How Did Our Oil Get Under Their Sand?

by Paul Donahue

July 2003

Oil is our civilization and we will never permit any demon to sit over it. - then-US Secretary of State James Baker speaking to India's foreign minister in 1990.

At least for now, the worst of the fighting and killing in Iraq seems to be behind us. And, as predicted by many, the US has assumed control of Iraqi oil production and distribution. At a massive cost to the Iraqi citizenry and infrastructure, the archives of human history, American taxpayers, our credibility around the globe, the credibility of the United Nations, and our relationships with our allies, the US has effectively gained control of between 11% and 25% of the world's supply of oil. So, as it becomes more clear by the day that George Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz and others in the Oilygarchy lied to Congress, the United Nations, and the American people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and Saddam Hussein's connections with al-Quaeda, more and more Americans are forced to face the ugly truth about their government. But are the hawks in the Bush-Cheney Oilygarchy the only ones to blame for the war?

While it is a safe assumption that most Greens were opposed to a war against Iraq from the outset and believed that representatives of the Bush-Cheney Oilygarchy were lying to us about the justifications for a pre-emptive war, unfortunately, the same can not be said of Americans as a the whole. Even among those opposed to the war all along, there are still many who do not grasp the importance of the oil connection.

How can that be? With the road signs leading to this war being so large and clear, how could so many Americans be fooled into believing that a war against Iraq would be about WMDs and fighting terrorism and not simply about oil and imperialism?

To briefly touch on a few of the many big clues that the war was about oil -

Of course, the biggest hint that oil was a major underlying factor in the invasion of Iraq is our US lifestyle, and herein, I believe, lies the key to the widespread denial practiced by so many Americans. We simply do not want to believe that our US lifestyle could lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis. However, it is a reality we have to face.

Summing up the situation is a statement in Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century, the report of an independent task force sponsored by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University and the Council on Foreign Relations, and submitted to Vice-President Cheney in April 2001

"…the American people continue to demand plentiful and cheap energy without sacrifice or inconvenience…"

The US leads the world in oil consumption, accounting for about 25% of the world total. In 2002 the US consumed nearly 20 million barrels of oil per day, or almost three gallons per person per day, twice as high as the consumption rate in Europe. About 60% of that oil came from imports, with 13% of it coming from the Persian/Arabian Gulf States. At the beginning of January 2003 the US Dept. of Energy announced that by 2025 oil imports will account for perhaps 70% of US domestic oil use. That could mean imports of 17 million barrels per day.

Due to our inconceivably short-sighted national energy policy, oil has come to occupy a role in our lives and our society that is topped in importance only by oxygen, water, and food. It heats and lights our homes, schools, offices and factories. It powers our industry, and runs our transportation systems. In its reincarnation as plastic, it has been molded into what at times seems like 90% of the material goods we produce and use, supplanting metals, wood and glass. As I sit here at my desk, typing on a plastic keyboard, in front of a plastic computer monitor casing, I can quickly glance around my office and easily see a hundred or more items made of plastic or incorporating plastic bits. With most of my paper now being recycled, even the discarded material in my plastic waste basket these days seems to be principally composed of unrecyclable plastics. In short, if the flow of oil suddenly stopped tomorrow, so would life in the United States as we know it. So, on the list of resources worth fighting for, oil is pretty close to the top.

However, when it comes to energy issues in general, and oil issues, in particular, many Americans seem disconnected. Many never understood the oil connection with the first Gulf War, despite Bush I publicly stating as much in the beginning. Many more have not yet grasped the oil connection with Afghanistan, despite the fact that we have been bombing and killing there for over a year and a half, with the oil pipeline now under construction. And now many of us are still missing the critical oil connection with Iraq. We just do not seem capable of comprehending the absolutely critical role that oil plays in our foreign policy decisions.

One reason we don't seem to be able to come to terms with the crucial oil connection is because, absurd as it might seem, gasoline is actually cheaper than bottled water! While Germans are paying about $4.00 US per gallon for gasoline, here in Machias, Maine (as of mid July 2003) "regular" grade gasoline is selling at the pump for about $1.56 to $1.61 a gallon. At the same time, the supermarket in Machias is selling Evian brand bottled water for $5.68 a gallon and Perrier brand bottled water for $6.60 a gallon - more than 4 times as much as gasoline!

How can water, which is simply filtered and poured into bottles, cost 4 times as much as oil? (If oil is "black gold", what should we call bottled water?) In contrast, the sticky black liquid is pumped up from below ground, at great expense, in some foreign land that is left polluted and contaminated by the oil operations. As likely as not, indigenous people have been displaced in the process. The crude oil may then have to travel along a pipeline that was very expensive to construct, and which caused the displacement of more indigenous peoples as well as more environmental damage. The crude oil is then transported at further expense across the oceans in oil tankers that regularly cause devastating oil spills, fouling coastlines and destroying fishing grounds. Next, it is refined in some huge petrochemical plant that pollutes the air and causes cancers in the local population. Finally, it is transported yet again at great expense by more tankers and trucks before finally arriving at some gasoline vending machine near you. And if all that is not enough, the burning of oil causes another set of serious environmental and health problems - global warming, air pollution, acid rain, asthma, etc. Yet it is less expensive to buy than bottled water?!

One reason that gasoline is so cheap is because we subsidize the oil industry to the tune of $86 billion a year. It is the most subsidized, most profitable and yet least taxed industry in the world. That $86 billion does not even include the immense cost of maintaining the massive military machine required to defend our access to large reserves of oil.

So, if we are looking for someone to blame for the death of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens, there is plenty of blame to go around. Certainly blame Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz and their friends. The members of the Bush-Cheney Oilygarchy deserve impeachment for their mendacity and illegal actions. However, we then need to start looking around closer to home. We need to examine our own lifestyles and consider the impact they have on peoples and natural habitats around the globe.

We all played a critical role in the Iraq war as it is our extremely consumptive and wasteful lifestyle that drives the search for oil profits. Until we come to terms with that and begin to make significant changes in the American lifestyle, we can expect more oil wars to come.