Oil, Israel and Iraq

This is the result of a meeting in December 2004 among radical activists in Oregon. The basic ideas put forward by this article were largely rejected. I made a tactical error: I assumed that everyone would see that the so-called 'war on terror' is the most important attack on us all being carried out by the ruling class - you know, concentration camps, internment without trial, torture, that kind of thing - so what was needed was an analysis of what's behind it. For me, the turning point was the detention of supporter of Bush - but opponent of Israel - professor Sami al-Arian, in Florida in February 2002, on obscure charges relating to money ending up in the hands of people in the Middle East who attack Israel. The point is, the USA has no particular interest in supporting one side or the other. Persecution of academic critics of Israel [45], [59], [71] is not evidence of Zionism, it is Zionism. Grovelling to Zionists only encourages them [60]. I also wrote the article in a deliberately provocative way, which definitely pushed buttons, though some of the hostility was rooted in jealousy rather than politics. So I have changed all the button-pushing buzzwords to more acceptable equivalents. Still, I think I was right to hint that sympathy for Israel is more deep-rooted than we realize, and that we need a 'mass psychology of anti-fascism'.

Five arguments were put forward against my article:
1. The extreme right say the same thing as me, so I must be wrong
2. Zionism had something positive and liberatory in its origins
3. There may be many causes of the Iraq war, not just one
4. Israel cannot control the USA by emotional blackmail
5. Israel is not an armed camp, but a class society
The first argument deserves no answer, and the second argument is simply wrong. Whatever the first Zionists thought they were doing, ethnic cleansing was part of their program [2], [14], [21]. The third is better, but I try to deal with all possible causes of the Iraq war, and only one of them appears to explain it. Did the US invade Iraq 'partly' to secure its oil supply? If so, it's not doing very well. I disagree with the fourth argument, but I cannot prove that Israel actually controls US foreign and domestic policy, as far as her interests are concerned. What I can prove is that US foreign and domestic policies exactly follow those interests. Since the interests of a superpower in North America cannot coincide exactly with those of one small country in the Middle East, there must be areas where those interests differ. If, in these situations, the USA follows the interests of Israel rather than its own interests, it begs for an explanation. This argument is too logical for many people. A hypothesis should include the possibility of refutation [48]. Two scenarios could refute my theory that Israel controls US foreign and domestic policy, as far as Israel's interests are concerned: 1. if, during the next year, US relations with Iran improve rather than deteriorate, and 2. if the current FBI investigation of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee [10] results in prosecutions for espionage. The fifth argument has a point. It is true that Israel is a class society, but the class struggle does not challenge its policies. On the contrary: according to Aufheben, the settlements in the occupied territories are a concession to the working class [25]. As I said in the original article, class is inadequate as a basis for political struggle.

The ultra-left recuperates opposition to concrete things like mass murder into opposition to harmless abstractions like the spectacle [70]. You will not get into trouble calling for the abolition of all states, but you will if you campaign for the abandonment of Israel, especially if no-one supports you. Certainly, no-one among the ultra-left supports me. So this really is the last version of this article. Happy new year to you all.

American interest in the Middle East obviously has something to do with oil. But the specific policies being carried out by the US ruling class in the region may not be in their rational self-interest. I'll look at several explanations for the Iraq war, and dismiss all but one of them:

1. Oil
2. Neoliberalism
3. Defeating the working class
4. Right-wing ideology
5. Israel

1. Crude materialism

Oil is an important commodity for sustaining military power. In World War II, Japan and Germany were defeated when their oil was cut off. However, invading countries in the Middle East does not help control the oil supply. Iraq's oil output has fallen to less than half what it was before the overthrow of Saddam, when sanctions had already lowered it well below its potential [74]. For the left, the phrase 'a war for oil' is a criticism. But for the corporate right, it is an attempt at a justification. Wolfowitz spoke of securing a 'sea of oil' in the build-up to the war. But the oil industry, having more brains than the left, did not believe him, and did not support the war [19]. The Saudi oilfields were indeed the greatest 'material prize' in history [31]. They were secured by being diplomatic to Muslim leaders, not by calling them agents of Satan. Force does have a role. Like the chickenhawks [31], I'm no military buff, but unlike them, I can see that the Army and the Marines are not the right forces to control oilfields. This is best carried out by the Navy and the Air Force. The USAF can threaten to bomb any oil pipeline, anywhere in the world, at any time, with impunity. US battleships can stop any oil tanker. Whereas the Army and the Marines (and their mercenaries and Iraqi collaborators) are losing. Conversely, no nation dare try to interrupt the USA's oil supply. But it is not completely impossible that the Bush regime has started the process which will lead to the only possible nations which could curtail the USA's oil supply, while preventing it from retaliating - Islamic fundamentalist states armed with nuclear weapons and most of the world's oil. The US armed forces in Iraq are having their oil supply curtailed now, as it is increasingly dangerous to deliver it. 'Most senior US military officers now believe the war on Iraq has turned into a disaster on an unprecedented scale' [26]. Iraq has recently seen the first-ever mutiny of volunteer soldiers [37]. When, at the beginning of world war two, Hitler transferred resources from the Navy to the Army despite Doenitz's plea for more U-Boats, he made a mistake which we can see with hindsight. Bush similarly ignored the military men and women [35], [36].

The idea that it is a 'war for oil' for domestic consumption is tree-hugging bumper-sticker moralism. Only about twelve percent of US domestic oil consumption comes from the Persian Gulf [72]. It is easy to see how the USA could completely free itself of this minor dependence. Sending in the troops is a lot more expensive than ordinary economic power. Indeed, it is the most expensive mistake in American history. Because of the Iraqi insurgency, and in spite of the reactionary, nationalist politics of the Iraqi resistance, the world's poor now know that it is possible for a determined popular resistance to defeat the greatest military force in history.

The oil explanation doesn't explain anything. The Marxist journal Aufheben claims that the attack on Iraq is in the interests of Britain and the USA. In issue 10 [25], just after September 11th, it said the USA is trying to 'salvage' the Oslo peace process, and in issue 12 [34], 'the pressure to rein in the aspirations of the neo-conservatives can only grow'. Britain and the USA are not acting in their own interests, and both predictions have turned out wrong.

2. Neoliberalism and paleoliberalism

Naomi Klein defends the view that the occupation is a dose of the medicine of neoliberalism [5], [41], [42]. She says the occupation was largely an attempt to impose 'shock therapy' on a social-democratic country, and turn it into a shining advertisement for free market capitalism. 'It is quite an accomplishment: in trying to design the best place in the world to do business, the neocons have managed to create the worst, the most eloquent indictment yet of the guiding logic behind deregulated free markets', she writes. The logical fallacy in her argument is obvious. If she visited China, for example, she would see the most eloquent evidence for deregulated free markets. Neoliberalism in Iraq hasn't worked because anyone trying to do reconstruction is a collaborator with the occupation, and hence can't afford the life insurance. It is true that any country the USA attacks during the current phase of capitalism will be subject to privatization, etc.. The bombing of Yugoslavia under Clinton was part of an attempt to do this, etc.. Like ultra-leftism, Klein's hypothesis precisely fails to address the specifics of the Iraq adventure, thus completely fails to explain it. Another critique of the anti-globalization analysis can be found in 'The War and Globalization', Mark Engler, [68]. In general the 'war profiteer' argument fails because, sometimes capitalism decides to have a war, and, naturally, some companies profit, and other times, it decides not to have a war. If war profiteers drive the system, why aren't there more wars? Why did the capitalist class allow a war which is profitable for some, but disastrously unprofitable for most? If the USA invaded Iraq because the administration is corrupt, and in particular, because the President and Vice President have interests in oil and reconstruction companies, why doesn't it happen more often? Why doesn't the USA occupy more countries, loot their resources, and pay Halliburton to rebuild them? Why aren't the Democrats committed to pulling out?

3. The working class

The Wildcat group in Britain, a group of Iraqi exiles, and the predecessors of Aufheben analyzed the first Gulf War as primarily an attempt to defeat a combative working class [66]. This is why Saddam was allowed to keep helicopters, why the USAF bombed mutinous Iraqi troops on their way back into Iraq, and why the Republican Guard was left untouched. Current US policy in Iraq can be explained as a war against the working class only in the trivial sense that all capitalist policy aims at maximizing the appropriation of surplus value by means of wage labor. Though Iraqi resilience is legendary, this resilience is not taking a class character as it did in 1991.

4. Neoconservatism and paleoconservatism

I am writing this sentence on the eve of the US 2004 election, and I think the Republicans probably will win. If I'm right, it will still be quite clear that, if the other party had won, US policy in Iraq would be the same. Both candidates are committed to the indefinite occupation of Iraq, and either candidate will in fact be forced to withdraw from Iraq. When George Bush senior criticized the pro-Israel Lobby, he had to publically apologize [46]. Some argue that it's the Christian Zionists in the Republican party who allow Israel to pull the strings [28]. But the Democrats are just as pro-Zionist as the Republicans [8]. Though right-wing ideology might explain why America is prepared to endanger its position in the world by fighting a pointless war, it does not explain why it chose the Middle East in which to do it.

5. Israel

The US occupation of the center of the Middle East is for Israeli interests. This bold assertion needs some qualification. In the first place, invading Iraq seems a strange choice. Saddam's career was on balance more beneficial to Israel than harmful. And of course the occupation of Iraq is not going Israel's way. It can be explained by ideology - not right-wing ideology, but what we generally call 'Zionism'.

Though Saddam was not really a threat to Israel, Zionist ideology has to believe that he was. Whereas the offensive against the Arab and Muslim world is obviously against American interests, it is not so obviously for Israeli interests. 'Israeli interests' is a contradictory concept. Many have pointed out that current US policies help Islamic extremists like bin Laden. But that is because they are Israeli policies, and nothing fosters Islamic extremism like Israeli policies. M Junaid Alam, in 'Israel: Suicide Nation?' on the Counterpunch website [13] explains this dilemma. A Jewish state in Palestine must wage continuous war, which it cannot win. Israeli hawks and doves are both right: if Israel show weakness, its enemies will attack. If it fights back, they will attack. Alam entitled his piece 'The Demented Logic of the Occupation' [13]. But his chilling question to Israeli Jews should lead them to abandon, not just Gaza and the West Bank, but Israel itself: "assuming our 'war on terror' is still raging two decades from now as desired by Sharon and company, what will Israel do when it is surrounded by over 300 million neighboring Arabs and 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide? Does a sane nation of a mere few million place its hopes for survival on the permanent subjugation of a quarter of humanity that surrounds it? Israel on its current path is like a man who swims off the coast into the ocean and happens on an island, only to complain of being surrounded by water. Its citizens should start asking themselves and their leaders, 'What will we do when the typhoon comes?'". The quickest way to persuade Israelis to ask this question is by ending America's and other nations' support for Israel.

Another Counterpunch contributor, Michael Neumann, says "Control of Middle East oil is one of the few things American can easily secure on its own: it takes next to nothing to occupy oil fields, and it has been done many times. As for the oil-producing countries themselves, Israel doesn't seem to have been much help in controlling the Iranian oil fields, and the Gulf States Regimes have always been helpless American clients. The only relevant effect of US support for Israel is that it makes people in the Middle East furious at the very idea of alliance with or subordination to the United States: Israel is no help but a huge hinderance to America's oil security." [15].

This is my argument, but with one difference: I don't think America needs to occupy oilfields to completely deny oil to any enemy power which might arise, at the same time as guaranteeing its own supply. On the contrary, occupying oilfields is a gift to America's enemies [35]. The USA does not, by its nature, wage war against Arabs for their race, nor Muslims for their religion. Israel is the only country which, by its nature, does. Zionism is more than racist - it is genocidal. If the reader doubts this, I recommend another Counterpunch article, "Sharon's Little Helpers" [63], in which Paul de Rooij cites the frank description of Israel's policies by advisors who are close to both the Israeli and US governments. These advisors explicitly, and sadistically, advocate the mass murder of civilians in order to drive the Palestinians out of the Middle East. But the Palestinians have refused to disappear - they have nowhere else to go, and they know the historical precedents for passivity in the face of racism [29].

Israel and America

Those who criticize my perspective should answer this question: in what way does American foreign and domestic policy, in so far as Israel's interests are concerned, diverge from those interests? It doesn't. This is not true of any other country. Israel is not America's 'watchdog'. Arab nationalism is not inherently anti-US any more than Jewish nationalism is inherently pro-US. For example, Saddam Hussein was a willing accomplice of the USA for decades. Given a small percentage of the monies Americans send to Israel every day, he still would be. The Gulf States, Egypt and other Muslim nations are similarly willing. We know the story of how Egypt switched from the Soviets to the US after Israel defeated it in 1967, but we forget that in 1956 Egypt was America's ally against Israel. Israel doesn't have anything America needs. It would be impossible to find a worse choice for an ally in the Middle East than Israel. One might almost think that Israel has chosen the USA, rather than the other way round. Israel is indeed the USA's 'client state' [33]. Every businessman knows that the client comes first. Except that the client usually pays the businessman, rather than the other way round. So what explains this strange reversal?

My original article went on to describe the pro-Israel lobby using emotional blackmail to persuade Americans not to criticize Israel. However, I have discovered that this argument cuts a bit too close to the bone, so I have removed it. Interested readers can check the references: [1], [14], [30], [53].

Outside America, its easier to stand up against Israel [38], [49], [67]. In response the Zionist propaganda mill raises the pitch: 'The report also raises the prospect of a rise of a new form of anti-Semitism in Europe, which would question Israel's legitimacy as a sovereign Jewish state' - 'Jewish state fears world isolation', The Daily Telegraph [54]. The Guardian recently published an article by a woman complaining she is constantly attacked in London. She claims to be American, but if you read the article, you can see where her loyalties really lie - 'An American scapegoat in London' [51]. She switches from accusing Londoners of anti-Americanism to accusing them of anti-semitism. Both allegations are lies.

Opposing Zionism

Most of Israel's critics call for an end to the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; a return to Israel's 1967 frontiers. Israel occupies East Jerusalem, but it occupies West Jerusalem just as much. It's all occupation. It is illogical to criticize the right-wing settlers in Gaza and the West Bank without attacking Israel per se. Eisen reminds us it was left-wing kibbutzniks who directed and carried out the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians [14]. An article in Tikkun magazine [17] says the main appeal of the call to end the occupation is that 'it does not vilify the settlers'. The people who have to live near them do, though. An article by Jeffrey Goldberg, 'Among the Settlers', in 'The New Yorker' [22] explains why. I won't repeat what they say - but their racism is at least honest compared with the authors of Tikkun. But, crucially, Goldberg points out that 'Many Israelis believe that evacuation of many settlements - even all of the settlements - would not satisfy the Palestinians'. And why should it? The Palestinians were driven off land scattered all over what is now Israel. The call for Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 frontiers (before the occupations of Gaza and the West Bank) amounts to recognition of the State of Israel before 1967, that is, to the endorsement of ethnic cleansing [2]. Many states were created by ethnic cleansing, including the USA. But it is impossible to return North America to the Native Americans, and we do not campaign for the impossible. Returning Palestine to the Palestinians is not impossible, but it's not exactly a walk in the park either.

It may one day be necessary to avoid opposition to Zionism becoming as much of a diversion as anti-fascism was in the thirties. Anti-fascism is a diversion because seeing one fraction of the capitalist class as so evil that it is worth subordinating the working class to other parts in order to fight it, leads to death and defeat for the workers, at which point the rulers can choose fascism anyway, if it wants to [44]. Hostility to Israel could become a similar diversion, where Israel is seen as so evil that it is justifiable to ally with reactionaries to defeat it. It is worth remembering that the USA was already the world's leading killer while it was still opposed to Israel, and how anti-fascism and the idea of the uniqueness of Nazism were invented, not by Zionists, but by the left to justify the Allies' crimes in world war two. There is one major difference between the genocidal policies of Israel and those of other countries: Israel's victims fight back. What this article advocates is solidarity, not charity. For the forseeable future, opposition to Zionism is more important than worrying about what this opposition could turn into.

It is difficult to oppose Israel, which seems to have the USA and other major countries in a death grip. But it is a paper tiger, for reasons I have outlined. Its nature leads it to alienate progressively more and more people [13]. Pro-Israel policies are leading the USA towards defeat in the Middle East, which will be an opportunity for the inhabitants of both.

References and Further Reading

1. Letters page, The Seattle Times, June 3, 2003
2. 'The War for Palestine', eds. E. Rogan and A. Shlaim, Cambridge University Press, 2001
3. 'The Nazification of Israel', Alternative Press Review, Spring 2003
4. 'The Mass Psychology of Fascism', Wilhelm Reich, New York, FSG 1970
5. Naomi Klein, 'A Call to Mutiny', Clamor Magazine, Fall 2004
6. 'The Holocaust Industry', Norman Finkelstein, Verso, 2000, www.normanfinkelstein.com
7. 'Zionism in the Age of the Dictators', Lenni Brenner, www.marxists.de/middleast/brenner
8. Jeffrey Blankfort, 'The Israeli Lobby and the Left', [52]
9. Michael Neumann, members.tripod.com/~mneumann/mnisrael.htm
10. 'Jail the War Party', Justin Raimondo, antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=4106
11. Jews Against Zionism, troploin0.free.fr/biblio/zajaz, www.btinternet.com/~sapere.aude/jaz.html
12. 'CARNAGE IN TEL AVIV', Left I on the News, lefti.blogspot.com/2004_11_01_lefti_archive.html
13. 'Israel: Suicide Nation?', www.counterpunch.org/alam03312004.html
14. Paul Eisen, 'Jewish Power', jewsagainstzionism.blogspot.com/2004_09_01_jewsagainstzionism_archive.html#109632138026773942
15. 'Three Years and Counting', Michael Neumann, www.counterpunch.org/neumann09232004.html
16. Against Sleep and Nightmare 7, www.againstsleepandnightmare.com
17. Tikkun, www.tikkun.org/magazine/index.cfm/action/tikkun/issue/tik0307/article/030711i.html
18. Noel Ignatiev et al, Race Traitor
19. 'Oil Prices and Regime Resilience in the Gulf', Fareed Mohamedi, Middle East Report, Fall 2004
20. Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript_settlers.html
21. Benny Morris, www.counterpunch.org/shavit01162004.html
22. 'Among the Settlers', Jeffrey Goldberg, www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?040531fa_fact2_a
23. American plan to turn Guantanamo Bay into a 'death camp': www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,6494000%255E401,00.html - strangely, the link no longer works, and there is no Google cache. Sometimes, the Internet forgets.
24. M Junaid Alam, An Anti-Civilizational War?, www.counterpunch.org/alam03102004.html
25. 'Behind the 21st Century Intifada', Aufheben 10, 2002, www.wildcat-www.de/en/material/aufh10b.htm
26. Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, Sept 16, 2004, www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1305360,00.html
27. Mark Elf, jewssansfrontieres.blogspot.com/2004_04_01_jewssansfrontieres_archive.html
28. Christian Zionists rally in Israel, www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/484433.html
29. 'Anti-Semitism and National Socialism', Moishe Postone, Chronos, 2000.
30. Robert Fisk, Counterpunch, www.counterpunch.org/fisk04242004.html
31. The Project For a New Israeli Century: www.newamericancentury.org
32. Jean-Paul Sartre, Réflections sur la question juive, 1946
33. Carl Estabrook, 'A Lethal Warning to US Client States: Behave or Else' www.counterpunch.org/estabrook02262003.html
34. 'Oil wars', Aufheben 12, 2004
35. 'The State Department's extreme makeover', 'Anonymous', Salon.com, fairuse.1accesshost.com/news2/salon39.html
36. Karen Kwiatowski, www.lewrockwell.com/kwiatkowski/kwiatkowski28.html
37. 'Platoon defies orders', portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/11/301550.shtml
38. 'Four Years of Intifada', www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2004/10/298586.html
39. 'Shoppers in uproar', www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/12/05/BU76369.DTL
40. 'An Exchange with Benny Morris', Kathleen and Bill Christison, www.counterpunch.org/christison10022004.html
41. Naomi Klein, 'Baghdad Year Zero', Harper's Magazine, September 2004, www.harpers.org/BaghdadYearZero.html
42. 'Iraq faces soaring toll of deadly disease', The Independent, news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=571593
43. 'Witch-hunters, censorship and the holocaust', www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/365/finkelstein.html
44. 'When Insurrections Die', Gilles Dauve, Antagonism Press, London, 1999
45."Islamic scholar's revoked visa is a sign of the times", Tariq Ramadan, www.commondreams.org/views04/1221-27.htm
46. 'Jewish Power', J J Goldberg, Adison-Wesley, 1996
47. Seymour Hersh, www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2004/10/11_hersh.shtml
48. Karl Popper Web, www.eeng.dcu.ie/~tkpw/
49. 'Israel could become pariah state, warns report', The Guardian, www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,1327370,00.html
50. 'Bank Crisis Threatens PSC', www.palestinecampaign.org/campaigns.asp?d=y&id=131
51. 'An American scapegoat in London', Carol Gould, The Guardian, Oct. 16 04, www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1328663,00.html
52. 'The Politics of Anti-Semitism', Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch 2003
53. Robert Fisk, 'Why Does John Malkovich Want to Kill Me?', [52]
54. 'Jewish state fears world isolation', The Daily Telegraph, Oct. 15 2004, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2004/10/15/wmid215.xml
55. Michael Neumann, 'What is Anti-Semitism?' [52]
56. Lenin's Tomb, leninology.blogspot.com/2004_10_01_leninology_archive.html
57. 'The Plot Against America', Philip Roth, Houghton Miffin 2004
58. 'The Holocaust on Trial', D D Guttenplan, The Atlantic Monthly, February 2000
59. M Shaheed Alam, 'A New Theology of Power', [52]
60. 'UO professor, authors settle defamation suit', Dec. 2 04, Eugene Register-Guard, www.registerguard.com/news/2004/12/02/c1.cr.cardsuit.1202.html
61. 'Undue Process', The American Conservative, www.amconmag.com/2004_10_11/article.html
62. 'Talk of sanctions against Israel helps the enemies of peace', The Guardian, www.guardian.co.uk/israel/comment/0,10551,1338804,00.html
63. "The Voices of Sharon's Little Helpers", Paul de Rooij, counterpunch.org/rooij12092004.html
64. 'Bomber Harris Joins Anti-Fascist Action', Wildcat, f.acetio.usmain.html
65. The International Solidarity Movement, www.palsolidarity.org
66. 'Ten Days That Shook Iraq', 10daysthatshookiraq.html
67. 'Israel boycott row hits college', The Guardian, Dec. 4 04, education.guardian.co.uk/higher/worldwide/story/0,9959,1366286,00.html
68. 'The War and Globalization', Mark Engler, www.counterpunch.org/engler10212004.html
69. 'A Bullet Fired for Every Palestinian Child', Yitzhak Laor, www.counterpunch.org/laor10202004.html
70. 'The Revolution of Everyday Life', Raoul Vaneigem, library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/pub_contents/5
71. 'Intimidating Columbia University', Joseph Massad, weekly.ahram.org.eg/2004/715/op33.htm
72. 'Not What You Think', Charley Reese, www.antiwar.com/reese/?articleid=4017, citing 'Estimated Crude and Products Imports', api-ec.api.org/filelibrary/ACF17F.pdf
73. 'Death, Delusion and Democracy', Robert Fisk, www.commondreams.org/views04/1116-34.htm
74. Antiwar.com weblog, www.antiwar.com/blog/index.php?id=P1489
75. 'Israeli Officer: I was right to shoot 13-year-old girl', www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,1358173,00.html