Page 1 of 4 Oil, war, lies and bulls**t'
By Cyrus Bina
There's hardly any doubt that the George W Bush administration lied rather
consciously about the cause of invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.
President George W Bush also has been deliberately untruthful to the American
public on a number of domestic issues, such as illegal, indiscriminate
wiretapping of US citizens, torture of foreign detainees and American political
prisoners, and limitless encroachment on civil, human, and legal rights of the
American citizenry at large.
As a consequence, at least on the issue of the invasion of Iraq, there's no
discernable disagreement about the Bush administration's appalling lies.
However, what is still questionable within the public (particularly, the
anti-war) discourse is the mistaken belief that oil has been the primary cause
of the US war
in Iraq. This belief, as I shall demonstrate below, is but a harmful ploy that
essentially belittles the truth; this belief plays as a de facto cover-up that
inadvertently, but sadly, conceals the Bush administration's scandalous tracks
in this bloody colonial adventure, and consequently trivializes the real cause
of the invasion of Iraq.
For instance, this supposedly "progressive" view is boon to the Israel lobby in
the United States, whose singular aim today is to justify the Bush
administration's mindless warmongering and to distract the public from the real
cause of war in the Middle East.
In this critical sense, I will argue, rather regretfully, the anti-war movement
itself has indeed played a significant part in the Bush administration's
reckless and frantic foreign policy. Moreover, I contend that speaking of oil
as the cause of war is clumsily out of context and thereby distracts our
attention from the neoconservative /militarist/Christian Zionist vision of the
And, particularly, by invoking "No Blood for Oil", the anti-war left -
including radicals and certain self-proclaimed "Marxists" - is, advertently or
inadvertently, blameworthy of sweeping the real cause of war under the carpet.
Since the oil crisis of the early 1970s, I have been weary of the relevance of
orthodox economic doctrines and their damaging methodological influence over
what is known as heterodox economic alternatives. However, my deepest
resentment is reserved for the so-called mainstream economics textbooks in
which competition, and by implication monopoly, has been treated axiomatically,
that is to say, as-a-matter-of-factly. I contend that invoking the fiction of
"perfect competition" and appealing to its equally silly corollary (that is,
"perfect monopoly"), has not been more exposed than in the case of oil
My deepest concern here arises from the intrinsic fakery - not necessarily
falsity - of the textbook competition-monopoly spectrum, camouflaged as a real
market-structure theory. In other words, the truth about this tautological
proposition is axiomatically undeniable; nevertheless, it is absolutely alien
and indeed irrelevant to the context and concrete reality of capitalist
Competition has an evolutionary context within the contending process of
accumulation in capitalism, which compels the competitors to participate in the
concentration and centralization of capital in their perpetual war of survival.
Neither "pure competition" nor "pure monopoly" nor the faked harmony within
their purported spectrum will be suitable for a testable hypothesis concerning
To be sure, this proposition is not wrong; it's simply devoid of the context.
This is what I mean by unrelated axiomatic (or fictional) construction. And
that's what H G Frankfurt, the author of On Bullshit, calls, "bullshit".
In this manner, the very accumulation of capital in the globalized oil industry
has been idealized by mainstream economic as "monopoly" and the Organization of
Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as an alleged (price-making) cartel.
What is depressingly noticeable is that the liberal/radical left also tends to
utilize this very idea of competition - before resorting to some selective
cartelized features of the bygone oil era, under the "Seven Sisters" leading
oil companies, peppered with the equally bygone US foreign policy under the
defunct Pax Americana (1945-1980) - as a guiding principle.
Moreover, this unauthentic impression (overblown with irrelevant,
anachronistic, and/or out-of-the-context facts) has become a typical facet of
nearly all liberal/radical (leftist) writings on today's oil.
Similarly, this sort of fakery and this manner of unconcern for truth have
become the signature of the majority of anti-war writings on oil and the war.
It appears that no amount of historical examination, critical reasoning and/or
concrete evidence on the decartelization, competitive globalization, and the
epochal transformation of oil have any effect on these liberal/radical
adversaries. In other words, for this well-intentioned but clueless anti-war
crowd, neither historical specificity nor epochal context nor concrete evidence
has any relevance.
The theory they know is patently owned by the orthodoxy, the oil they imagine
is non-competitive (and deemed controllable), and OPEC they envision is a
"cartel" - contrary to the empirical evidence.
Being baffled by this much misapprehension since the early 1990s (this is,
since the beginning of the US sequel in Iraq), I have persistently been in
search of a fitting category - beyond categories of "truth" and "falsehood" - a
category that would accurately describe the right-wing economic theorizing, and
its left-wing blind following, in respect to mischaracterization of oil,
misapprehension of the post-Pax Americana interventions, misrepresentation of
American hegemony and the mistaken identity of the present epoch.
I was particularly interested in a meaningful category that would adequately
describe the anti-war writings on oil and their purported linkage to the
question of war.
This question was on my mind till one day, in 2005, when I came across in a
bookstore a stack of petite volumes titled On Bullshit. Thumbing through
the tiny pages, the author's brief description on the back-page reassured the
skeptical reader: "Harry G Frankfurt, renowned moral philosopher, is Professor
of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University." This was a godsend, I thought
as I gave a quick read of the first few pages, and realized this is what I have
long been seeking for the streamlining of my otherwise long-handed criticism of
the "market typology" and my long-drawn-out dissatisfaction with neoclassical
competition as embraced by nearly all textboooks on microeconomics and
More importantly, I noticed that this book offers an apt category for depiction
of nearly all recent writings on oil and war, whose relevance to the context
and whose competence on the issues are suspect. I have been writing for nearly
four decades on this subject, and only belatedly realized that I need a serious sui
generis category - a shorthand - for identification of these writings
and utterances; writings and utterances that are steeped in circular reasoning;
that are devoid of historical periodization and replete with the panoramic
fakery - in both academic and popular literature on oil, war, globalization and
In this 67-page gem of a book, the author remarked: "It is impossible for
someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. ... [Thus] the liar is
inescapably concerned with truth-values." By contrast, Frankfurt rightfully
insisted that "[f]or the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is
neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on
the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and the liar are ..."
The author then went on: "his focus is panoramic rather than particular. ... He
is prepared, so far as required, to fake the context as well." And finally a
gentle reminder by the author: "Since bullshit need not be false, it differs
from lies in its misrepresentational intent."
"Bullshit" indeed seemed to have been the accurate description of what I have
painstakingly encountered in the mainstream as well as heterodox economic
literature on oil in recent decades. I have written well over half a million
words (and spoken four times that) to expose the faulty methodology and the
lack of concern for truth concerning the epochal transformation and
globalization of oil by the conservative, liberal and radical economists; and
by international relations academics.
In the majority of writings in these literatures, the preemption of truth has
been accomplished by absolute lack of concern for contextual reality. The
writers often resorted to axiomatic reasoning - not as an abstraction from
complexities of the truth but abstraction from the truth itself - in order to
justify their models - rather circularly. They preferred to hang on to the
bygone colonial era, under the International Petroleum Cartel (1928-1973), and
to force the out-of-the-context revival of this anachronism upon the present
reality of global oil.
That's why - before setting the context - I decided to insert the word
"bullshit" in the subtitle and throughout this article - not as a sign of
disrespect or put-down - but as a sui generis category of immeasurable
value in order to accurately classify the enormous body of the popular writings
on oil , war, and hegemony.
The price of oil had already passed the threshold of US$145 per barrel, before
falling below the $100-mark and back, given the deepening financial crisis at
home and the staggering financial and political cost of foreign adventures
abroad; the day-to-day price of oil has now moved to an uncharted territory. No
amount of cozying up to Saudis by the American administration will ever do the
trick, as it used to in the pre-1970s cartelized era.
Indeed, as I have demonstrated nearly three decades ago, since the 1970s,
bargaining and cozying in this business cannot explain the underlying long-run
price oil. Moreover, to look at oil systematically, and in a non-arbitrary
manner, any bargaining is necessarily confined within the boundary of these
differential oil rents.
The size of these oil rents is also dependent upon the level of long-run oil
price, whose magnitude is subject to the production price of costliest oil
region (that is, least productive deposits) in the world. Geographically, the
lower-48 states region of the United States has been the site of the world's
oldest and most explored oil deposits. This oil region had been under the
auspices of the International Petroleum Cartel that had controlled nearly all
world oil till the global restructuring of the early 1970s. Upon the
decartelization of oil in the early 1970s, the US oil (the world's highest
explored, highest-cost oil) has become the center of gravity of value and
pricing of oil globally.
That's why, the difference between yesterday's and today's oil is the
difference between arbitrary pricing, ad hoc accounting and unmediated control
by the defunct International Petroleum Cartel on the one hand, and the
mediating operation of the "law of value", manifested through competitive
globalization and worldwide pricing of oil on the other.
This, in my view, is the critical distinction between the liberal/radical
(leftist) view, which relies on the idealized orthodoxy (that is, mainstream
economics) for theoretical and ideological nourishment, and the one that
focuses on the evolutionary material reality of competitive pricing of oil in
the globe. Today, the extent of this contrast has never been so clearly
apparent than over the issues surrounding the US invasion and occupation of
Iraq on the one hand, and the alleged question of oil on the other.
Since the oil crisis of 1973-74 that restructured and unified the industry, the
reality on the ground has rendered the colonial control of oil untenable.
Therefore, the theoretical underpinning of modern oil and lingering fantasies
of yesteryear's cartelization (together with the unreality of US hegemony under
the Pax Americana) have no commonality.
But liberals and conservatives alike see the oil as an immutable entity devoid
of historical evolution, and insist that, even in its undivided globalized
configuration, oil - even now - is allegedly privy to the necessity of physical
control and military invasion, thus insinuating an arbitrary domination.
Moreover, these observers often start with power (as a point of departure) and
conclude with power and power relations to reach their point of arrival,
without any inkling about the circularity of their argument. The case in point
is the US invasion of Iraq, in