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Addicted to Empire, Not Middle Eastern Oil

Posted in the database on Wednesday, February 08th, 2006 @ 19:45:41 MST (1123 views)
by Paul Street    ZNet  

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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."

"Tax relief."

"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 soon.

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 means little."

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 paragraphs above).

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 country."

"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 (pstreet@niu.edu) is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004)

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