Jim Miles: Oil Crusades – Book Review

By Jim Miles
Special to PalestineChronicle.com

Oil Crusades – America Through Arab Eyes. Abdulhay Yahya Zalloum. Pluto Press, London, 2007.

In this informative work, Zalloum presents three main themes. Starting with a quote from an earlier military writer about bankers and governments making the profits and the citizens, but mostly the soldiers, paying the biggest part of the bill, he develops his first theme on the relationship between war and capitalism. The second main theme is that of the American image versus the reality of what actually occurs, developing from his own initial student impressions about a country that still practiced a form of racial apartheid when he first attended college in the U.S. He provides a brief rundown of demographics that support this claim currently, comparing demographic measures of social well being with other countries to support the point.

The third theme is really a subset of the other two, the presentation of ideas and their control, the great corporate media control that is exercised in America mainly by a group of five corporate conglomerates. This theme (as are the other two) is very common in critical literature of American foreign policy and needs to be continually restated because without that understanding, the other two themes will continue through the combination of American domestic ignorance and the still somewhat popular view globally that America is the ultimate destination for those wishing to better themselves in a land of freedom and democracy. Enough of my editorial, to put it back in Zalloum’s words, “Through modern media and communications, American democracy has been manipulated to become a one dollar/one vote, mass media plutocracy.”

Then what of the oil? It is simply the current main market focus to put it in polite terms. That would be fine if it were a relatively benign resource, or more importantly a renewable resource, but it is not and as indicated by Zalloum, oil has already reached its peak production globally (it reached it in the U.S. in 1970 when the U.S. became an importer of oil) and its global supply will start and continue to decline inexorably towards its eventual loss as a useful energy resource. Accompanying this of course are the market demands of hugely consumptive economies (including several of the larger third world economies) and the inevitable conflict that result from attempts to control the supply sources for oil.

These ideas are introduced and well supported in the first chapter, along with the dollar value of extraction (read profits) and, ironically, the “fuel” value of extraction, the latter indicating the enormous consumption – technologically and militarily – of fuel to extract more fuel. All this has, given the foreign policy record of American governments, inevitably led to military intervention in Iraq.

Zalloum introduces the ideas of religions and their importance to the conflict in Iraq as well as the broader conflict with the “war on terror” that is entwined with a war on Islam. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of the Saudis and various other oil regimes, and the transfer of power from Great Britain to the United States is clearly and concisely defined. Iraq early on became a focal point for the control of oil, with plans for probable military control in the works well before the actual war, finally actuated with the Bush government and the empowerment of the ‘neocons’, a group of political theorists promoting pre-emptive military action to support American global prominence through “full spectrum dominance”. The latter became labelled “shock and awe” in the particular case of Iraq.

Two aspects of oil’s dollar value are presented other than its actual market value. First are the manipulations that led to the free floating dollar market not based on gold. This in itself had two major results: first was the stronger development of “finance capitalism” as compared to “productivity capitalism”; and equally important, the dollar being used as the reserve currency for oil purchases globally. With threats from several mid-East countries to switch to a euro market the military option gained more importance in the neocon views. The other major aspect of oil’s dollar value is shown with Zalloum’s interpretation of events that created and continue to support the OPEC cartel – how controlling the price benefits both the Arab countries, but more significantly, how it benefits the major oil corporations. It is shown not so much being one against the other, but ‘with’ the other, as the dollars spent on oil recycle homeward in investments and military purchases.

In the chapter “Crusading for Israel”, Israel receives the longest section in the book. It is not a discussion of the Palestinian problem per se, but a look at the political relationship between United States and Israeli politics. The chapter itself covers three main ideas with the set-up of the Palestinian situation historically being outlined first. The second section examines the often-contradictory positions of American evangelicals and Israeli Zionists in their quest for a united Israel over all of Palestinian territory. The final section looks briefly at the role of Mossad in connection with American activities, and discusses the huge armaments transfers into and out of Israel. These two ideas, of evangelical/political support, and the role of military armaments sales reveals the very close connection between the Israeli government and the American governments – plural, as the Bush regime is simply the latest and strongest pro-Israel proponent of the bunch.

In “Oil and God” Zalloum outlines the many background organizations, centred on the Council of Foreign Relations, that manipulate the global scene away from the purview of the public, hidden from the up-front daily political business of domestic government. Underlying this is the disenfranchisement of the people (the ‘demos’ of democracy), the neocon influence on policy, manipulation of the UN, media control by corporate conglomerates, and a reprise of the idea of military action to control oil.

The final section, “Future Imperfect: Why America Must Change”, looks at the requirements of globalization in terms of security, oil, investment, and people. That leads into a discussion of a new global map and the artificially created schism between Islam and Christianity.

Zalloum has presented a strong compilation of information concerning American foreign policy and its quest for oil in the Middle East. The material is clearly presented and serves as a good starting point for the interested reader to acquire a wide range of useful background information.

The strongest criticism of the work I can make is with the title itself. While the book is a good compendium of information on the stated topic – Oil Crusades – the subtitle “America Through Arab Eyes” is misleading. Except for one citation, that in my ignorance may be an Arab name, there are no actual references from Arab politicians, theorists, or the commons. All the other citations are references to western produced works, which in a strange way indicates that while the media conglomerates dominate the info-market, they do not have full control – and indeed sometimes publish highly critical works for their own reasons (profits if nothing else) – alternate media such as is available on the internet and with small presses can and do have an effective impact on the knowledge available to society. For this latter reason Oil Crusades is another good addition to the library of material available to the interested public.

-Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles.  His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government. 

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