Monday, October 26, 2009

ARCHIVE: Book Review: Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda

[Originally published in December, 2004 in Online Journal]
Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda
By Larry Everest
Common Courage Press; ISBN 1-56751-246-1
392 Pages, $19.95USD
Review by Kellia Ramares
The U.S. government has mustered a dizzying and often shifting assortment of
“reasons” for invading and occupying Iraq. At one time or another—sometimes in the
next breath—it cited weapons of mass destruction and imminent threats to America,
links to terrorism and al Qaeda, liberating the Iraqi people, and transforming the entire
Middle East. Yet, as it was going on ad nauseam about such nonexistent threats,
phantom connections, and hollow promises, there was one real issue that the Bush
team adamantly refused to discuss at all: oil.

--Larry Everest, Oil, Power & Empire p. 248
December 17, 2004—Two days ago, the Boston Globe published an article titled: “War
Funding Request May Hit $100 Billion.” The article concerned White House plans to ask
Congress for $80 to $100 billion dollars for next year’s military operations in Iraq and
Afghanistan. If such a request goes through, the total cost for operations in Iraq alone
will exceed $200 billion since the invasion was launched in March 2003.
Ask yourself where all this money is coming from; federal deficits are at record levels.

Ask yourself where it is going; soldiers are complaining that they lack sufficient armor.
Then ask yourself when the U.S. first got involved in Iraq. If your answer is 1990 and
Gulf War I, it behooves you to learn the history of U.S. involvement in Iraq, especially if
you are one of those people who thinks we are there to liberate the Iraqi people and help
them set up a democracy. Reading Larry Everest’s Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the
U.S. Global Agenda will help you track U.S. “interest” in the region from the 1920’s
through mid 2003.
This book is a thorough, well-researched history of U.S. interference in the affairs of Iraq,
which is sitting atop the world’s second largest known oil reserves, and its neighbors.
Among other things, the book documents how the U.S. has suppressed indigenous
liberation efforts, played Iraq and Iran off each other (resulting in an 8-year war that
killed over a million people), and overlooked Saddam Hussein’s brutality when it suited
the larger U.S. agenda of minimizing Soviet influence in the Middle East. Looking at
current events, Everest shows how the U.S. is trying to maintain dominance in the region
against France, Germany, Russia and China, none of which favored the US invasion of
Iraq. The book also makes clear that “regime change” in Iraq was not just a Bush policy.
The Democrats have favored that policy as well:
<i>In October 1998 Congress passed the “Iraq Liberation Act of 1998” which
declared, “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove
the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.” The next month, the
Clinton administration adopted regime change as its stated policy. p. 212.
As readable, albeit infuriating, a history as this book is, I think Everest has the premise
for current U.S. interference in Iraq backwards. In Chapter 10, which is titled “Oil, Power
and Empire,” he states:
Most broadly, the 2003 invasion and occupation were designed to solidify
American political/military dominance of the energy heart of the world—the
Middle East/Central Asian region, and are part of broader efforts to secure
control of global energy sources and use that control to ensure the smooth
functioning of U.S. capitalism, strengthen its competitive position in world
markets, and increase U.S. leverage against potential rivals. In short, oil is a
powerful instrument of hegemony, which is what the new Bush II National
Security Strategy is all about.
Controlling Persian Gulf oil and dominating world energy markets has been a
prime U.S. strategic objective for over 60 years…However, the global energy
picture does not remain constant…Two trends stand out today: the precarious
nature of the global economy and the possibility that growing energy demand will
outstrip the global capacity to meet it.</i> p. 249.
In this chapter, Everest mentions declining oil production. He offers some important
statistics on the growing demand for oil and natural gas. He quotes from some
documents, most notably the Baker Report (Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the
21st Century) and the Cheney report (National Energy Policy), which show that the U.S.
government is very much aware of the supply/demand crunch. But none of the sources
quoted in that chapter are the “peak oilers” who are telling us that global peak of oil
production, and hence terminal production decline, are near. Everest describes well how
the Iraqi oil infrastructure has fallen into grave disrepair, due to over a decade of
sanctions and bombings. But the problem with future oil supplies, from Iraq and
elsewhere, is not insufficient investment in oil infrastructure; it’s the declining supply of
cheap crude.
Yes, the United States has been an imperialist state for decades. But is oil needed to
fuel the growth of empire, or is empire now needed to ensure the supply of oil? I think
the latter is the current situation. The distinction is critical because people are killing and
dying for a mirage: the benefits some people in the United States may gain from U.S.
predominance in a global economy will disappear without cheap oil. (The NYMEX
futures contract for light, sweet crude ended this week at $46.21/bbl). Such glories as
are empire fade away when the empire outstrips its energy base.
Thus, astute as much of Everest’s reading of history is, I came away from reading the
book thinking that his understanding of current events has not kept up with the changing
times. Notwithstanding our analytical differences, I recommend Larry Everest’s “Oil,
Power and Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda.” To paraphrase Santayana, those
who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat the government’s