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It’s the Oil 

For all of punditry’s hot air, the root cause remains the same

Wednesday, Sep 19 2001
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In the orgy of endless examination and re-examination of who and what is to blame for the events of September 11, we must have read every conceivable explanation, 20/20 hindsight being the gift of today’s pundit class. The American right, as exemplified by President Bush, Fox News and the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal, blames envy of American values and success, and jealousy of our democratic values. The extreme right blames secular humanism, gay rights, ending prayer in school, and every other bogeyman that they trot out for a flogging, regardless of the situation. The center faults lax airport security and general unpreparedness, the left, American imperialism and interventionism. As has become typical of the corporate media and its interests, the latter opinion has received the least amount of attention in the mainstream.

Yet, for all of 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 Eastern 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 Pahlevi, Shah of Iran? Or pouring billions into the coffers of Saddam Hussein in the ’80s, or even creating the monster who is the mastermind of these attacks, Osama Bin Laden, beneficiary of CIA lucre and training?

It’s the oil, stupid.

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Once again, America’s twin addiction, that of its people to cheap gasoline and its corporations to billions of petrol-dollars, has led us right into the proverbial shit-hole. Having learned very little or forgotten a lot in the wake of the oil embargoes of the 1970s, America is as strung out on fossil fuel as any Bonnie Brae Street junkie on Mexican tar heroin. Even though American oil dependancy from the Middle East has fallen to about 17 percent of national consumption, the Persian Gulf remains the producer of 50 percent of the whole world’s supply. So, in order to keep this economic balm flowing, the status quo in stasis and the balance sheets of what were the "Seven Sisters" (now six) major oil companies brimming, we’ve installed our military as a kind of mega–police force in the region. Under the aegis of "stability," one of the great buzzwords in the history of business. This is nothing more than spin, or code — the military is in the area to ensure that whatever profitable comes out the ground is exploitable and controlled by American multinationals. In fact, it is the presence of the American military on the holy soil of Islam that (by his own admission) has so enraged Bin Laden.

In an interview with Robert Fisk from the Nation in 1998, Bin Laden made clear his displeasure. "When the American troops entered Saudi 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 said to Fisk in a meeting in Afghanistan in 1996. "This big mistake by the Saudi regime of inviting the American troops revealed their deception. They had given their support to nations that were fighting against Muslims. They [the Saudis] helped Yemen communists against the southern Yemeni Muslims and helped Arafat’s regime fight against Hamas. After it had insulted and jailed the ulema . . . the Saudi regime lost its legitimacy." And so began the fatwa against the United States — in deadly earnest.

Oil has been the prime mover behind any and every political decision in that region since World War I, when tanks, planes and trucks replaced horses and camels. So, 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 Saudi Government that they control owns all of that country’s oil) and cut them in — but in exchange for this, anyone in that region who actually believes in "free enterprise" — that is, in the rights of the people of that country to share in their land’s wealth — is shut out. And forcefully, with the aid of the American military and the CIA, as we’ve seen in Iran, Iraq and, most recently, Kuwait.

It’s the oil, and 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 it can be nothing else — tell me what else of value comes from that part of the world, what strategic value it has otherwise? Tell me why the United States and Britain almost automatically back the state of Israel in its battles with its neighbors, other than it is a listening post in the area and the only Westernized country that allows its patrons total access. This dusty, empty part of the world was basically nothing more than a bedouin’s crossroads for 600 years, between the end of the Crusades and the early 1900s — oddly enough, as Europe tore itself apart and America endured a revolution, a land war 25 years into its development and a civil war in its first 100 years, the Middle East was downright peaceful. Were it not for this seemingly priceless commodity, no one would give a rat’s ass about the area, and rightfully so.

Yeah, that seems to be as obvious as the nose on our collective face, but it’s something that no one wants to acknowledge. Especially given the ties between the media and the oil companies themselves — ABC to Texaco, NBC to British Petroleum, Time-Warner to Mobil Oil — as revealed in the marvelous media watchdog flyer Censored Alert, in the summer of 2000. The technology that would ameliorate the need for so much fossil fuel exists already to a degree, so why not a Manhattan Project–sized plan to make it real? Because of the entrenchment of the oil industry as America’s No. 1 player in command (and with Cheney and Bush — two oil men, one successful, one failed — at the helm), it is a certainty that nothing will change at the very root of the problem here. Eliminate the oil and the need for same, 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 Eiffel Tower. The simple fact is, our armies piss them off as colonial enforcers, much in the way our forefathers loathed Hessians in the American Revolution. If anything, their leaders — the kings, emirs and military dictators who run those sand-storm prone wastelands — are terrified we’ll abandon them. 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 Yemeni — and allegedly some Saudi — businessmen), donating money to terrorist cells on the side, just to be safe.

It never had to be, and doesn’t have to be, the way it has evolved; it is our own greed and need for complete 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 oil control and nothing more. That American blood wasn’t worth shedding over a product that Saddam himself would have been glad to sell us had we been willing to pay for it. But he would have had us over the proverbial barrel, the one that, once again, we’re over now. Only now, the war we’re about to wage will surely be a protracted and costlier one, with much greater repercussions, all because we have decided that dealing with our enslavement to gasoline via CAFÉ standards, conservation, alternative energy sources and the like was just too incon-fucking-venient. Feel that way now?

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