In Rumsfeld’s words, the unknown became known on the morning of September 11th 2001 when terrorists attacked both the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia. The 9/11 attacks were in response to America’s ongoing meddling and interference in the Middle East. The symbolic nature of the attacks should not be missed either: bin Laden chose to attack centres of U.S. economic power and its intelligence apparatus. 9/11 was an attack on the dollar: bin Laden understood very well that the dollar was, and still is, the centre of gravity of the American empire. By attacking the dollar, he wanted to accelerate a run on the U.S. dollar which would have led to foreign investors divesting themselves of their dollar holdings and transferring them to other currencies. A collapse of the dollar would have meant that its status as the world’s reserve currency would have come to end meaning that, in effect, the U.S. could no longer maintain its vast military presence overseas, grant protection to the Saudi royal family indefinitely and providing subsidies to Israel, to say nothing of the massive structural imbalances in the U.S. economy that would need to be addressed if reserve currency status was lost.
In the simplest of terms, the petrodollar system is the practice of trading oil for U.S. dollars, and U.S. dollars only (rather than another currency). This means that no matter what country is buying the oil, they pay the oil-producing country in dollars. And this is the petrodollar system. The dollar is the world’s reserve currency, making it the medium of exchange for goods, services, trade, travel, investments, commodities and much more. The petrodollar has a central role in enabling all of this. Many feel that this arrangement gives the U.S. “exorbitant privilege” as oil is the most sought-after commodity in the world, and thus being priced and traded solely in dollars makes the U.S. dollar the most dominant currency. The petrodollar has had a considerable impact on shaping U.S. foreign policy, global trade and geopolitics for the last 50 years.