Monday, May 28, 2007

Follow The Money

As an age-old admonition has it, "If you don't understand something follow the money". Then there's "The Golden Rule; the one with the gold rules". And "Thems what has, gets".

Recently, Congressman Jim McDermott, state of Washington, made a speech in Congress, a history lesson in essence. He reviewed the history of events having to do with American realpolitik and oil. It was a reminder of what powerfully connected people can get done in Washington when there's huge money on the line.

Iraq is the latest example. The only ministry protected immediately upon taking Baghdad was the oil ministry. There is no exit strategy in this horrible adventure and there never was, because the goal was and is to gain control over Iraq's oil, the second largest known oil reserve on the planet. If Bin Laden were to succeed in felling the Saudi monarchy, there would not be an oil crisis, but an "oil trauma", to quote Bob Woodward of The Washington Post. Iran, full of oil, and wanting more, is a competitor for Iraqi oil. We won the war to depose Saddam, but blew the peace, and, ironically, the opportunity to gain peaceful access to the oil.

The war to topple Saddam was a scripted and necessary first step. A new government was needed to put a respectable face on the plan. The one ultimately put in place, has been marketed as a democracy, because the winner was decided by election, an important aspect of democracy. but only one component of what constitutes a legitimate democracy. (The Syrian president was just re-elected too.)

The existence of a government of some kind, which had at least the appearance of being legitimate, however ineffectual, did make possible the writing of a constitution for the country. It's been widely reported that its writing was strongly influenced by those in whose interest it is to open up Iraqi oil reserves to private companies. The catch is that Iraqis have to pass and implement the so-called oil law we hear about from both Republicans and Democrats. One part of that law concerns oil revenue sharing among all Iraqis. The civil war is the current block to sharing anything among tribal-acting sectarian groups whose animosities go back centuries.

The passage of an oil law is also necessary and essential for private oil companies to conclude lucrative deals. (A Google Search for Production Sharing Agreements [PSA's] is enlightening.) But the Iraqis woke up. They are in no hurry to put their national treasure at risk by making sweetheart deals. Some Iraqi politicians have said as much. Some say they can run the oil industry themselves. There are also rumors that there might be significant oil deposits in other areas of Iraq. Of particular interest are those areas populated predominately by Sunnis.

The Iranians are standing in the wings, posturing and ready to come onstage to play the role of spoiler by frustrating the western hearts and minds of those who are ignorant of, and unwilling to learn about, other cultures and their people. No slam dunk here. If it weren't so horrible it would be amusing.

Clearly the prize is huge. A change of administration in Washington, even a change to a Democrat administration, is not likely to divert eyes from the prize. The events of history which Rep. McDermott mentioned include decades of open and clandestine efforts to secure access to oil. A particularly notable example is the years-ago overthrow of Iran's government and the installation of the Shah, our man in Iran. There have been many different administrations in Washington since, including changes in party control. Oil continues to be the elephant in the Chambers and Halls of Congress.

History is full of examples of people who resist change, especially when it puts big money at risk; betting the farm so to speak. The railroad industry several decades ago continued investing in railroads, not wanting to recognize that they were in the transportation business. The airline industry ate their lunch. The oil industry doesn't want to admit that they are in the energy business. It continues to make heavy investment in oil; including millions for marketing propaganda, lobbying and political campaigns. Oil exploration is not as risky as it once was. Technology has reduced that risk. The locations of oil reserves are well known. Environmentalists, unfriendly governments and uncooperative politicians are the real impediments for big oil.

Perhaps a new industry will eventually emerge, based on something other than oil. But that's a topic for another time. In the meantime it's necessary to have access to as much oil as possible, keep it out of unfriendly hands, in hopes of preventing a potentially world wide economic fiasco. Everything, or almost everything, runs on oil, for now. The Middle East repository is crucial in that respect. China seems to be doing a better and quieter job of it in Africa.

The condemnation due the Bush administration is about blowing the peace, resulting in the unnecessary deaths of soldiers and civilians by the thousands. A basic grounding in Cultural Anthropology 101 might have given some pause, and time to resist the neo-con decade long hot pursuit of a war that would be paid for with Iraqi oil. Ironically had we gone into Iraq with the several hundred thousand troops called for by military professionals, though initially costing more, we would have saved billions of dollars and thousands of lives. It would have made possible the pacifying of the countryside and the clearing of IED's along the roads to the oil fields.

If democracy in the Middle East and freeing a people from a brutal tyrant were the true goals, then invading Iraq was a mistake. Continuing to talk, using sanctions and inspections were the appropriate steps, no matter how long that would have taken. Fighting doesn't usually start before talking stops.

But oil was the true grail. Our government won't admit that because it would make them vulnerable to indictment as thieves of Iraq's patrimony. So, WMD and mushroom clouds were introduced to the make the whole charade appear urgent. They constituted the lies of choice; to scare everyone into supporting the war. It cowed many politicians who knew they should raise their voices in protest, but instead voted to keep their job rather than vote their conscience. General Shinseki, Secretary of State Powell(our former head soldier), a treasury secretary and intelligence types resisted. Some chose to obey. Some resigned. At least one was fired; Powell and others were run out of office.

President Eisenhower warned us to resist the power of the Military/Industrial establishment. That warning will continue to be ignored until voters wake up, see propaganda for what it is, stop responding to flag waving, patriotic slogans and shibboleths and pay attention to the lessons of history. But that requires critical thinking, and far too many in the electorate aren't interested or won't make the effort.

How would it have gone if the administration had made the case to the American people and our allies that it was essential to prevent Iraqi oil from staying in, or straying into, unfriendly hands? That wouldn't have been a slam dunk either, but at least it would have been honest. Honesty is scarce in Washington. Money is plentiful.

We were lied to by our elected officials who call themselves public servants. The usual solution to that problem is for the master to fire the servant. I'm not convinced the next election will change things that much. Where we live the masters have to exhibit uncommon patience.

Update: Norman Solomon has a good piece called War at the Remote, found on, June 18, 2007.


Lighthouse Keeper


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Anonymous said...

This is an important topic.

Kilroy_60 said...

I've visited this blog twice today. I have no doubt I will enjoy coming back to visit you in the future.

The time I spent with friends at Cape Cod is perhaps among the most enjoyable I've ever had. How wonderful it was being there after the summer season and before the leaf peepers.

I found it interesting how you spoke about deciding to blog after reading what esteemed journalists had to say about it. {My words not yours, I think} I'd have to say I've read as many journalists trying to put aside the importance of blogs as those endorsing them.

Ultimately, if anything I think this is the best opportunity to give power to the individual voice. And, I think, people like you have a voice that deserves to be heard.

I am including you in the upcoming edition of A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Blogopshere. It will post soon; actually much sooner than I'd planned.

Should you have an opportunity to surf over to The Gonzo Papers I'll be interested to see what you think.


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