Jim Miles Reviews: War, Big Oil and Fight for the Planet

It’s the Crude, Dude – War, Big Oil, and the Fight For the Planet.  Linda McQuaig. Anchor Canada (Random House).  2006.

Reviewed by Jim Miles
Special to PalestineChronicle.com

Originally published in 2004, this revised and updated story of oil, war, politics, the media, and big business is still very relevant today.  Linda McQuaig’s writing style is highly engaging as she uses a witty intelligence to juxtapose various ideas and criticize and confront different speakers for the cause of oil, power, and money. The account is readily accessible and understandable to any reader wanting to know more about the story of how oil has shaped everything from global warming, commercial interactions with Japan, the growth of the SUV industry, and, above all, the war in Iraq and the need to control oil. 

Two main themes accompany her wanderings from the world of business, through government to the military.  First is that of media compliance, complacency, and denial through ignoring information within the overall western perspective, leading to a general public ignorance and manipulation concerning the global agenda of the oil business and the U.S. government. McQuaig is continually surprised at what the media did not pick up on, choosing those items that supported their corporate owners and ignoring much of what contradicted it. 

The war in Iraq was covered in “a curiously upbeat manner,” with TV stations all having their own “in house military experts with coloured pens tracing troop movements like weathermen …or sportscasters.” The media “barely mentioned the fact that Iraq was bountifully endowed with oil,” and while the war was supposedly about WMDs and tyrannical dictators, “setting oil fields on fire would be punished as a war crime.” A different kind of bias was directed at Hugo Chavez, described as a “strongman” (a mild term at that compared to some McQuaig could have quoted), presented to millions of CNN watchers as “simply a dictator, a mini-Saddam.” This of course denies his true democratic successes in two elections and a nation wide referendum (Bush should be so lucky on a referendum on Iraq, and the first election is not without its manipulations).

The media criticism extends to commentators who “trust the motives of those in the White House”. While modern economic theory, as supported by the politicians in the White House, is “primarily motivated by material self-interest”, their rhetoric looks “for higher ideals like world peace, democracy and liberating people from oppression.” Yet before Iraq, oil and its control were openly stated geopolitical strategies, no conspiracy necessary. The media were “complicit in the reckless rush to war, having failed to raise questions to challenge the administration’s case [along with the Democrats].” As for the Niger uranium deal, “there was virtually no media questioning of the forgery” of the documents, and along with other prewar intelligence twists, by 2005 the issue “had been officially put to rest, with barely a protest in the mainstream media.” 

While the media “kept their focus trained on Saddam and his weaponry,” the focus in the Pentagon was on “putting out oil fires during the invasion and getting Iraq’s oil flowing after the fighting stopped.” Once the idea of WMDs and al-Queda connections had been discredited, “the media helped smooth the transition by shifting its focus onto…democracy…whether Islam was inherently undemocratic…The word ‘oil’ remained unmentioned and unmentionable.”  I could continue on with McQuaig’s comments concerning the media, but that in a way would rewrite the book.  Suffice to say that western media, once considered the Fourth Estate and a power of advocacy unto itself, has now given up its voice to its corporate and political owners and has become one of the manipulative aspects of our current political and economic life.

The second theme – perhaps other readers might not see this as an actual theme – is Dick Cheney.  George Bush receives his due mention, but Dick Cheney is shown to be the real leader of American operations, having worked to coordinate big business with political office, to the point that while “still CEO of Halliburton” he headed the search for Bush’s running mate, deciding, “he was the best man for the job.” Certainly conflict of interest did not bother him in the least – from his perspective, there would be no conflict, simply grand opportunity.  While the likes of Wolfowitz, Bolton, and Rumsfield are now out of the official picture, Cheney remains the most influential and powerful person in the American government today.

Iraq had been in the forefront of the neoconservative agenda well before 9/11 offered the opportunity to put that agenda into action.  In 1992, then defense secretary Dick Cheney along with undersecretary for policy Paul Wolfowitz and other neocons organized the Project for a New American Century which focussed on “our vital interests in the Gulf” including “a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil.” McQuaig points out another aspect of the neocon crowd, their religious affiliation and support for Israel.  Another neocon Richard Perle, called for a policy of Israel “permanently annexing the entire West Bank [sic] and Gaza Strip.” In reality, Saddam posed no true threat to the existence of Israel but “it did represent a political obstacle to the dreams of Israeli expansion articulated by Perle.”  

Stating the obvious quite cautiously, McQuaig says that Cheney’s focus “on the invasion of Iraq and…on energy policy is certainly suggestive of a possible connection between the invasion and a desire for oil.”   From the history that she presents clearly and strongly, this statement could readily go beyond the suggestion of a possibility to a statement of reality. 

Beyond those two themes, there are other interesting sojourns the reader takes.  The manipulation of the global environment argument and its relationship to the energy sector is explored.  The topic of how SUVs became the predominant reality but also a symbol of Americas oil-guzzling ways leads into the politics of tariffs combined with the politics of environmental emissions.  The discovery and exploration of oil in the U.S., initially in Pennsylvania, is one of cut-throat competition, cartels, illegal manipulations, corporate banking complicity in limiting trade, with the then captain of industry Roosevelt revealed as a manipulative, uncaring, non-democratic corporate bully. The story of Venezuelan oil is also presented, it its many incarnations under various democratic attempts suppressed by U.S. supported dictatorships, and the role Venezuela played in strengthening the OPEC cartel. 

The conclusions reached through these variously interacting stories present the idea of control of oil, rather than just access to it.  Trying to protect itself by controlling the world’s existing oil capacity, even as it reaches peak production, and in denial and obstruction of new environmentally friendly options, the U.S. under Bush, and probably under whomever makes the next government in 2008, “seem to see such…endless, bitter conflict with the world’s Muslims…as inevitable and unavoidable” especially if the U.S. refuses to “deal substantively with one of the most potent sources of Muslim anger against the West: the deferred establishment of a Palestinian state,” unless that conflict is useful to reinforce the “an us-against-them mentality” in order to prolong the ‘war on terror’ and its control of oil assets in the Middle East.

Finally, the media is rejoined: the lack of discussion of what caused 9/11; the “wilful blindness” behind recognizing the “sense of humiliation derived from decades of foreign domination”; the lack of recognition of the hypocritical machinations of the Saudi-U.S. oil pact where “Washington’s support for the Saudi dictatorship [blocks] moderate reform efforts…driving the opposition into the confines of religious institutions that happen to be staunchly anti-Western.” Further, the “lack of democracy…so often lamented by commentators, is not the product of some mysterious, inexplicable Islamic sensibility, but rather, to at least some extent [along with the British, French, and Turks among others], the result of American actions in the region.”

It all comes down to her final phrase, in which the strongest military power in the world – willing to use nuclear weapons pre-emptively – has an insatiable appetite for a declining resource and is determined, one way or another, to control that resource. With Iraq under American domination, if not full control; with the Palestinians sundered with who knows what future possibilities, now appearing fully at the mercy of and limited by the Israeli-American powers; with an American corporate foreign policy backed by both Republicans and Democrats; and with a supposedly nascent nuclear power in Iran anda another case of the media presenting the Washington line, in spite of the overwhelming similarities with the manipulations before the Iraqi invasion: the U.S. attitude to the rest of the world is written in oily crudity, might is right, winner take all, out of my way….

Linda McQuaig presents a well thought out compilation of what might appear to be a variety of unrelated activities to those following the mainstream media.  But the media itself is part and parcel of the oil-war-business-politics-money-global warming scheme of things that is shaping our current global destiny.  And as media itself, “It’s the Crude, Dude” alleviates much of that ignorance in an entertaining reader friendly fashion.

-Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor 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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