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     Oct 9, 2008
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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 Bush-Cheney administration.

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 industry.

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.

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 advanced capitalism.

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 industrial organization.

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 hegemony.

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 

Continued 1 2 3 4 

Curbs on oil speculators a diversion (Sep 11, '08)
Are they really oil wars? (Jun 25, '08)

Myth-makers caught short in oil speculation
(Jun 18, '08)

Speculators knock OPEC off oil-price perch (May 6, '08)

1. Hockey moms and capital markets

2. The fatal flaw in Afghan peace moves

3. Government spending spree

4. 'Hoarding' is out

5. US wars keep the money flowing

6. China takes stock in crisis

7. Look who came to dinner ...

8. Syria plays hardball with the Saudis

9. Tata at a fork in the road

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Oct 7, 2008)



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