Oil is the resource that produces the most politics. It breeds ugly and two-faced things called foreign policy and covert operations. It is oil that starts wars often under the guise of religion or democracy. The 2005 film Syriana captures the cynical nature of oil politics brilliantly. Things, however, with the Arab Spring seem to have moved on. It is too soon to tell what the recent events mean for oil, the Middle East and American hegemony.
Syriana is written and directed by Stephen Gaghan and loosely based on the memoirs of Robert Baer, a CIA operative for 21 years, called ‘See No Evil’. The book and the movie are startling in that they show how cynically the CIA seeks to influence politics in the Middle East through covert operations. Baer famously said in 2004 to the New Statesman (British newspaper) regarding terrorism suspects, “If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear—never to see them again—you send them to Egypt.” (Wikipedia)
Recently, Baer made a statement on Amazon about John Perkin’s book Hoodwinked:
“What got us into the mess we’re in today, the worst recession since the Great Depression, is the same grotesque capitalism cum corruption we shoved down the throat of the Third World since the end of World War II. (Yes, the Third World’s elites were cheerfully corrupted.) We, and the rest of the West, learned the trick of selling unneeded infrastructure, services, over-sophisticated weapons–stuff that could never benefit anyone other than the people who lined their pockets. And yes, Perkins is right, the international economists and press were handmaidens to the thievery. It was all fairly routine until 9/11, when the real gorging started. Tell the people their roof is on fire and they’ll give you whatever you ask for. Between 2001 and 2009 the Department of Defense budget increased 74 percent, and that is not to mention the hundreds of billions of dollars in related contracts.” (Facebook)
Perkins in his book Hoodwinked concludes that the answer to the present malaise is openness in government, an end to human rights abuses and most importantly a new energy policy by America based upon sustainability. Baer is more cynical he doesn’t believe CFLs, bamboo flooring, programmable thermostats, solar panels etc. can save the West from inevitable decline.
Syriana the movie tells a complex interwoven tale. The main premise is that a prince of one of the Emirates gives a lucrative contract to a Chinese firm rather than an American oil company. The CIA acts on behalf of American oil interests and assassinates the pro-reform prince to put his pro-American brother in charge of the oil rich country. As the film progresses the corruption in Washington and the violence in the Middle East leave a nasty taste. The final scene is of two Pakistani itinerant workers recruited to terrorism by an Egyptian cleric with a weapon they stole from the CIA blowing up an oil tanker.
The film is fictional but the methods employed by the CIA, the ruling elite of the Middle East and terror inciting clerics seem very real. After all it is based on the work of a CIA operative.
The game, however, has moved on since 2005. Where once America sought to influence succession in Emirate Royal families and do their best to sell pointless infrastructure and weapons to the Middle East in return for the oil, now they might well have to contend with democracy. It is much easier to buy one man off (or kill him) than it is to buy entire countries off (or kill them).
Excepting Colonel Gadaffi, who made himself too morally repugnant after the Lockerbie bombing, America has buddied up with all the despots of the Middle East whose positions seem more tenuous by the week. First was Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, then President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Bahrain, Syria and Yemen are now in the throes of revolution. Protests have sprung up in Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and Oman. It looks like all the yes men that America has placed are losing power. Since December 2010 North Africa and the Middle East has found its voice and they are saying no to American involvement in the region. It is a movement seeking the return of sovereignty to the people.
The Obama administration was at first very timid to condone the uprisings now dubbed the Arab Spring. Their early silence speak volumes for the not so hidden secret agenda of long term planners in Washington to strike a series of alliances within the Arab world to keep the oil and lucrative contracts flowing. Forced by events to put up a show of support Obama eventually made statements to the effect that the uprisings were legitimate and that the tyrants should step down.
The American elite had little choice because millions are daily taking to the streets. These are the poor who live in a region with the greatest resource ever known to mankind – elephant oil fields. The governments of the Middle East and North Africa have done nothing other than buy weapons and consolidate their power with the billions of dollars of oil taken from the ground. The people are protesting about torture and murder of those who previously sought to oppose the rulers. They want democracy and human rights.
Those such as Rumsfeld and Cheney and companies such as Exxon Mobil must be very annoyed. Invading democracies that happen to favor policies not in American interests could be very hard to sell to the UN and the American public.
What the fledgling Arab and African democracies do with their newly found sovereignty (and the oil); and how America responds to the new playing field are the great political questions that will shortly be answered.