Thursday, June 22, 2006


Book Review – Iraq and the International Oil System
By Thomas Riggins

Stephen Pelletiere, a former professor at the U.S. Army War College, was, during the Iran-Iraq War, the CIA’s senior Iraq specialist. In this book he has written a history of the development of the oil industry since the nineteenth century with special emphasis on its international development most notably with regard to Iraq.

His major thesis is "that America’s occupation of Iraq is a bid to recoup what the oil companies lost when they were forced to disgorge in 1973 [as a result of the OPEC Revolution--tr]; that is, control over the world oil industry and beyond that control of the global economy."

Pelletiere marshals mounds of facts and statistics to substantiate his thesis. It is refreshing to have this conclusion proven by a former CIA big shot. One expects the Left to make this argument.

He further maintains that America had to go to war due to Iraq’s "unexpected defeat of Iran" in the 8-year long war fought between those two major oil producing countries. From the U.S. point of view the victory of Iraq would lead it to become a regional superpower, a superette-power, that would eventually "have contested the west’s grip on the region."

All the talk about spreading "democracy" and "wanting to over throw a tyrant", "of dangerous weapons of mass destruction" are stories for children. Anyone familiar with the Middle East and U.S. policy, as Pelletiere is with his years of CIA experience, as well as his Ph.D. from Berkeley and knowledge of Arabic, knows perfectly well that Iraq’s oil, and that alone, was at the heart of U.S. ambitions in the region.

The book is divided into six chapters. The first two describe the history and development of the international oil industry and the establishment of the great oil cartel (the Seven Sisters) created by the oil magnates.

In chapter three, Pelletiere discusses the attempts by the U.S. government to control the Cartel and how the Cartel came out on top by effectively enlisting the State and Treasury Departments to do its bidding.

The fourth chapter concentrates on the conflicts between successive Iraqi governments and the oil cartel-- not just the government of Saddam Hussein but his predecessors as well.

In the fifth chapter we learn about the oil cartel’s biggest defeat. How OPEC (the organization set up by the major oil producing and exporting countries) took over the production and pricing of their own oil from the power of the Cartel (the so-called "OPEC Revolution" of 1973).

The last chapter (the sixth) is all about the First Gulf War. The book was basically written to explain how this war came about. One of the most interesting sections is Pelletiere’s discussion of the role of the mass media in drumming up support for this war-- exactly as they did for the invasion of Iraq.

The major American media got their information basically from the CIA, which slanted everything to favor the aims of the U.S. government and its interpretation of events. The media then uncritically put this propaganda out to the American people as "the news." This explains why the American people don’t know anything about what is really going on in the Middle East-- or the rest of the world for that matter.

Pelletiere points out, for example, how the story about Iraq gassing the Kurds "Saddam killed his own people, etc.,") was manufactured. Both Iraq and Iran gassed each other during the 8-year war. The Iraqis used mustard gas and the Iranians used a cyanide-based gas in the Kurdish area. It was the latter that killed the Kurds in Iraq. But this fact did not fit into the American-British propaganda about Iraq. Nevertheless, in "all likelihood," Pelletiere writes, "Iranian gas killed the Kurds." I do remember reading about this in an op-ed article in the New York Times after the invasion of Iraq, but the orthodox view is still that it was Saddam that did it-- but who knows-- Saddam is history and as relations sour with Iran we may be treated to the revelation that it was the Iranians after all having "fooled" the CIA.

The lesson here is, once the U.S. government decides on an "enemy" you cannot rely on the mass media to present truthful and reliable information. All the more reason to rely upon the alternate press.

In the postscript, written for the second edition of his book, Pelletiere attempts to demonstrate, convincingly I think, that the invasion of Iraq, like the Gulf War, was brought about by "America’s determination to control Persian Gulf oil and to hang on to its arms-trading relationship" with middle eastern countries.

The basic argument here is that after the "collapse of communism" the military-industrial complex feared that U.S. spending on arms might go down and that some of the money it was used to getting might actually be invested in programs benefiting the American people.

The neo-conservatives are part of this complex but they are not "the real movers and shakers" of U.S. policy-- that honor goes to "All of the major defense contractors, who, with their hefty donations, subsidize the conservative think tanks, and contribute to candidates to the Congress and for the Presidency" these are the real powers behind the U.S. war policies: they get the billions spent on the military.

The American people will never hear this from our mass media because the Bush-Blair team’s use of the media, Pelletiere shows, is an example "of a technique previously pioneered (or at least made famous by) the National Socialists in Germany; this was the so-called Big Lie." We all know this fascist technique. If you just keep repeating the lie people will eventually believe it. Everyone tired of being lied to should read this book.

Steven Pelletiere
Iraq and the International Oil System: Why America Went to War in the Gulf
Washington, D.C., Maisonneuve Press, 2004.

--Thomas Riggins is book review editor of Political Affairs.


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