The unholy crusade for oil, profits and global power

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As U.S. bombs and missiles rain down on Afghanistan, a fearful world braces itself for even more horrors to come. What is at the root of this slaughter?

Fundamentally, oil — never mind Bush’s rhetoric about a holy war against terrorism in reaction to the September 11 catastrophe. The whole world needs oil, and whoever controls it has riches and global power. The fight for that control is a primary engine of the deadly wars that generated immeasurable human misery, especially in the Middle East, throughout the 20th century.

Now, in the 21st, the greedy hunger for one of the earth’s most valuable resources is once again turning the earth into a field of carnage.

Oil: starting point for a cascade of crimes. The first oil well was drilled in the United States, and the first corporate mogul to dominate the refining of crude oil was John D. Rockefeller. Ever since, wars have been fought to get oil — and oil has been necessary to fight those wars.

At the end of World War II, the weakened British empire gave up the mantle of top imperialist to the U.S., whose businesses and banks had profited immensely from the conflagration.

Middle Eastern oil reserves were the largest in the world at the time, and the U.S. was determined to have access to them and make sure that its companies would profit from them.

To this end, it has found the state of Israel profoundly useful in guarding its interests.

When desperate Jews fleeing Hitler’s holocaust, and turned away by the U.S., found themselves in a new “homeland” that was already someone else’s home, the resistance of the displaced and suppressed Palestinians was inevitable. So was the hostility of the rest of the Arab world. The self-interested support of the U.S. ruling class for Israel, which includes arming it to the teeth, has cruelly turned all the area’s people into cannon fodder.

As Secretary of State Colin Powell’s recent nod to Palestinian statehood shows, however, Israel will be tossed aside if the U.S. finds its relationship with Israel too troublesome, and turns to some other regime to do its proxy fighting in the Middle East.

The U.S. has intrigued against the Arab independence struggles for decades. It has goaded nations and ethnic groups into wars and installed dictatorships only able to maintain their rule through armed repression. In these ways it set up markets for arms sales.

Those countries with oil in abundance paid huge sums for U.S. military hardware, while those without oil went into massive debt to U.S. banks.

U.S. “aid” in the region has never been humanitarian, and Pakistan is but one revealing example. The U.S. sent money to Pakistan to strengthen that country’s version of the CIA — the ISI. This ruthless intelligence agency managed Pakistan’s convert intervention in Afghanistan’s civil war — an adventure that left Pakistan nearly in ruins. Its military elites, however, became enormously wealthy from the trafficking in drugs and weapons that helped to finance the conflict.

Does this story sound familiar? It should. It describes U.S. strategy all over the globe — including today in oil-rich Colombia, where a phony drug war is the pretext for helping to put down dissent that threatens the profits of U.S. businesses.

Treachery for pipelines. In Afghanistan two decades ago, however, the U.S. supported those who were rising up against the regime — because they were fighting to overthrow a Soviet-backed government.

Afghanistan is strategically situated between the oil-supplying Middle East and massive new markets for oil in the Far East, and the U.S. needed a friendly Afghanistan so that it could move its product from one place to the other.

No matter that the brutal, 14-year civil war overturned major social reforms, claimed 1.5 million Afghan lives, and threw the country into misery and chaos.

Oil companies had ambitious plans after the conflict ended to build a pipeline across the shattered country — a pipeline that would link the huge oil and gas reserves of the former Soviet state of Turkmenistan with the energy-needy countries of South Asia, particularly India. The most direct route is across western Afghanistan, which has Turkmenistan on its northern border and Pakistan to the south.

The U.S. energy company Unocal was vying with the Argentinian giant Bridas, and both were very happy to accommodate the Taliban. Unocal dropped out of the competition in 1998 however, variously citing as the reason international notoriety over the regressive policies of the Taliban, financing difficulties, and the instability of the country.

But if the Taliban could be removed — if a regime more simpatico with the U.S. were to come to power — if Afghanistan could be “pacified” or “stabilized” — then the hopes of U.S. corporations could revive. Surely George W. Bush, the oil president, could be especially counted on to help in this regard.

The devastating war in Chechnya, where Pakistan’s ISI and its Islamic fundamentalist proxies are tied to oil pipelines. There, Britain and the U.S. have interests in common, though joint oil conglomerates — just one more reason it’s no surprise that England leaped on the bandwagon of the U.S.’s cynical “war on terrorism.”

High stakes. U.S. military actions on behalf of U.S. and multinational corporations have always been presented to the public as something they are not: a war for freedom and democracy, or against drugs, or for peace in the Middle East — and now, against terrorism.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, at a time when the U.S. and other world economies were slowing, U.S. foreign policy adapted. The watchword was no longer “Contain the godless communists,” but instead “Open the world up for free trade.”

But the aim — the protection of profits — remained the same. And from the stunning rebellion by the Zapatistas in Mexico to strike waves around the world and passionate street battles in places like Seattle, Quebec and Genoa, the jobless and the landless, the exploited and the oppressed, are mounting a challenge to the international corporate empire.

It is this global movement for global justice that the U.S. ruling class has in its sights, with its post-September 11 campaign of intimidation and crackdown on civil liberties, even as its fighter planes set Afghanistan ablaze.

It is now up to the people who do the work of the world to save the world. It is up to the people who have the most to gain from a society in which nature’s resources are shared — and the wars fought over the resources are just pages in a history book — to make that society real.

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