Thursday, 21 April 2011

Bloody Oil

So, in one sense it is not news. Ask anyone why the West gets involved in overseas wars and the answer nine times out of ten is "oil". The public know this, and somehow cynically accept it, bemoaning the fact, but often simultaneously setting it to one side, perhaps in the hope that, while it is necessary for the sake of our current carbon fuel-dependent societies, it can't really be that bad. Can it?

Well, yes it is, and worse. We heard earlier this year, Tony Blair's sanctimonious defence of his toadying up to George Bush over the bloody war in Iraq, shifting from his original claims about weapons of mass destruction to defending the objective of regime change, allegedly because this would be good for the Iraqi people. The tens of thousands of deaths, the millions of refugees and the immense damage to infrastructure caused by his activities were all apparently worth it on these grounds.

And this week, we have found out for certain just exactly who all this mayhem was for.

The "Independent" newspaper in the UK published a series of emails showing how in the months up to the Iraq invasion - when Blair was publically insisting that war might still be avoided - BP and other oil companies were busy petitioning the UK Government for a slice of the anticipated post-war bonanza. They even went so far as to claim that if the Iraqi oil fields were privatised (rather than kept in the hands of the new supposedly democratic government to hel rebuild the country) this would represent an apparent reward for the UK's support of the American invasion.

So now we know, our troops were there to kill and be killed so that, in return, BP, a big multinational company with a deeply tarnished history of involvement in killings and corruption in the Middle East, could get a reward.

And it duly has. Unreported, unfocused on by the complicit western media, the Iraqi state was dismantled following the war. Its assets were sold off to foreign companies and individuals - many of them Israelis - and among these BP benefited with good deals on acquiring huge stakes in large tracts of the rich Iraqi oilfields. Even where they don't own the fields, the oil companies make a killing, extracting oil at less than $1.15 per barrel and selling them on at over one hundred times (or, put another way, 10,000%) that cost. They were by no means the only oil company involved, and the American government was even more generous to its friends, such as Halliburton and Blackwater, in doling out Iraqi money, largely unaudited and unaccounted for. But Blair's sickening insistence that he acted out of pure motives and a desire to do the right thing finally stand exposed as nothing more than a squalid deal with big corporations - both of the oil and non-oil varieties.

And what of now, in Libya? Again and again in recent weeks, the Gaddafi regime has been portrayed as somehow uniquely brutal among Middle Eastern despots and so deserving of unique treatment by the West. Even although Gaddafi's government has now offered an internationally monitored ceasefire and elections for the leadership of the country run by the UN, the mysterious coalition of rebels continue to receive unqualified western aid in spite of rejecting the offer. We are indefinitely underwriting a bloody war with allies of dubious provenance even although the other side have accepted more than the original demands of the United Nations.

Why? It could be for oil - but with just 2% of the world's reserves, while rich, Libya does not represent to carbon cornucopia that Iraq offered. And BP was already well-ensconced with the Gaddafi regime, so regime change could potentially disturb rather than assist their exploitation of the country's richest natural resource (although, of course, any Middle Eastern war is handy for oil companies in facilitating a rise in prices at the pumps - entirely unnecessary and unjustifiable, but easily sold to an unsuspecting public).

Libya offers other delights for western companies, however, just as Iraq did but other states like Bahrain and Egypt did not. Both Saddam and Gaddafi, for all their brutal faults, came from socialist backgrounds. Acquiring power was not purely about self-aggrandisement, though both men clearly revelled in it. It was also about using the state for the benefit of the citizens, however totalitarian in their control of their citizens they sought to be. Consequently, both Iraq and Libya under their respective tyrants had large public sectors and enjoyed some of the best education, health and welfare systems in the world - all free of charge. And, of course, all hanging like ripe fruit to fall into the bags of privatising privateers when the American juggernaut crashed into town.

Under the neoliberal philosophy that continues to inform American and British foreign policy, "freedom" is not at the end of the day expressed via the ballot box or by the mass of citizens. When they talk of freedom, it is in  fact about free markets - about private enterprise and the supposed freedom to buy and sell, accumulate, speculate and profit. Hence, under this philosophy, oil as a bounty for blood is more than acceptable - indeed, it is necessary, it is the whole purpose of the exercise. And not just oil - just as whole segments of Iraqi public services have been auctioned off to western-owned interests, so Libya now holds the same tempting prospect.

It is for this reason that so much of the opposition to the West in the Arab world stems from a religious starting point. Although castigated in the West as wild-eyed bearded ones lusting for blood and vengeance for ancient slight, groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hizbollah in the Lebanon are widely supported by their people because they are grounded in ethics and principles diametrically opposed to the corrupt regimes such as Mubarak's sponsored and sustained by the West (the USA for example, paid for Mubarak's brutal security services for most of his rule).

Old Friends - The British Queen & The Blood-soaked Emir of Bahrain
It is also why the West is so deeply distrusted in the Arab world - every time Arab people have agitated for freedom, they have been opposed by dictators whose strings have been pulled very firmly either by western governments or by western oil companies or, more often than not, by both. The brutal regime in Bahrain is probably the epitome of this, but in the West, it is exempted from the fate of the Libyan regime. Bahrain is sanitized by the approval of its regime by the British monarchy and the repeated visits by members of the Royal Family (who invited the ruler of Bahrain to kate and William's Big Day just hours after the massacre of 45 protesters on the streets of his capital city), - and besides, we already own everything there anyway; there is nothing left to sell.

But in Benghazi...never mind the crosshairs; its dollars that are in western sights.

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