Obama and the Middle East Oil War

By Ed Kinane

"The assembly of Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Susan Rice and Joe Biden is a kettle of hawks with a proven track record of support for the Iraq war, militaristic intervention, neoliberal economic policies and a world-view consistent with the foreign policy arch that stretches from George HW Bush’s time in office to the present." – Jeremy Scahill on Obama’s proposed new national security team, Dec. 1, 2008, Guardian UK

Dear Senator Obama:

I’m concerned that you’ve yet to show a grasp of Middle East realities. Nor have you provided a broad critique of US policy in that region beyond your early opposition to the invasion of Iraq. This lapse is dispiriting to we who had hoped your “change” mantra meant you intended to reverse the neo-con drive for global hegemony.

If you do grasp Middle Eastern realities, your choices of advisors and cabinet members suggest that you are aligning yourself with that imperial drive. This is also seen in your determination to expand the US debacle in Afghanistan. Perhaps you fear that opposing the militarism that corrupts us would antagonize the power structure that even now you have begun to lead…or that leads you. Who, one might ask, is co-opting whom? 

Your words are ever eloquent, ever civil. You seem to be averse to lying. But you are now enmeshed in a power structure that habitually lies, that knows no other way to speak. It cloaks the reasons the US military occupies Iraq and Afghanistan and keeps the entire Middle East under the gun.

You’ve surely noticed that much of the world’s oil supply is in the Middle East beneath Islamic lands – hence the power structure’s persistent linking of Muslims with “terrorists” (a word invariably left undefined). Your nationalist advisors have by now taught you that US “interests” (also invariably undefined) relate primarily to OIL. “Interests” is code for the US cornering oil reserves and guaranteeing pipelines and shipping lanes  – not only for their own sake, but to control the world economy.

Such control, of course, also serves to bring cheap oil home where so many here think it belongs. Thanks to the perpetual greed of US oil and automobile companies, the US is morbidly addicted to oil. Consumer self-indulgence reinforces such addiction. If we haven’t done so already, we will soon pass “peak oil.” Unless the industrial world drastically reduces our over-consumption and switches to renewable energy, it may well tank within the lifetime of your children. Your predecessor failed to understand – or care – that our children will have to live in the toxic and depleted world we bequeath them.

Therefore, with future generations in mind, let me propose several Middle East-related priorities for your presidency:

– eliminate US dependence on foreign oil (and on coal and nuclear, the other dirty sources of energy). Push energy conservation – the cleanest and most efficient “fuel” of all.
– comply with the Nuclear  Nonproliferation Treaty and international law; abolish US nuclear weapons and do so hand in hand with working to abolish nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East…and beyond. While you’re at it, sign the treaty abolishing cluster bombs.
– repeal the Patriot Acts; abolish torture and extraordinary rendition. As per your promise, immediately close Guantanamo while providing reparation, habeas corpus and other civilian due process to its inmates.
– outlaw Blackwater-type mercenaries; prosecute US war crimes and do so all the way up the chain of command.


Besides Afghanistan and Iraq, there are other theaters of the Middle East Oil War. Here I’ll only touch on two – Israel and Iran.

Mr Obama, you seem all too comfortable with the pro-Israel tilt in US foreign policy. In your campaign you echoed the boilerplate of US politicians fearful of the make-or-break Israel lobby. Despite the pro-Israel hawks who have your ear, I hope that as President you’ll feel more empowered than you did as a candidate to support the Palestinians whose land the Israelis systematically confiscate.

Years ago I observed that Israel, like its (then) ally white South Africa, was an apartheid settler state.  Since that era Israel has kept expanding its illegal settlements and consolidating its apartheid. You hardly acknowledge the Palestinian people and their struggle for justice and against apartheid.

Year after year the US keeps pouring billions of dollars of military aid into Israel. In effect Israel has become the largest military base in the Middle East. It’s a strategic enclave (or “green zone”) artificially wedged into the Islamic world, destabilizing that region and keeping the pot boiling. Israel has one of the most powerful and aggressive military machines on the planet. Its neighbors see that machine as an existential threat.

As long as Israel maintains apartheid, retains its nuclear arsenal, and flouts UN resolutions and international law, you must cut off the military aid that pours oil on the fires of Israel’s intransigence. Otherwise there is little chance of reining in Israel’s expansionism or of achieving an enduring peace in the Middle East.


I’m no expert on the complex and remarkable land of Iran. Most US policy makers, politicians, generals and citizens know even less about Iran. For example, how many know that this proud nation – unlike certain others – hasn’t invaded another country in centuries?

The 1979 Islamic Revolution deposing the Shah was a pivotal year in US/Iran relations. It began three decades of scant diplomacy between the two nations. But Iranians also recall 1953, an equally pivotal year. That’s when the CIA – trashing international law and Iran’s sovereignty – toppled the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, replacing him with the despotic Shah.

Few here seem to realize that the current President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – despite all the fuss about him – is neither Iran’s most powerful leader nor its commander-in-chief. Such ignorance of a country with one of the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas can get us – and you – into a heap of trouble.

Cheney/Bush have virulently opposed the development of Iran’s nuclear energy. Their menacing words and bellicose actions embody the hubris and double standard of one nation dictating what another nation’s policies should be. After all, the US is the world’s prime developer and major exporter of nuclear technology. This includes deploying and exporting weaponry hardened with toxic and radioactive depleted uranium. The US is the world’s only perpetrator of nuclear holocaust. Since 1945 this bully has continually practiced nuclear blackmail (“All options are on the table.”).

Here many ask: with its vast oil reserves, why does Iran seek to develop nuclear power? Besides prestige, self-defense and deterrence may well be factors. But Iran knows its oil will eventually peter out. Iran seeks to develop nuclear energy in part because it dares not keep all of its energy eggs in one basket.  Few here realize that due to US-championed sanctions, Iran’s oil refining capability is stunted – thus forcing Iran even now to import gasoline.

In September a group of peace and justice activists met with Iranian leaders in New York for the opening of the current United Nations session. President Ahmadinejad told us that Iran spends three times as much on developing renewable energy as on nuclear energy. I hope this could be true not only for Iran but for the US.

How Must the US Treat Iran?

With respect.

End the sanctions. Stop the demonizing. Stop the menacing. Pull back the destroyers and the cruise missiles. Stop violating Iran’s sovereignty with clandestine and provocative infiltrations of US Special Forces.

Keep your promise to negotiate. And again, work to abolish nuclear weapons both at home and in the world at large. That just might abort any Iranian drive to join the nuclear club.

Given the current financial collapse and given your predecessor’s eight-year credibility collapse, the days of the US imperium are numbered. So, dismantle the military bases in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. Slash the military budget that squanders the hundreds of billions needed to rebuild our country.

Mr. President-elect, rejoin the community of nations. Restore our honor.

– Ed Kinane worked in Iraq in 2003 and visited Iran in 2007. Since reading the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth in the early seventies, he has used cars sparingly. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: edkinane@verizon.net. (An earlier version of this article appeared in the Dec. 2008 issue of Peace Newsletter.)

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