I am in the middle of my usual George Orwell-inspired dissection of the George
W. Bush's "State of the Union" address (SOUA). A soon-to-be-published
ZNet commentary of mine will grace readers with my critical analysis of how Bush's
speech took repeated authoritarian liberties with the word "freedom."
In a future essay, I will treat (or perhaps torture) readers with my reflections
on other phrases and words the president used last Tuesday night. Among the
leading statements and phrases I will interrogate and deconstruct:
"Terrorists like bin-Laden are serious about mass murder."
"The United States will not retreat from the world and we will never
surrender to evil."
The "men and women who wear our nation's uniform" are making "sacrifices"
to "protect" America.
"There is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success,
and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight
alone is not wisdom, and second-guessing is not a strategy."
"Our economy is healthy and vigorous."
"Human life is a gift from the Creator."
"In New Orleans, as in other places, many of our fellow citizens have
felt excluded from the promises of our country."
"Wise policies, such as welfare reform have made a [positive] difference
in our country," reflecting "a revolution of conscience" based
on the idea that "a life of personal responsibility is a life of fulfillment."
To nobody's surprise, I will attempt (and it won't be hard) to show different
ways in which each of these and other Bush statements and phrases were used
in deceptive and propagandistic ways carefully constructed to hide more than
they reveal and to encourage mass consent to concentrated power.
Today, however, I want to briefly mention a revealing and slightly noted moment
of candor in Bush's big speech.
I am not, I repeat NOT, referring to he president's supposedly earth-shattering,
headline-making statement (in the third paragraph of the seventh page of the
SOUA transcript released to the press on February 1, 2006) statement that "America
is ADDICTED TO OIL which is often imported from unstable parts of the world."
Much of Bush's lecture was meant, of course, to address the citizenry's deep
concern about the unpopular quagmire in Iraq. In his "addicted to oil"
section, Bush was trying, among other things, to calm the people's fears by
suggesting that we won't "have" to fight bloody (and illegal) wars
in the Middle East forever.
We're over there, he wants us to believe, because, we are just too dependent
on all that damn oil beneath the Arabs' "unstable" lands. He gets
it, the president wishes us to know, and he's working on it. His solution, by
the way, for what it's worth, is all-too simply and typically American: "technology," including nuclear.
But contrary to conventional wisdom in dominant media, Bush's supposed super-candid
"addicted to oil" statement was more about deception than frankness.
This is for two reasons. The first one is simple: the U.S. imports just 20 percent
of its petroleum from the Middle East, the obvious geographic meaning (though
he may also have had Venezuela in mind) of Bush's phrase "unstable parts
of the world."
The second reason is a bit more complex. When it comes to America,
Iraq, oil, war, and world geography, the really honest and relevant point regarding
U.S. policy is that Uncle Sam is addicted to global dominance and empire. That
addiction and not any direct-use reliance on Persian Gulf petroleum is the real
reason "we" are in Iraq (against the wishes of "our" own
populace not to mention those of the Iraqis) and not likely to leave anytime
U.S. policymakers have long known that Middle Eastern oil is critical to their
dominance in the world. They've long exhibited an obsessive but logical concern
with controlling world petroleum supplies, which are disproportionately concentrated
in the Middle East. That concern is all about the "critical leverage"
(to use President Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski's telling
phrase) such control gives the United States over its major competitor states
in Europe and Asia. And as Noam Chomsky observes, U.S. policymakers' determination
to guarantee and expand American hegemony in the world system through manipulation
of this "critical leverage" goes back to World War II. It would be
no less relevant today if the U.S. enjoyed full energy self-sufficiency.
Many serious analysts (including Chomsky, and the prolific Marxian world system
writers David Harvey and Giovanni Arrighi), and most of the moderately cognizant
world that isn't hopelessly enthralled with and/or beholden to U.S. power understands
quite well that this is what the invasion and occupation of Iraq is about. Speaking
of the administration's war aims in Iraq, Chomsky says it very well: "anyone
with a gray cell functioning knows that [the U.S] invaded to establish control
over Middle Eastern oil more firmly."
The bad news for those who oppose the bloody, illegal, immoral, and dangerous
U.S. occupation of Iraq (most of the human race) is this: the strategic significance
of Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil is so great that a rapid American withdrawal
from that nation and region is practically unimaginable. As Chomsky recently
explained on this website:
"Now let's talk about withdrawal. Take any day's newspapers or journals
and so on. They start by saying the United States aims to bring about a sovereign
democratic independent Iraq. I mean, is that even a remote possibility? Just
consider what the policies would be likely to be of an independent sovereign
Iraq. If it's more or less democratic, it'll have a Shiite majority. They will
naturally want to improve their linkages with Iran, Shiite Iran. Most of the
clerics come from Iran. The Badr Brigade, which basically runs the South, is
trained in Iran. They have close and sensible economic relationships which are
going to increase. So you get an Iraqi/Iran loose alliance. Furthermore, right
across the border in Saudi Arabia, there's a Shiite population which has been
bitterly oppressed bythe U.S.-backed fundamentalist tyranny. And any moves toward
independence in Iraq are surely going to stimulate them, it's already happening.
That happens to be where most of Saudi Arabian oil is. Okay, so you can just
imagine the ultimate nightmare in Washington: a loose Shiite alliance controlling
most of the world's oil, independent of Washington and probably turning toward
the East, where China and others are eager to make relationships with them,
and are already doing it. Is that even conceivable? The U.S. would go to nuclear
war before allowing that, as things now stand." (Noam Chomsky, "There
is no War on Terror,"http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=9533)
All of which brings me to what I think is the actually most truly candid line
in Bush's SOUA. It came when Bush was making the case for not leaving illegally
occupied Iraq in what U.S. Senator Barrack Obama (D-IL) calls "too precipitous"a
fashion. "A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq," Bush
said, "would abandon Iraqis to death and prison, put men like bin-Laden
and Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country, and show that a pledge from America
Now put the propaganda aside for a second and read that sentence again.
Notice anything interesting there? Forget for a moment that the U.S. under both
Bushes and Clinton has imposed unimaginable death and (directly after March
19 2003) prisons on Iraq.
Forget that Iraqi and Middle Eastern people have good reasons to see Uncle
Sam's "freedom" "pledge" as a cynical cover for imperial
domination and criminal assault.
Forget that the Bush administration finds it convenient to use the specter
of Zarqawi and bin-Laden to cover the fact that they also and especially don't
want the nonviolent majority of the Iraqi citizens to be "in charge of
[their own] strategic country," for reasons explained by Chomsky (three
Pull all that (and much more) aside and for a moment and reflect on the fact
that Bush II referred (however briefly and off-handedly) to Iraq as "a
"Strategic," Mr. President? Would you care to elaborate? Do you mean
because it happens to possess the second or ---- in case the title belongs to
that other Middle Eastern country that obsesses U.S. policymakers: Iran -----
third largest known oil reserves in the world?
Gee, but could those petroleum reserves be the basic reason why the president
is so concerned with something he likes to call "freedom" in Iraq?
Of course they could. Of course they are.
Nothing else makes Iraq so damn "strategic" that "we" "had"
to invade and now can't "too precipitously" leave.
But then there's something curious to reflect upon. Ever since the Big Weapons
of Mass Destruction Lie (not taken seriously outside the leading imperial state's
homeland and that of its British junior partner) was belatedly exposed within
the U.S., the Bush administration has actually been asking us to believe that
the "land of freedom's" "leaders" would have occupied Iraq
even if the latter country's only and primary natural resources were rice, chicory,
nutmeg, and/or pineapples.
"Oil war?" That's an "irresponsible" charge, the White
House claimed --- a terrible, even "treasonous" thing to say. The
real purposes of "Operation Iraqi Freedom," they've been telling us
for the last two years, is simply to "end tyranny in the world" and
to move the world's nations "from dictatorship to liberation" (to
use two phrases from the latest SOUA).
Except in so many other places, like, well feudal and arch-repressive Saudi
Arabia, home (by the way) to the world's largest known oil reserves, where "strategic"
petro-imperial considerations have long mandated a deep U.S. partnership with
tyranny and dictatorship.
Reading between the Orwellian lines of the latest SOUA, we can catch an admittedly
small, partial, and fleeting glimpse of truth about the administration's real
mission in Iraq. It's fundamentally oil-related occupation of Mesopotamia is
about "strategic" considerations that have less to do with America's
very real addiction to petroleum than with its "elite" policymakers'
addiction to empire.
Paul Street (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11
(Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004)