July 2nd, 2006

Forbidden Lore

Then: "No Blood for Oil?" Now: "Blood for No Oil?"

I've been reading greg_palast's blog lately. He's the author of a mildly famous book about election fraud in the 2000 general election, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. The revelations in his own book scared him so much he literally fled the country, and now reports on the US for a London newspaper, and he's currently promoting an even more extravagant conspiracy theory tying together the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, No Child Left Behind, and free trade with China with supposed even more elaborate Republican plans to outright steal the 2008 election, Armed Madhouse.

In some respects, Greg Palast could be the latest poster child for something I observed a long, long time ago, one of my first major observations about the field of Forbidden Lore. Once you discover that "They" have lied to you, you start wondering what else "They" lied about. You could take the path of relative sanity by concluding that the fact that they didn't get away with the lie you caught "Them" in means they're probably not competent enough to try anything more elaborate. Or you could fall into the classic trap of conspiracy theory thinking, where you wonder if this one time they weren't sloppy, and obsess over what else you could catch them at if you work at it hard enough. With each new (even if increasingly dubious) lie that you catch "Them" at, the rush becomes more intense. Eventually you fall into the same trap that Robert Anton Wilson so neatly summed up when he told the editors of Conspiracy Digest that conspiracy freaks are adrenaline junkies -- they know that their newest theory is more true than their previous theory because it scares them more.

But the funny thing about conspiracy theorists is that you can be a stone-cold crazy full-time off-your-meds professional paranoid and still be right some of the time. For example, as someone he singled out during one of his paranoid episodes, and as someone who knows personally several of the people who scare him to death, I can assure you with great confidence that most of Lyndon LaRouche's conspiracy theories are so false as to qualify as literally insane. And yet, when he documented the fact that every single researcher who was able to duplicate, in the lab, the finding that freon breaks down ozone under stratospheric conditions did so upon receiving a grant from DuPont, I thought that he was asking an interesting question. After all, DuPont's patent on freon was about to expire; if people kept using freon as a refrigerant, instead of something new and patentable by DuPont, DuPont stood to lose a lot of money. Now, you don't have to believe that DuPont is part of a Rockefeller/Queen Elizabeth conspiracy to exterminate millions of people in Africa for the benefit of the white race to ask if there were any researchers who weren't on DuPont's payroll who duplicated those results before we instituted a very-expensive planet-wide ban on freon. In fact, framing his question in terms of some vast, intergenerational and international Anglo-supremacist conspiracy would have been enough to guarantee that Lyndon LaRouche's question wasn't listened to, let alone independently investigated by journalists, even if he hadn't already blown his credibility with conspiracy theories about the British royal family's personal involvement in the heroin trade or a US-wide cult of demon-worshiping, baby-sacrificing cops and judges.

The reason I make this point is that Greg Palast has actually come up with a conspiracy theory with regard to Iraq that, unlike many over-reaching liberal critiques of the Iraq War, I can't dismiss out of hand. Whenever anybody, whether some Islamist nut or some socialist nut or some pacifist nut or some conspiracy-theory nut, has tried to argue to me that we invaded Iraq in order to get access to their oil, I have relentlessly mocked them. That's the stupidest thing I've heard in over a decade. Why? Well, for one thing, if all we'd cared about was access to Iraqi oil, all we had to do was let Saddam invade Kuwait. We could have done so, by simply agreeing with him that cross-border oil theft by the Kuwaitis, sanctioned by the Kuwaiti royal family, was an act of war. And Saddam, having been our client all through his war with Iran, would have very eagerly let our companies be the ones who did the engineering. But even then, it wouldn't have done much for us as a nation, any more than it would do any good for us as a nation to seize Iraq's oil fields now. Why? Because oil is sold on international exhanges now. All of it. The days when governments handed out privileged contracts to companies or countries to sell them oil at below-market prices ended more than 30 years ago. No matter who rules Iraq, whether it's the CIA-front Iraqi National Congress or Saddam or Hezbollah-backed Shiite Islamists, they're going to sell the same oil, at the same prices, on the same exchanges. No administration with this many oil men in it would have done anything so dumb as to blow billions of tax dollars on a "war for oil" that wouldn't have saved us a nickel.

In Armed Madhouse, however, Greg Palast is pushing the exact opposite theory, and this is one I can't dismiss out of hand. It might be true, it might not be true, but it merits investigation because unlike the theory I've been relentlessly mocking for several years now, this one could, at least, theoretically work. Greg Palast claims to be able to prove that we invaded Iraq not to steal their oil, but to make sure that nobody gets it. That we invaded Iraq to take Iraqi oil off the market. Why would we do that? Well, while it sucks for the American consumer to have oil at $70 a barrel, if we can guarantee that oil stays at $70 a barrel, that's a very good thing for a lot of people that this administration cares greatly about. For one, at $70 a barrel, it's actually possible to make good money exploring for oil in Texas and Oklahoma again. What led to the famous collapse of the Houston economy, after all, was when OPEC lost control over oil quotas briefly and oil dropped to $15 a barrel. At $15 a barrel, the Saudis can still make money, because Arabian oil is near the surface and mostly only covered with sand. At anything below about $40 or $50 a barrel, there's no money to be made drilling for oil in the US, because we have to go deep, and through layer after layer of solid granite. Who else benefits? The Mexican government oil monopoly. Mexico very nearly went nationally bankrupt when oil hit $15 a barrel, because they can't possibly get oil out of the ground for any less than around $18 or $20 a barrel. And Mexico's government owes a lot of money to a lot of American banks and other investors, who will only get paid back if oil prices stay high. US firms have also invested a bundle in Russian oil exploration, all of which money would become completely useless if oil prices dropped below whatever it's going to cost to drill for oil in Russia.

Remember that if the US had done what I advocated doing, namely simply given up on the sanctions and turned Saddam loose when our Gulf War coalition allies refused to back an invasion to enforce the sanctions, Saddam would have been finally free of the Oil for Food program and all other constraints on his national oil production, and OPEC quotas or no OPEC quotas, the valves would have opened wide. He had a country to repair, and a destroyed army to replace, and Palestinian terrorists on retainer who were coming to thiink of him as mostly irrelevant because he could no longer adequately fund them. He would have needed the short-term revenues badly enough to ignore the reduced profit margins from globally falling oil prices. And a lot of American and Mexican and Russian banks and oil exploration companies would have gone bankrupt all over again.

Has Greg Palast actually proven that there was a Bush-Cheney conspiracy to keep Iraq's oil off the market? I have no idea, I haven't read the book. And keep in mind that he hasn't even proven to widespread satisfaction the allegations in his first book. He might well be wrong. But I'll give him this -- his is a more interesting theory than any other I've heard yet, because at least his isn't prima facie ridiculous.