USA: It's the Oil, Stupid

Publisher Name: 
LA Weekly

In the orgy of examination of who and what is to blame for the events of
September 11, we must have heard every conceivable explanation. The
American right, as exemplified by President Bush, Fox News and the opinion
page of the The Wall Street Journal, blames envy of American values and
success. The extreme right blames secular humanism, gay rights and the
other bogeymen they love to flog. The center faults lax airport security
and a general lack of preparedness, while the left, all but ignored by the
corporate media, blames American imperialism and in some cases our
unconditional support for Israel.

Yet for all the noise generated by partisans and centrists alike, no one
is willing to accept the blatantly obvious, the real underlying factor
behind America's involvement in the byzantine labyrinth of Middle East
politics. What could possibly motivate the propping up of repressive
non-democracies like the Saudi and Kuwaiti royal families, or murderous
regimes like that of Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran? Or pouring billions into
the coffers of Saddam Hussein in the '80s, or even creating the monster
that is possibly the mastermind of these attacks, Osama bin Laden,
beneficiary of CIA lucre and training?

It's the oil, stupid.

Once again, America's twin addictions, that of its people to cheap
gasoline and its corporations to billions of petro-dollars, has led us
right into the proverbial pit. Having learned very little or forgotten a
lot in the wake of the oil embargoes of the 1970s, America is as strung out
on the fossil-fuel jones as any Bonnie Brae Street junkie is on Mexican tar
heroin. Even though American dependency on oil from the Middle East has
fallen to about 17 percent of national consumption, Saudi Arabia remains
the cornerstone, producing 50 percent of the whole world's supply. So in
order to keep this economic balm flowing, to keep the status quo static and
the balance sheets of the major oil companies brimming, we've installed our
military as a kind of mega police force in the region. Our official reason
for being there is to ensure "stability," one of the great buzzwords in the
history of business, but this is nothing more than spin -- the military is
in the Middle East to guarantee that whatever comes out of the ground is
exploitable and controlled by American multinationals.

And it is the simple fact of the presence of American soldiers on the
holy soil of Islam that has so enraged our new nemesis, bin Laden.

Speaking to British journalist Robert Fisk in 1996 Afghanistan, bin
Laden made clear his agenda. "When the American troops entered Saudia
Arabia [after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait], the land of the two holy places
[Mecca and Medina], there was strong protest from the ulema [religious
authorities] and from students of the Shariah law all over the country
against the interference of American troops," bin Laden told Fisk, who
published the comments in The Nation in 1998. The Saudi leaders made a "big
mistake," bin Laden said, when they responded by suppressing the protests
and cementing ties to the U.S. "After it had insulted and jailed the ulema
. . . the Saudi regime lost its legitimacy," bin Laden said. And so began
his deadly fatwa against the United States.

Oil has been the prime mover behind any and every political decision in
that region since the First World War, when trucks, tanks and planes
replaced horses and camels. Once the internal-combustion engine became the
technological centerpiece of the century, keeping it going by any means
necessary became a most profitable business venture. And despite the myth
that has been rammed down America's psyche for eons, American business
loathes competition and aims for monopoly. Sure, they'll partner with the
Saudi royal family (because the government that they dominate owns all of
its oil), but in exchange, anyone in the region who actually believes in
the rights of the people of that country to share in the wealth of their
homeland is shut out. And forcefully, with the aid of the American military
and CIA, as we saw in Iran and during the Gulf War.

This dusty, empty part of the world was basically nothing more than a
bedouin crossroads for 1,300 years, between the end of the Crusades and the
early 1900s. During the period when America endured revolution and a civil
war, and Europe tore itself apart, the Middle East was downright peaceful.
Tell me why the United States and Great Britain reflexively back the state
of Israel in its battles with its neighbors. Were it not sitting
strategically close to vast pools of viscous crude, no one would give a
rat's ass about either side.

It's the meddling in the internal affairs of the indigenous people of
the region to ensure that said oil stays in the hands of the privileged few
that has led to an enraged underground movement of terrorists in these
lands. And oil is all we're there for -- what else of value comes from that
part of the world, what strategic value does it have otherwise?

That may seem as obvious as the nose on our collective face, but it's
something no one wants to acknowledge. Especially given the ties between
the media and the oil companies: ABC is tied to Texaco, NBC to British
Petroleum, Time Warner to Mobil Oil, as revealed in the marvelous
media-watchdog flier Censored Alert in the summer of 2000. And now the oil
industry is entrenched as America's No. 1 player with Bush and Cheney, two
oil men (one failed, one successful) in command.

Eliminate the oil, and the American presence ends in the area; the
resentment aimed at our land and our people also ends. Out of sight, out of
mind, remember? Never mind the bollocks about how the Arabs envy our
wealth: I don't see them terrorizing Monaco or flying jets into the side of
the Big Ben. The simple fact is, our armies piss them off as colonial
enforcers. Much in the same way that our forefathers loathed Hessians in
the American Revolution.

If anything, the leaders of the Middle East are terrified of our
abandonment. Like savvy survivors, they play both sides at the same time.
Just as an American corporation will donate money to Republicans and
Democrats both, so these strongmen pay lip service to America while
nodding, winking and (in the case of Yemen and allegedly some Saudi
businessmen) donating money to terrorist cells on the side, just to be safe.

It's our own greed and need for control that has led us into this
petroleum quagmire. Ross Perot, hardly the voice of progressive politics,
made the canny observation in the first presidential debate of 1992 that
the Gulf War was fought solely for control of oil and nothing more. He made
the further point that American blood wasn't worth shedding over a product
that Saddam would have been glad to sell us himself.

Too late for that sort of pragmatism. The war we're about to wage will
surely be protracted and costly, with profound repercussions, and all
because we decided that dealing with our enslavement to gasoline via
conservation, alternative energy sources and the like was just too
incon-fucking-venient. Feel that way now?

AMP Section Name:Energy
  • 107 Energy