It’s the Crude, Dude, Boiling Point, and A War Against Truth

By Linda McQuaig
By Ross Gelbspan
By Paul William Roberts

It was on December 2, 1823 that President James Monroe set forth what came to be known as the “Monroe Doctrine” in his message to Congress. It warned the European powers that henceforth the American continents were no longer “to be considered as subjects for future colonization.” At the time it didn’t have very much practical significance, but as American power grew so did the Doctrine’s various corollaries, until it came to sanction American intervention anywhere in the Western Hemisphere where American interests were felt to be at stake. What was originally stated as a defensive principle (“Hands off America, Europe!”) became a cover of moral right for aggression.

In his 1980 state of the union address, President Jimmy Carter may have been the first to announce a new Monroe Doctrine for the Middle East. He declared that “an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

As with the original Monroe Doctrine, the Carter Doctrine is a warning for other powers to keep their hands off a region seen as being of special interest to America. The assumption of a special American interest, akin to a property right, is the key. From there American policy has developed to the point where it now sanctions American military intervention anywhere in the Middle East. This is because the Middle East is sitting on top of the world’s largest oil reserves, and oil is the vital interest of the United States.

As one sign at an anti-war protest put it: “How did our oil get under their sand?” That oil belongs to American oil companies. It is as clear as Manifest Destiny. Any threat to their control – not access, but control – is an attack on the U.S., whether that threat comes from an “outside source”, or, as is more often the case, it is domestic. Democracy in the Middle East, insofar as it limits U.S. control over oil, will not be tolerated. The U.S. will have to move in to seize control of the oil, and it will do so under cover of moral right, as part of a defense of its vital national interests.

As outlined in Linda McQuaig’s It’s the Crude, Dude, that is the context in which the present occupation of Iraq has to be understood. It is not a secret context – in fact it’s very easy to document – but it doesn’t get a lot of publicity. There is still some stigma attached to invading foreign countries in order to support planet-threatening high-octane lifestyles. You aren’t supposed to bomb the Third World and contract out torture just so you can drive an SUV.

The American people want to feel good about themselves, and have been more than willing to accept many of the bogus justifications provided for their nation’s aggressive militarism. Talk of WMD and Iraqi connections to al Qaeda, though false, helped Americans imagine their aggression in Iraq as being essentially defensive in nature. It may have looked like the most powerful army on the planet steamrolling and then occupying a defenseless, oil-rich state, but America was really just protecting itself.

Despite the truly terrible title, It’s the Crude, Dude is Linda McQuaig’s best book yet. What makes it her best is the fact that this time her story is all of a piece. The need to control oil, the engine of modern industry and the world economy, ties it all together. Everything – from the discovery of oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania in the mid-nineteenth century to the rise of Rockefeller’s giant Standard Oil trust (grandfather of today’s “Big Oil” corporations), the West’s exploitation of the Third World, the rise and fall of OPEC, global warming, and the current occupation of Iraq and War on Terror – is connected. It’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s just a story of corporate greed, shortsightedness, and business as usual.

For Ross Gelbspan, as for McQuaig, it is a story with dire consequences. In Boiling Point he continues his crusade against global warming and the industry-funded global warming-deniers. Drawing on a wealth of scientific evidence he attempts to “break through the monstrous indifference of Americans to the fact that the planet is caving in around us.”

The situation is critical. We must cut our consumption of coal and oil by 70 percent if we want to save the planet from catastrophe. The Axis of Evil in this struggle is the alliance of the fossil fuel industry and Bush White House. Their collaboration in both denying the problem of global warming and delaying a solution makes them guilty of “a crime against humanity.”

That’s quite a charge, but Gelbspan backs it up. The evidence is in and the forecast is grim. In his frightening “Snapshots of the Warming” inter-chapters he provides concrete examples of the drastic changes to the global environment being caused by climate change today. This is not a race to avert disaster. The disaster is already upon us.

Given the enormity of the challenge, we will have to think big, and well outside the box, to come up with a solution. Gelbspan rejects market solutions: “There is no way that a market-based system can accomplish a global transition to clean energy.” This is, in part, because there is no free market in energy, and never has been (a point McQuaig also makes). Similarly, there is no way to solve the problem by cutting back personal energy use. That won’t be enough. “Climate change will not be solved through energy efficiency. It requires an energy revolution.”

By revolution Gelbspan means not only a worldwide crash program to rewire the world for clean energy, but a social, political, economic and moral transformation.

McQuaig and Gelbspan both look at the big picture, and both criticize the failure of the media to do the same. In his “intimate account” of the invasion of Iraq, Paul William Roberts takes a closer look at the Oil War, and the collaboration of corporate/government propaganda behind its “war against truth.”

Roberts is under no illusions that, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, the invasion of Iraq had “nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil.” In analysis similar to that of McQuaig’s he shows how it was virtually all about oil. He also adds an important point McQuaig misses: the importance of oil in propping up the U.S. dollar as a global default currency.

But Roberts’ focus is on the human impact of the invasion on everyday Iraqis. It is a firsthand account of what the “embedded” journalists – or military junket whores – didn’t tell you.

Both McQuaig and Gelbspan are crusading voices, but Roberts is even more impassioned and personal. He writes subjectively, “in a state of raging anger, and shame.”

A War Against Truth is a great read, in part because Roberts is a good storyteller and in part because he has such a compelling story to tell. Part travelogue, part investigative journalism, it follows in the footsteps of an earlier book on Iraq and the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein. Only the landscape now is more violent and surreal.

What makes it seem so is the way official language, descriptions, and depictions of Iraq are so divorced from reality. Indeed, if there is a common theme to all of these books, aside from the power of oil, it is their presentation of America as a nation in denial. The fossil fuel lobby denies global warming, the politicians deny the influence of oil on foreign policy, the media deny American responsibility for the situation in Iraq, military acronyms deny the reality of the brutality and killing.

We live in a therapeutic culture, and the function of our government, our media, and all the things we buy is to make us feel good about ourselves. We want to be, and be seen as being, positive, upbeat, and optimistic. Environmental crises, military occupations, and the corporate control of democracy are not good things, and if we ever thought about them too much we’d probably have a collective breakdown. So we don’t.

But our lack of awareness, and of conscience, will come at a price.

Review first published October 23, 2004. It was later discovered that some five pages of Roberts’s book were plagiarized from an article that had appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2002. I would still recommend it for its first-hand account of the early days of the invasion and occupation.


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