Control, not Access

Jay Bulworth jay.bulworth at
Wed Jan 8 23:50:05 MST 2003


By Jay Bulworth

This note is written in order to clear up a common misunderstanding about the war with Iraq.

It is becoming clear to more and more people that the imminent US war against Iraq is about oil.  That’s a good thing.  But there is still widespread confusion about the nature of the US interest in Iraqi (and Middle Eastern) oil.

The confusion relates to the difference between Control of oil and Access to oil.

‘Access to oil’ means that the US simply wishes to buy oil like any other country; that it wants oil at a reasonable price.  Many peace groups think this is all the US is interested in.  For example, the group known as SANE/FREEZE (which became Peace Action in 1993) claimed that the 1991 Gulf War was fought in order to guarantee “the free flow of oil to the US”.  Other groups claimed that if the US became self-sufficient in oil (or another energy source), it would not need to fight in the Middle East.

But this belief is based on a total misunderstanding.  The US is not waging a war over Access to oil.  It is waging a war over Control of oil.

‘Control of oil’ means that the US can use oil to exert influence against Europe and Japan.  It isn’t always about cheap oil.  When it wishes, it can make its obedient and corrupt Middle East dictators raise the price of oil in order to hurt Europe and Japan.  In the 1970s, the US encouraged Middle East oil producing states to increase the price of oil.  It did so because Europe and Japan would suffer from higher prices, given their high dependence on imported oil.  At the time, France was trying to organise an independent European policy on negotiating with Middle East oil-producing states.  As a result of US actions, Britain and West Germany agreed to drop the French proposal.  As for Japan, it imports 98% of its oil, so its dollar reserves were wiped out by the price increases of the period.

In 1986, the US wanted to alter its relationship with Iran.  As part of an agreement, it agreed to help increase Iran’s oil revenues by increasing the price of oil.  Vice-President George Bush therefore pressured Saudi Arabia to cut production.  This cut resulted in higher crude oil prices, and Iran’s oil revenues increased.

‘Control of oil’ is part of a deliberate, carefully thought out US policy.  After World War II, for instance, the Marshall Plan for European post-war reconstruction shifted Europe from a coal-based economy to an oil-based economy.  More than 10 % of Marshall Plan aid was spent on importing oil, and more than half the oil supplied was paid for in this fashion.  The US’s control of oil ensured that Europe would be compliant once it had shifted an oil-based economy.  European coal-mining unions were not obedient enough, and so the shift to an oil-based economy served the additional purpose of harming them.

‘Control of oil’ also means control of oil profits.  The US ensures that its obedient Middle East dictators use their oil profits to buy advanced US weapons systems.  This recycling of oil profits ensures a huge subsidy for high-tech US industry.  Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for example, are among the largest buyers of advanced US weapons systems.

‘Control of oil’ also means that oil profits are used to buy US Treasury bonds, to make deposits in US banks, and to otherwise flow back to US corporations.  Some of these oil profits also flow back to the UK, which acts as the US’s principal agent in Europe.  The US government’s favourite dictators have huge investment portfolios in its Treasury securities, banks and corporations.  This use of oil profits is one way in which the US and UK economies receive financial support.

‘Control of oil’ is the reason why the US, which today imports only 25% of its oil from the Middle East, is going to go to war very soon.  The US is not waging a war over Access to oil.  It is waging a war over Control of oil.

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