates, and not ending with Western intellectuals. In the US, for instance, Alvin Toffler published a book called The Third Wave in which he argues that US military spending is the driver of US technological and economic development, and that European technological advancement threatens the US role as leader of the world. Others believed the US chose terrorism as a new enemy after the fall of the USSR. One of the strangest theories I came across was Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal’s, who argued in his book, The US Empire and the Invasion of Iraq, that the Serbs executed 9/11, that the fall of the Berlin Wall was a more important event, and that Europe is the next global hub. Some went as far as saying that the US must get Iraqi oil and control oil sources across the world to the extent possible in order to maintain its global leadership role.
After all these years, none of these theories turned out to be true. The first thing that became clear is that the competition is China, at all levels. Second, the growth in US domestic petroleum production in the last 20 years is double Iraq’s maximum production since Saddam Hussein’s fall. Third, in terms of the impact of US military spending on economic growth and technical progress, if we take financial markets as a measure, for example, none of the top 20 largest companies by revenue since 9/11 is concerned with the military industry. NTES, an internet technology pioneer; Apple, which transformed the world of smart devices and took them from offices to everyone’s pockets; and e-commerce giant Amazon all found something greater than military spending: consumption volume in the US economy, which reached 80 percent of the economic volume, i.e., nearly four times the pre-COVID-19 mean for US federal expenditures.
The rise in oil prices in the last decade is what motivated US investors to raise shale oil production from 400,000 bpd to 8 million bpd. The great consumption volume also pushed the technology industry and venture capital investments toward prosperity.
It is the market that shapes the future, not the yelling in classrooms in Washington and other capitals. The US withdrew from Afghanistan, but its companies are invading the markets.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh.