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Commentary :: War and Militarism
Don't Blame Me, I Voted For McCain...
07 Aug 2009
The recent announcement by the government of Iraq that they were putting the drilling rights for six major oilfields up for auction was greeted with derision in many quarters. Sarcastic forum posts entitled 'Mission Accomplished' sprang up on many progressive websites on the assumption that the oil industry had finally gotten what they came for. But a closer look at the details reveals a very different picture.
Iraqi police officers protecting oil installations secure an oil pipeline.
Patrick Cockburn, writing for Counterpunch, points out that the final contract gives the oil companies only two dollars per barrel, and that is only for oil produced above the minimum level. This is hardly what the industry had in mind when the occupation began. Greg Palast's 2006 book, Armed Madhouse, exposed a bitter internecine dispute between then-President Bush's neocon advisers and lobbyists for Big Oil. The neocons, clinging to their free market ideology, proposed to split Iraq's oil fields into small plots and auction them off to the highest bidder. The idea was to drive down the price of oil, break OPEC, and curtail the independence of large oil producers such as Saudi Arabia and Russia. The oil barons were not amused. If the price of oil plummeted their profits would go down with it. They used all their political influence to bury the neocons' plan and instead institute a state-owned oil monopoly that could be easily controlled by US interests.

Big Oil won that fight, but it didn't help them in the long run. In early 2004, Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for massive protests from his followers to demand free elections. The US, already pushed to the limit by the Sunni armed resistance, had little choice but to comply. The result was an Iraqi government with just enough popular support to claim legitimacy. The occupation was strengthened militarily by its alliance with the new government, but weakened politically because Iraqi politicians could not afford to be seen as US puppets. Thus Bush's "oil law," a proposed piece of legislation designed to secure the bulk of Iraq's oil revenue for Western corporations, never had a chance. Bush proclaimed the oil law to be a key goal of the occupation and put enormous public pressure on the Iraqi government to pass it. They refused, and the Obama administration has scarcely mentioned the matter. The oil industry is therefore now facing the exact situation they didn't want: an enormous reservoir of easily accessible oil that they don't control, even as their own reserves dwindle. As worldwide oil supplies shrink and become harder to extract, Iraq will increasingly be in a position to dictate oil prices to the West while keeping most of the profits.

Under the circumstances, President Obama could have been forgiven - by geopolitical strategists, if not the Iraqi people - for declaring victory and coming home. But of course the 'coming home' part didn't happen. Instead, Obama abandoned the oil law and left ExxonMobil and company to their fate in order to expand the occupation of Afghanistan, a country with no oil at all. Why? Well, just because the oil industry got screwed is no reason for the defense industry to get screwed, too. They are spending a small fraction of their gargantuan profits on buying politicians precisely to ensure that war, any war, continues for as long as possible. Winning and losing, national advantage, and, of course, basic morality, mean nothing to the likes of Lockheed and General Dynamics as long as the money keeps rolling in.

The above maneuver demonstrates the value of the Democratic Party to the ruling class. After eight years of vociferously tying their fortunes to success in Iraq, no Republican administration could have gotten away with suddenly proclaiming Afghanistan to be the 'good war.' If the Republicans had managed to steal their third consecutive election, a McCain/Palin administration, helplessly entangled in Bush's coattails, would by now be watching their approval rating approach single digits. Obama, on the other hand, by virtue of his image as a reformer, can maintain support for the war with lies that would get a Republican president laughed out of Washington.

Short of electing McCain, the only thing that could potentially have prevented the end run into Afghanistan is a functioning anti-war movement. A sufficiently vocal and effective resistance effort might well have convinced Obama that the political cost of continuing the wars was too great. Sadly, that's not the kind of antiwar movement we have. Instead we have a relative handful of liberals whose idea of war resistance is strolling in the sunshine carrying signs once or twice a year. The bulk of their effort is spent excluding, co-opting and otherwise neutralizing any person or group that advocates militant direct action. As a result the wars will probably only be ended by indigenous resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan combined with economic collapse at home.

This article originally appeared in the BAAM #24 Newsletter.

This work is in the public domain.
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