Sunday, October 01, 2006

Follow the money redux

By Nancy Jane Moore

It's all about the oil. And I don't just mean the unnecessary wars and the deals with repressive regimes.

The detainee torture bill is all about oil. Here's how Juan Cole ties it together today on Informed Comment:

Why is the Bush administration so attached to torturing people that it would pressure a supine Congress into raping the US constitution by explicitly permitting some torture techniques and abolishing habeas corpus for certain categories of prisoners?

Boys and girls, it is because torture is what provides evidence for large important networks of terrorists where there aren't really any, or aren't very many, or aren't enough to justify 800 military bases and a $500 billion military budget.
And all those military bases are at strategic places in the Middle East. Cole's analysis comes from a talk by the former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray at the Central Eurasian Studies Society last night. According to Cole, Murray showed how the US distribution of forces ties in with oil reserves:
He explained what is really behind the new "lily pad" doctrine of US bases, [w]hereby the US is seeking to encompass the "Greater Middle East" with small bases, each with 1,000 to 3,000 personnel. In emergencies, these bases could quickly swell to 40,000. Like a lily pad, they can "open up" and accommodate a landing frog. Murray said that the US documents are quite open as to why they are seeking the network of lily pad bases around the Middle East. It is because that is where the oil and gas are. If you include the Caspian region, Tengiz, and the gas reserves in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan along with what is in the Persian Gulf, the vast majority of proven oil and gas reserves are in this circle of crisis.
We wrote about Murray's experiences with the "democratic" government in Uzbekistan back in September in a post that provided links to an earlier oil-related analysis by Cole. Today, Cole explains that torture is key to making this strategy work because it is part of the larger campaign to convince everyone that there really is a huge terror threat:
The Bush administration needs the Terror/ al-Qaeda bogeyman to justify the military occupation of strategic countries that have or are near to major oil and gas reserves. It needs al-Qaeda to justify the lily pad bases in Kyrgyzstan etc.

But the problem is that we now know that serious al-Qaeda is probably only a few hundred men now, and at most a few thousand. Look at who exactly did the London subway bombing. A few guys in a gym in Leeds. That magnitude of threat just would not keep a "War on Terror" in business. The embassy bombings, the Cole, and September 11 itself were done by tiny poorly funded cells that functioned as terror boutiques to accomplish a specific spectacular operation. They don't prove a worldwide, large organization. They prove tiny effective cells. Most of what the Pentagon does and can do is irrelevant to that kind of threat. You'd be better off with some good FBI agents.

So how do you prove to yourself and others a big terror threat that requires a National Security State and turn toward a praetorian society? You torture people into alleging it.
Cole's perspective, informed by Murray's experiences in the region, ties together what otherwise looks like bumbling policy. I always knew that money -- represented by oil in this case -- had to be at the root of the matter. Leaders scream about terrorism and hint at religious wars to inflame the populace, but they go to war for economic reasons.

Under this scenario, it is imperative that the US stay in Iraq -- and I'd even speculate that it doesn't really matter whether the current civil war continues.

Cole's insight tying the detainee torture bill into this big picture is nothing short of brilliant. You won't get this perspective elsewhere -- while The New York Times has come out forcefully against the bill and criticized the Bush foreign policy generally, it has not provided this kind of analysis.

Even The New Yorker hasn't gone this far, though their articles on the shenanigans within the Bush administration have provided the most astute reporting on the US government. Both The Times and The New Yorker have far outshone The Washington Post, which today has a magazine analysis piece on how Colin Powell "fell on his sword" to do the administration's work even though he knew they were wrong. As this story demonstrates, The Post has confined itself to reporting on the political angle -- useful from a Washington-insider point of view, but not the whole story, or even the real story.

While many activists on the left have assumed that oil somehow underlies the Iraq War, the analysis has been pretty superficial. That is, we all knew oil was involved somehow, but the whole picture never quite made sense. And there were so many different issues here for the left to jump on: the use of September 11 to justify invading Iraq; the insults to Muslims; the assault on our civil liberties.

No one but Cole has tied the aggregation of executive power -- we might as well not have a Congress and as former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor points out, the current war on judges could spell doom for the judicial branch -- the destruction of US civil liberties, the willingness to flout the Geneva Conventions and other international agreements, and the "Global War on Terror" to the big picture of making the world safe for Big Oil.

We're not giving up our civil liberties for safety; we're giving them up for oil company profit.

You might also say we're giving up our civil liberties for energy. I fear many Americans are willing to give up their rights to free speech and due process in exchange for their rights to McMansions and SUVs. If your conception of freedom is the ability to buy whatever you want, maybe it looks like a good trade.

But consider this: Big Oil is international. Right now it's tied to the US, because we're the biggest energy consumer and many big companies are headquartered here. But they don't have to be.

One reason -- from the point of view of energy greed -- to make sure the US controls Middle East oil is to keep the Chinese from doing the same thing. Only I can't see any reason why Big Oil won't make deals with the Chinese, too. China is also a huge energy consumer and their need for oil is growing by leaps and bounds, as is their economy. Big Oil is not tied to any one country; they're tied to making money.

That is, we can sell our soul for our SUVs and still end up with nothing. That's the trouble with selling your soul; you rarely get a very good price.


Anonymous said...

Back in May/06, I posted the "Ammo box" comment.

A few days later, you posted in a vein of optimism, mentioning my remark; I saw your reply, but remained convinced of my outlook.

With the recent legislation allowing torture, eliminating haebus corpus, removing the right to counsel, I thought I'd take a moment to note that my pessimism seems ever more justified; sometimes hope is simply denial.


Nancy Jane Moore said...

I'm feeling pretty pessimistic myself today, Ben. But both hope and despair can be forms of denial.

Rafael said...

It is good to know that there is some hope for Kansas. Yes, dark days are coming, question is, who will step up to keep the flame alive?

Anonymous said...

It's all part of our greater American Empire Nancy. I would recommend that you check out the "Why We Fight" documentary or review some of Chalmers Johnson's books (Blowback or Sorrows of Empire,)

Jamie Lynk, Sarasota FL said...

What Juan Cole wrote is powerful and your blog comments are great. Just wait -- it'll be just like it was with Big Tobacco...until Big Tobacco got a big chunk of their money into other stuff like Kraft & Coco Cola, nobody really got serious about tobacco causing cancer -- And, until Big Oil gets invested in other stuff (probably alternate forms of energy) nobody's going to do much about Big Oil.