Fueling imperialism

Review of
It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet
By Linda McQuaig
Doubleday Canada
Hardcover, 368 pages
August 2004
Price: $35.95
ISBN: 0-385-66010-3

LINDA MCQUAIG'S LATEST BOOK is in the style of her previous books: packed with relevant history, informative, and penetrating. The cover features a blurb by the noted US foreign policy critic Noam Chomsky who lauds "McQuaig's perceptive inquiry into the world's energy system [that] strips away layer after layer of deceit, cynicism, racism, sordid manipulation, violence and aggression." The book doesn't disappoint.

The book opens with an "almost obscene map" circulated among US President George W. Bush's administration officials and Vice-president Dick Cheney's energy task force prior to 9-11. It was obtained under court order and displays Iraq's oil assets. The obvious implication is that Iraq's oil wealth was targeted before 9-11.

McQuaig's thesis is that the thirst for oil, driven by corporate cupidity, has poised the planet on the edge of a precipice. Indeed, this past 25 January, The Independent reported an international task force's finding that that "in as little as 10 years, or even less, the point of no return with global warming may have been reached."

Still the world remains addicted to oil. Yet, the "problem" of dwindling oil reserves and increasing demand, according to McQuaig, is "surprising solvable."

Big Oil fears what a lessening of the world's dependence on "fossil fuels" will mean to the corporate bottom line. McQuaig ostensibly subscribes to the conventional view of oil as being derived from the long-ago decomposition of biological organisms. There is an alternative view, however. American scientist Thomas Gold propounded an abiogenic theory of hydrocarbon formation in his The Deep Hot Biosphere, whereby chemical reactions deep in the bowels of the earth produce hydrocarbons that rise up through pores in the earth. The biological signature in oil is hypothesized to be from hydrocarbon-feeding microbes. Gold's theory is supported by the results of a well drilled deep into non-sedimentary strata in Sweden, which resulted in 84 barrels of oil: a scientific but not a commercial success.

Imperialist perspectives

McQuaig outlines how the neoconservative agenda to attack Iraq preceded 9-11, which provided a risible pretext to grab the "low-hanging fruit" of readily accessible oil.

Curiously, McQuaig descends into tendentious, imperialist narrative, as when she writes "to trace the role that U.S. intervention in the region seems to have inadvertently played in the rise of a virulent anti-American terrorist movement." The US is portrayed as a blundering intervener. Although it has a major hand in maintaining the dictatorships in the Middle East (acknowledged by McQuaig), in supporting the ethnic cleansing and state terrorism of the Zionist regime in Israel, and in aggressing on knowingly false pretext a violence-ravaged Iraq, the US gets off comparatively lightly.

Why does McQuaig use the loaded term "anti-Americanism" instead of "anti-imperialism"? The terms "anti-Arabism" and "anti-Islam" do not appear in McQuaig's book. Clearly Arabs are not monolithically anti-American as demonstrated by the many Arab students who once sought to study in the US. Chomsky addressed this topic in a ZNet forum.

What is "anti-Americanism"? If it is opposition to murderous and destructive US policies, should we prevent its rise? Or should we deal with the reasons -- which means departing from the advice? If we want to understand the sources of what is mislabeled "anti-Americanism" -- that is, opposition to specific US policies -- should we follow the advice and refuse to investigate the topic, inquiring into those policies and what they led to?

McQuaig also notes that Muslim "fundamentalist activism only turned to terrorism after 1991" Religious fundamentalism isn't confined to Islam, but McQuaig doesn't delve into the connection between terrorism and branches of Judaism and Christianity. Chomsky has remarked on the pervasiveness of fundamentalist Christianity in the US. Furthermore, Chomsky has also denounced the violence of US terrorism on many occasions.

As McQuaig does so effectively in other books, she details the relevant history and links it to today's events. She details how the anti-competitive merger of massive oil concerns became concentrated into the hands of a cruel tycoon like John D. Rockefeller. The Rockefeller Oil Trust ruthlessly destroyed oil competitors through an illicit pact with the railways and became the Standard Oil Company. The Standard Oil Company was eventually broken up, leaving the Rockefellers with a sizeable Exxon chunk.

In September 1928, a meeting among the heads of the top three oil companies -- Shell, BP, and Exxon -- took place at Achnacarry Castle in Scotland. The oil giants set up an elaborate world-scale non-competition agreement. Later Texaco, Gulf, Mobil, and Atlantic rounded out the so-called Seven Sisters in the arrangement.

US peak oil occurred in 1970. The US oil giants turned to the resource-rich Middle East. Exploitation was the norm as the citizens of oil-rich nations saw little of the profit from their resources. Big Oil controlled the production rates and kept home-country royalties low.

Even Canada (the largest hydrocarbon exporter to the US) receives miniscule royalties from its oil. McQuaig notes that if the oil-rich province of Alberta had had in place a royalty scheme like Norway's, it would have added $50 billion more to the provincial treasury. Instead this money was siphoned down to Texas.

In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) committed Canada to maintain resource exports to the US. It marked the fruition of the aims of the 1970 Schultz Report on the importation of oil to the US. Researchers Robert Davis and Mark Zannis noted the US oil concerns: "'Canadian oil is almost as secure' as U.S. oil, but can only be fully secure if binding continental energy agreements are enacted. 'Security,' is bound not only to strictly military matters; but also involves the ability to totally dominate countries who possess the desired energy resources."

This was reflected in the comments of Brice O'Brian, President of the US National Coal Association, to the US Senate in May 1971: "our Government considers Canada our own for energy purposes."

Nonetheless, some countries fought back by obtaining higher royalties, nationalizing oil production, and forming the oil cartel Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to seize back control of natural resources from the foreign oil corporations. Nationalization was violently opposed by the oil giants and precipitated a US-engineered coup in Iran which deposed the democratic government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and installed the US-friendly but brutal Shah dictatorship.

CIA complicity is also suspected in the Ba'athist usurpation of power in Iraq following nationalization of the oil industry.

Saving humanity from capitalism-imperialism

Nationalization is anathema to neoliberalism, for which privatization is a mantra. Indeed, the US government-appointed representatives in Iraq hurriedly and illegally privatized Iraqi assets, except for the oil, so far. The oil-connected Bush administration has opened the floodgates for oil-connected US firms, which are reaping windfall profits from the obliteration of a country.

Ownership of oil is not paramount though, control is. Herein lies the importance of the Iraqi oil prize that served as the primary trigger for the aggression of Iraq.

McQuaig wrote of Washington's support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War "despite the knowledge that Saddam was using chemical weapons in the conflict" and that this support for Saddam was revoked "after Iraq emerged victorious from its war against Iran." According to Stephen Pelletiere, then a CIA senior policy analyst on the Iran-Iraq war, the use of poison gas was not confined to one side. Also, McQuaig's contention that Iraq was the victor in the war is debatable.

McQuaig recognizes Arab grievances and Osama bin Laden's "sense of humiliation derived from decades of foreign domination." McQuaig considers this "sense of humiliation" as connected to the lack of control over Arab oil resources. Franklin D. Roosevelt-era American imperialists struck a deal with the House of Saud to protect private US interests and provide protection for the Saudi Arabian elites. The House of Saud's complicity with US interests has drawn the ire of bin Laden. McQuaig speculates that without US protection, the House of Saud would likeliest have seen its demise.

Vladimir Lenin held that the ultimate expression of capitalism was imperialism. While sometimes contradictory and not always explicit, western imperialism is a thread that runs throughout McQuaig's book. She laments: "The one thing that is never considered is changing America's behaviour."

McQuaig's proffered solution envisions the diminishment of corporate dominance and the alteration of the western consumer's behavior. These actions are seen as crucial to removing the ominous specter of global warming from humanity's midst. It is unfettered capitalism that has spawned the lust to control oil and placed the planet at peril. Since capitalism fuels global warming and manipulates the citizenry of the world, it is, therefore, necessary to tackle capitalism.

A revolution is required to save humanity and Earth.

*Kim Petersen is a freelance writer and political affairs analyst resident in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He may be reached at kimpete@start.no

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