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April 2003 • Vol 3, No. 4 •

What the U.S. Government Won’t Tell You

By Ann Robertson

The following is the transcript of a speech given at a teach-in hosted by Students Against War at San Francisco State University on March 5, 2003.

I want to take up the question why the U.S. government is so fanatically determined to press forward with its war against Iraq, despite the overwhelming opposition by the vast majority of the world’s population and despite the probable death of hundreds of thousands of civilian Iraqi people, either as a direct result of bombs being dropped on them or as an indirect result of bombs being dropped on their water supply, their electrical plants, and the other main pillars of their economy.

Of course, the ostensible reason the Bush administration has been offering all along is the purported presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But perhaps worried that Iraq might actually give up all its weapons of mass destruction, because Saddam Hussein has clearly indicated he does not want war, Bush made a dramatic shift in his public rhetoric this past week and declared that Iraq’s relinquishing all its weapons of mass destruction is now no longer sufficient: a regime change is an absolute requirement—Saddam Hussein must go.

However, if the truth be known, regime change has been the real Bush administration goal since the day he took office, and the issue of weapons of mass destruction has been a red herring—a distraction for decent people who naturally tend to hate these kinds of weapons. In fact, according to the British newspaper, The Independent, in 1997 Rumsfeld, Cheney, and other prominent members of what now constitutes the Bush administration, created what they called “Project for the New American Century,” which was a lobby group that demanded a regime change in Iraq and specifically called on Clinton to remove Saddam Hussein from power. In a letter to Newt Gingrich, they argued “we should establish and maintain a strong U.S. military pressure in the region, and be prepared to use that force to protect our vital interests in the Gulf...”

The question then arises, when they spoke of “our vital interests,” what was that a reference to? First, when they use the term “our,” they don’t really mean to include people like us, or for that matter, the vast majority of the people in this country. They are referring to a small very rich and powerful elite, but I will return to this point later. Secondly, historically, interests that the U.S. government has identified as vital have tended to fall into two categories: strategic military interests, for example, the need to have a military base in some crucial geographical area of the world, or natural resources, ones that are crucial for the functioning of the U.S. economy. But since the U.S. government has military bases throughout the Middle East, not to mention its five global military commands with more than a million soldiers on four continents, and its carrier battle groups on watch in every ocean—this is a true empire—it is undoubtedly safe to conclude that the vital interests are not military, since all bases are covered, but economic. And, as people all over the world suspect, that economic interest is oil.

Now some people in the antiwar movement talk as if this power-grab for oil—and Iraq has more oil than every other country in the world with the exception of Saudi Arabia—has been triggered by the insatiable and personal gluttonous greed of the Bush family whose wealth has historically been linked to the oil industry. And they are quick to point out that many of the members of the Bush cabinet have also been linked to the oil industry.

But such an analysis underestimates how deeply the entire U.S. economy relies on foreign oil supplies: The U.S. includes five percent of the world population, contains three percent of the world’s oil reserves, but consumes 25 percent of the world’s daily production of oil. Currently the U.S. imports slightly more than one-half of all the oil it consumes; 24 percent of this comes from the Middle East. In the 1990s, the percentage of oil that the U.S. imported to meet its needs rose by 28 percent. Consequently it has been projected that by 2050 the U.S. will be importing 40 percent of its oil from the Middle East.

Moreover, it is not a matter of simply pursuing super profits for some of the major oil companies. The entire U.S. economy pivots on oil. A whole sector of the economy depends directly on affordable, accessible oil: for example, the transportation industry, the airline industry, plastics, factories with heavy machinery, to name a few. But beyond this fact, when consumers in the U.S. are forced to pay high prices for heating our homes (which require oil or natural gas, which is associated with oil), or when we are forced to pay steep prices at the gas pump, then we have less money to spend on consumer items, which then tends to send the economy into a tail spin. For this reason, all major recessions in the United States of the past half century were preceded by a precipitous rise in the cost of oil.

So guaranteed access to affordable oil is not a secondary question—it is of crucial importance to the functioning of the U.S. economy and those who profit from it. The oil fields in Iraq, if seized, will be able to lubricate the U.S. economy for decades to come.

Of course, the U.S. government will not be so crude as to simply march in and seize the fields. First, it will remove Saddam Hussein. Then it will install a puppet regime, guaranteed to be friendly to U.S. corporate interests, and it will call this government “democratic.” Finally, this puppet regime will award oil contracts to U.S. oil companies. And we might add, according to the Wall Street Journal (January 16, 2003) White House officials have already been meeting with executives from Halliburton, ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, etc., to plan post war use of Iraqi oil.

But to say that the impending war on Iraq will be waged for oil, while true, still does not go far enough. There is a certain underlying logic to our economy, impelling U.S. into this war. And to capture a glimpse of this logic, I want to quote to you a statement from George Kennen who, in the late 1940s, held a prominent position in the U.S. State Department. Here is what he said in 1949, not to the public, but behind closed doors:

“We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit the U.S. to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do this, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming.... We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism.... We should cease talk about vague and ... unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards and democratization.... The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

In other words, this is the world of capitalism—production for private profit, where selfish greed is the only main course on the menu. It is a dog-eat-dog world where only the most ruthless survive—for example, those businesses which move their operations to Third World countries where they pay their workers as little as 10 cents a day, or the businesses which are prepared to dump raw, toxic wastes directly in the environment to save expensive cleanup costs; or those which do all their business in the U.S. but incorporate in Bermuda in order to escape paying their taxes altogether; or those which cook their books and swindle the investors. These are the people who know how to play the system and gleefully step on others in order to advance themselves.

The mindset of the Bush administration and the entire capitalist class as they drag U.S. into this war is this: If the U.S. does not seize the oil fields in Iraq, then France, Russia or China will get the oil. And it is better to be a winner than a loser.

But this kind of cynical logic benefits neither the majority of the people in this country, nor the majority of the world’s population. Here is what it has produced for us in the U.S.:

In 1970 the average CEO made 40 times the salary of the average worker. Today the average CEO makes 500 times
as much.

The share of marketable net worth held by the wealthiest one percent increased by 76 percent between 1976 and 1989 while in the same period the vast majority of the population (80 percent) saw our share drop 20 percent in the same period.

While Bill Gates had roughly $90 billion in 1999, there were over one million homeless people in this country, and one out of every ten Americans went without food at least once during each month for lack of money, and one out of every five children lived in poverty. Thanks to world capitalism, most people in the world are poorer today than they have been at any time in recent history: People in Africa are 20 percent poorer than in the 1960s. Most people in Latin American, except for a small, wealthy minority are poorer today than they were 20 years ago. One-half of the world’s population lives in abject poverty. In the next 13 years a billion additional people will join the ranks of the poor. This is what capitalism has brought to humanity: more and more people pushed into poverty and greater inequality between the haves and have-nots.

In the final analysis, then, capitalism underlies this fanatical push to war against Iraq. It is a logic that operates on the perverse principle that those who have the most are required to grab even more in order to remain on top. And as long as we remain trapped in this demoralizing system that requires everyone to promote his or her own interest and turn one’s back on the rest of humanity, then we will be condemned to eternal war.

But it is precisely with respect to this point that the antiwar movement in this country is so significant. This movement is absolutely unprecedented—it has succeeded in mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people in this country in demonstrations against the war, even before it has begun. And not only that, this movement has reached out to people against the war all over the world, resulting in coordinated, simultaneous demonstrations that have drawn in millions of people.

These demonstrations are implicitly striking a blow at capitalism. By saying “No blood for oil” or “Books not bombs,” people are saying “no” to the profit system and “yes” to human needs. They are suggesting that a better world is indeed possible where, instead of bombing countries like Afghanistan or Iraq, we build schools and hospitals for them, and help them develop their economy.

This movement is a small, first step which points in the direction of creating a society built on entirely rational and humanitarian principles: where everyone is guaranteed a job, paid well, and where we produce for the good of humanity, not for private profit at the expense of humanity; a society in which every child is guaranteed a home, enough to eat, quality education, and free healthcare; a society in which all members of the community can participate in rationally determining social policy so that we, the people, will have the power to declare once and for all:

No more war, ever!





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