Iraq: Big oil and the war (yeah, our kids are dying for Exxon)
1. The Complicity of Congress in a Criminal War
By Richard W. Behan
The US Congress has gone beyond compliance with George Bush’s illegal war, and is now technically an accomplice-it is assisting with full knowledge in the perpetration of a crime. Congress has attained this status through two grave errors, one of omission and one of commission.
The Error of Commission
The Iraq Accountability Act passed the House as H.R. 1591 and slightly differently as S. 965 in the Senate. The versions await reconciliation in conference committee. Both bills set deadlines for troop withdrawal, both appropriate the money the President requested for prosecuting his war, and both require the Iraqi Parliament to pass its “hydrocarbon law,” to enable the sharing of oil revenues among the Iraqi people.
Revenue sharing surfaced publicly when President Bush announced his troop surge initiative on January 10. It was one in a series of mandatory “benchmarks” he established for the Iraqi government to meet. “To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy,” Mr. Bush said, “Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.” On the surface that is a benign, compassionate thing to do for a war-torn people.
As usual, it seems, Mr. Bush was consciously deceiving us. He failed to tell us the whole truth. The Iraqi hydrocarbon law also privatizes 81% of Iraq’s currently nationalized petroleum resources, opening them to “investment” by Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, and two British oil companies, BP/Amoco and Royal Dutch/Shell. (For further details, see Joshua Holland, “ Bush’s Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq’s Oi l.”) These companies expect to sign the rarely used and notoriously profitable contracts called “production sharing agreements” which guarantee them extraordinarily high profit margins: they might capture more than half of the oil revenues for the first 15-30 years of the contracts’ lifespan, and deny Iraq any income at all until their infrastructure “investments” have been recovered.
So the Iraqi people will share among themselves all the revenue from 1/5th of their country’s oil reserves. But they will get only a fraction from the remaining 4/5ths, where the American and British oil companies expect to generate immense profits. (Read more in Crude Designs , Greg Muttitt, ed., a report by the UK’s Platform Group.)
This outcome has been on the Bush Administration’s agenda since it took office in 2001, and it is the reason we went to war. (For substantiation, see http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/47489/?comments=view&cID=516389&pID=516158 . See also The State of War , by James Risen, Bob Woodward’s State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III , and The Greatest Story Ever Sold , by Frank Rich. )
The broad contours of oilfield privatization and the use of production sharing agreements (PSA’s ) were shaped five years ago in George Bush’s State Department, part of a policy-development project called “The Future of Iraq.” This was a year before the invasion. Afterward, Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority embedded privatization and PSA’s into the emerging structures of Iraqi governance, aided by the intense lobbying in Baghdad by the four oil companies. The hydrocarbon law, written originally in English, was eventually translated into Arabic and formally confirmed by Prime Minister Maliki’s cabinet early in 2007. It awaits passage now by the Iraqi Parliament, few members of which know much of its content and virtually none of whom were involved in writing it.
President Bush, then, is commanding the Iraqi Parliament to enact a law that was drafted first in President Bush’s State Department. It requires Iraq to engineer the foreign capture of its own oil.
And Congress has agreed to this. That is complicity.
Was Congress ignorant of the consequences of the deceitful “benchmark?” No. Representative Dennis Kucinich offered an amendment to eliminate it from H.R. 1591. In a letter to his Democratic colleagues, Mr. Kucinich said, “By…requiring the enactment of this law by the Iraqi government, Democrats will be instrumental in privatizing Iraqi oil.”
And so they were. With Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, the benchmark survived-essentially a prescription for theft.
The theft, however, is unlikely to take place. The war is at the point of stasis; privatizing the oil is in peril, because passage of the hydrocarbon law is increasingly remote. The law is a metaphor for the heinous sectarian strife which George Bush’s invasion unleashed, and is now shattering the country and its culture. If the Iraqi minorities cannot agree to stop killing each other, they are unlikely to agree on the disposition of their country’s crude oil. But the recognition of Bush’s thievery is growing in Iraq every day, and if the minorities can agree on anything at all, they will see their common advantage in assuring the hydrocarbon law is stillborn. There is talk of that now.
For Congress to abet an illegal war that cannot succeed is not only criminal, but bewildering in the extreme. There is no visible rationale for remaining in Iraq.
The Error of Omission
Invading Iraq was a textbook example of “the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of another state.” That is the formal United Nations definition of military aggression, and a nation can choose to launch it only in self-defense. Otherwise it is an international crime.
The Bush Administration justified the invasion explicitly in terms of self defense. They linked Saddam Hussein directly to the terrorism of 9/11 and suggested further strikes were a near-certainty. Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Ms. Rice, and Mr. Rumsfeld told us Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, the means to deliver them, and the motivation to do so. They said the evidence was irrefutable.
But the evidence was refuted and refuted again. Nothing they said was true.
President Bush’s most egregious lie was not about weapons of mass destruction. It was his lie about the war’s purpose. He told us it was about security at home and spreading democracy in the Middle East: it was a “war on terrorism.”
That has been refuted repeatedly as well. The war was about oil, and here is how it began.
Six months before 9/11 Vice President Cheney’s Energy Task Force was scrutinizing maps of the Iraqi oilfields and documents about its nationalized industry. (See them at http://www.judicialwatch.org/iraqi-oil-maps.shtml .)
The Task Force concluded the Persian Gulf would be the “focus” of US international energy policy.
At about the same time, the National Security Council gave clarity to the word “focus.” At its very first meeting, the NSC shelved the long-standing priority for Middle East foreign policy-settling the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The Council would henceforth attend to the invasion of Iraq instead. “Focus” was defined. The ends were the Iraqi oilfields; the means would be war. (The relevant books to see here are Ron Susskind’s The Price of Loyalty , Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror , and Elizabeth de la Vega’s detailed history and formal indictment in U.S. v. Bush .)
The collapse of the Trade Towers six months later gave the Bush Administration an appalling alibi to proceed with the planned invasion. Richard Clarke’s book explains the determination of President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld to attack Iraq directly and immediately. But the route would go through Afghanistan first, and a “war on terror” theme became the ingenious deception, to disguise the eventual seizure of Iraqi oil.
The success of the deception can be measured today by the infrequency of encountering the truth. The “war on terror” is still the unwavering story George Bush and Dick Cheney tell, in a campaign of propaganda to demonize “radical Islam.” (Cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda .) In conduct and effectiveness what they do is strikingly parallel to the program Joseph Goebbels pursued in Nazi Germany, to demonize Judaism. (For more parallels between the Bush and Nazi regimes see “ How Will History Treat George Bush? “. The “terrorism” story continues to resonate with most of the Republicans in Congress, not a few Democrats, and a great many American people who have yet to encounter-or admit-the truth.
The mainstream press has been derelict in its unwillingness to challenge the propaganda. The literature exposing the truth elsewhere, however, is truly voluminous and rigorously persuasive, both in contemporary books and in the endless informational resources of the Internet. The sources span the political spectrum. One of the most damning books is Crude Politics: How Bush’s Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism. It was written with intelligence and understated outrage by Paul Sperry, whose politics are far to the right of center.
Congress is aware of the first small lie about Saddam Hussein’s terrifying weaponry and savage antipathy. But it seems unable to acknowledge the far more significant lie about the war’s purpose, and fails even to conduct a serious inquiry into it. This serious error of omission allows the criminal war to continue unchecked.
Congress meanwhile addresses the summary dismissal of 8 US attorneys, casually ignoring the greatest Presidential malfeasance in our history.
The US Congress is surrounded by a mountain of evidence of impeachable offenses, but insists “impeachment is off the table.” To citizens recalling their high school classes in civics and U.S. History, that is intolerable. It seems to violate the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution every member of Congress has taken.
The Congress has three compelling and immediate opportunities to expiate its disappointing behavior. Striking the revenue-sharing “benchmark” entirely from the Iraq Accountability Act. Mandating immediately the early, prudent, and orderly withdrawal of American troops from a criminal and unwinnable war. Then impeachment.
(Richard W. Behan lives and writes on Lopez Island, off the northwest coast of Washington state. He is working on his next book, To Provide Against Invasions: Corporate Dominion and America’s Derelict Democracy. He can be reached at email@example.com . This essay is deliberately not copyrighted: it may be reproduced without restriction.)
2. Big Oil’s Vendetta Against the Electric Car
by Johann Hari/ The lndependent/UK
Somewhere out there, in the dusty basements of the Chevron-Texaco corporate headquarters, there is a technology that can - in one swoop - slash global warming emissions, save millions of people from respiratory illnesses, and stop us trashing the Middle East to seize its oil. Yet it is being deliberately left to rot, in the hope we will all forget about it.This sounds like the plot to a bad retro-episode of the X-Files, but an award-winning documentary released this week on DVD in Britain reminds us this technology is real and it is still there, waiting to save us. The film is called ‘ Who Killed the Electric Car? ‘
Its story begins in the smogged-out state of California in the early 1990s. The people of the Sunshine State were waking up with a cough to a crisis: one-quarter of all 18-25 year olds in LA County had severe lung lesions or chronic respiratory diseases caused by air pollution. The state government realized they had to act - so they seized on news of a dramatic new technology.
General Motors (GM) had developed a prototype of an electric car with swelling consumer potential. It was a sleek, silver car that could drive at the same speed as a fossil-fueled hunk of metal - only with no exhaust fumes and no carbon emissions. You simply plugged it in at night, like a mobile phone, and drove off in the morning. The electricity costs the equivalent of 30p for a gallon’s worth of travel, as opposed to the £4 Brits pay at the petrol pump.
But GM seemed reluctant to push this extraordinary product onto the consumer market. So the California State Senate decided to give them a nudge. They passed a law that said if you want to sell cars for California’s roads, a proportion of them have to be electric cars: 2 percent in 1998, 5 percent in 2001, and 10 percent in 2003.
The state senators envisaged a day when electric cars would turn the old fossil fuel beasts into relics. They argued that since it took a law to get seatbelts, airbags and catalytic converters into cars, we also need a law to get toxic fumes and surplus global warming gases out of the atmosphere.
The car companies were immediately and irreparably enraged. They began a two-pronged strategy: the most grudging and stuttering possible compliance with the law, while lobbying fiercely alongside Big Oil to have the law scrapped.
The first electric cars appeared on California’s roads nonetheless, and a slew of celebrities like Tom Hanks, Ted Danson and Mel Gibson snapped them up and plugged them at every opportunity.
But the people working on selling the electric cars noted something odd: GM was deliberately underselling them. Chelsea Sexton, one of the company’s electric car specialists, explains that the team had to fill in vast questionnaires for every customer, only for most to be inexplicably rejected: “I had to fill in a resume for Mel Gibson listing his accomplishments and achievements, because they said he didn’t warrant a car.”
Instead of marketing them with sexy women draped over the cars, GM’s ads had odd opaque graphics and the voice of an elderly woman. Big Oil speedily joined this anti-advertising campaign. Exxon-Mobil followed its standard operating practice of setting up fake consumer groups to spread disinformation about the products, saying they were bad for the environment.
This corporate coalition finally succeeded in repealing the law - and GM immediately called in all their electric cars and sent them to the scrap heap. The drivers offered over $1.9m to keep the last remaining models - but the company preferred to destroy them. A bemused Sexton says, “There’s no precedent for a car company rounding up every particular kind of car and crushing them, as if they’re afraid one will get away.”
Their campaign almost complete, Chevron-Texaco came in with a final blow. The biggest drawback to the electric car had been its limited range: one charge lasted around 60 miles, then the car stopped. So the distinguished engineer Stan Ovshinsky created a battery that could run up to 300 miles at 70mph on a single charge - enough to get from London to Scotland, and make the car extremely popular. The oil companies bought the technology. It has not been seen since.
Why? Why would a string of corporations turn down cash and scrap a potentially extremely profitable technology? Isn’t that contrary to everything we are taught about how market economies work?
The oil companies had an obvious interest in stopping an alternative to fossil fuels. There is $100 trillion of oil left in the earth, and they plan to mine it - even if doing so will make the planet uninhabitable. Anything that could divert that cash away from them is a threat to be crushed.
But why did the car companies collaborate? Electric cars have no combustion engine - and it is in maintaining and replacing those engines that makes up a hefty chunk of Detroit’s profits. A transition to batteries, which require little maintenance, would be a disaster for their balance sheets.
Besides, marketing clean electric cars would mean admitting that their core product is dirty. Tom Everhart served on the board of GM for more than a decade, and he explains how the conversation about the electric car went there: “We said that [using the electric car] we can meet the zero emissions requirements. Then we said, ‘Do we want to show we can meet them? That means all our other cars…’”
Thatcho-Reaganites are always lecturing about how unregulated markets are the best way to stimulate innovation. The story of the electric car is a parable about how, to the contrary, unregulated markets often quickly descend into a corporate oligopoly that smothers new technologies in their cot. Only tough, democratic regulations - which they mock as ‘red tape’ - keeps markets from devouring themselves. The California government’s regulations spurred innovation, until they were scrapped.
Out here in the smog, we have never needed the electric car more. The Royal Commission of Environmental Pollution warned this week that the air pollution in London is now as damaging as the low-level radiation Chernobyl survivors were exposed to, knocking an average of eight months off your life. The daily carnage in Iraq is the result of our burning thirst for oil. And more important still, global warming is acting like a slow-mo carbon bomb dropped on the planet, destabilizing the climate in ways we cannot control and cannot predict.
But however much we cry for it, the electric car will remain moth-balled in the vaults of Chevron-Texaco - until we change our economic system to put the needs of people before the unhindered, unhinged preservation of profits.