Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Is it about oil? Really?

The memory of banners proclaiming "No Blood for Oil" looms large with antiwar protesters who rallied in the streets of the world's cities during the run-up to Gulf War II. They alleged that a war to conquer Iraq was less about overthrowing an evil dictator, defeating terrorism and finding WMD (which we now know did not exist) than it was about preventing a key oil supplier from using the liquid platinum as a weapon.

The Bush administration, despite George W.'s proximity to the oil industry -- and that of many of his most trusted associates, including Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice -- denied that this was so. It was about introducing democracy and bringing stability to millions of oppressed people, and changing the way that part of the world treats its people and spawns suicide bombers.

As combat began, and an apparent lightning American military victory devolved into the violent quagmire that exists today, world press coverage moved away from the question of what's oil got to do with it, do with it, and concentrated on the day-to-day chaos and the prospect of elections at the end of next month.

But a nagging essential question remains: Why was the Bush administration so hell-bent on an attack on Iraq post-9/11? Yes, terrorism come to American shores was an awful thing, and the conception of a United States population exposed to suicide bombers and worse clearly demanded a strategic as well as a tactical response. But why stake all on a military-based plan to redraw the map of the Middle East?

Cynics claimed that the religious weirdies in the administration were clearing the way for Armageddon, which would herald the messianic age. But could there be another, more empirical reason Bush and his cohorts are risking the entire pot on stabilizing the Middle East? A reason they're not telling?

I am not one to jump on conspiracy theories; it is far more likely, though less intriguing, to believe that plain security incompetence, sheer dumb luck and Lee Oswald's marksmanship landed two bullets into the brain and neck of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, not cohorts from the Mafia, the CIA or whomever. Other conspiracy theories, however, deserve further investigation. For example, several people were warned not to fly on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, including San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and author Salman Rushdie. Believe them or not.

Other claims are not as quick to dismiss. Peak Oil, for instance.

This theory is based on the geological fact that every oil well will peak in its production and then decline. People who believe in peak oil, including a number of geologists, claim that there is a perfect storm on its way in which worldwide oil production will peak, forcing demand to soar stratospherically and resulting in armed conflict as the haves, faced with a lack of energy, desperately try to keep the have-nots from restricting their energy. Many predict this to happen before the end of the decade.

So, according to this theory, the petroleum insiders on Bush's team, well aware of peak oil, urged the president to secure a cheap source of energy as a strategic goal. That was why the conference on energy headed by oil magnate Cheney was kept secret, they say: so no discussions about peak oil would leak and panic the populace.

And that, conspiracy theorists say, is why Bush is so hopped up against terrorism: not because Osama bin Laden could kill thousands of Americans with a dirty bomb, but because he could cripple key oil production facilities in Saudi Arabia, which sits on one fourth of the world's oil reserves.

And that, they say, is why Bush started a war in Iraq: To secure the largest oil-producing nation in the region that A) had not reached peak production and B) was still anti-American. (Iranian production peaked in the seventies, oil experts say, and the rest of the Arabian Gulf oil-producing bloc is with us.)

Are the conspiracy theorists right? Here in the wilderness we haven't a clue. But we know the story has not been reported in the mainstream press, and has been relegated to the realm of alarmists and conspiracy nuts. We'll try to examine all this in the days ahead.

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