Inside the Madhouse

Greg Palast’s latest book, Armed Madhouse (Dutton, 2006), is an irreverent probe into the freedom-devouring intrigues surrounding the rogue president George W. Bush and his murder-sanctioning regime.

Palast’s narrative account begins with the color-coded alert threat system in place in the superpower. Palast humorously writes, “America is the only nation on the planet that kindly informs bombers, hijackers and the berserkers the days on which they won’t be monitored.”

Although he used sarcasm to drive his point, the inclusion of “bombers” and “hijackers” in that specific statement indicates that Palast uncritically subscribes to the argument that the 9-11 attack was an outside job. But a plethora of counter-arguments powerfully points in the opposite direction: that at least there was inside pre-knowledge of 9-11. In doing so, Palast appears to lend credence to the decision of the mad White House junta to launch its wars of imperialist conquest as a “response” to the attack. In essence, the implication of such an approach is that Palast appears to see the situation as a once sane policy gone mad and not as a deliberate string of imperialistically motivated policy formulation.

What is it all about? According to Palast, it is oil.

What motivates Osama bin Laden to militancy? Oil says Palast. He writes that bin Laden’s disgruntlement with the United States and House of Saud stems back to tardily paid bills to the bin Laden Construction firm. The source of economic difficulty was an overly low oil price. Thus, bin Laden’s desire to liberate the oil in Saudi Arabia was filliped. This view, however, is an abnegation of the religiosity (whatever one might make of this) of bin Laden. But to explore this oil dispute is difficult. Palast quotes a nameless agent: “There were always constraints on investigating the Saudis.”

There seems to be another constraint operating on Palast in his book. First, he seems to have difficulty with, or an aversion to, investigating another Middle Eastern actor. Palast has set up his book to follow in the lines of Craig Unger’s book House of Bush, House of Saud and Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 911 to focus on the Saudi-US connection. Any connection of Israel to the US, Iraq, imperialism, and oil is unmentioned. One wonders, therefore, about the scope of Palast’s investigation. It seems a potentially key piece of the puzzle is missing.

Second, by focusing on Saudi Arabia, Palast follows a precise path long advocated by Israel and Zionism. This is unsettling since Palast is calling the White House a madhouse. It is a known fact that the Saudi and US regimes are closely bonded. In 1945, president Franklin D. Roosevelt met with king Abdel Aziz to formalize an oil-for-Saud family protection scheme. In a sense, Saudi Arabia is the sacred cash cow of American capitalism. Saudi Arabia, however, is an adversary of Israel, not as a military power but as a financial Arab state and as a Muslim power. Undermining Saudi Arabia and eroding its relation with the United States have been a consistent Israeli tenet. Any serious student of the Middle East realizes that the final aim of Israeli and US Zionism is the dissolution of the privileged US-Saudi relation and the transformation of Saudi Arabia into an indirect colony of the US, and by implication, Israel.

By tying in the elements of the intrigues, Palast solves puzzles. But as everyone knows, a puzzle is never solved until the last piece is in place. Nevertheless, he does what he is known for: following the money trail.

Palast also seems to know how to start his own money trail. He has been unashamedly plugging his book by tying it to the simultaneous release of right-wing extremist writer Anne Coulter’s latest book. It appears that Palast is trying to set up a battle royal of sorts between himself and the self-declared anti-liberal. Palast casts aspersion on Coulter’s latest screed: a “300-page brick of solid meanness and pin-head hatreds packaged like a fashion magazine: Big Brother wears Prada.”

A few more epithets are thrown in along with a challenge to debate: more self-promotion and more potential profits.

At times, Palast tries to overwhelm the reader through sheer force of his acumen. For example, to doubts expressed about the man on the incriminating video of 13 December 2001 being Osama bin Laden, Palast responds neither with logic nor with evidence; he shrugs it off with light-hearted affirmation: “maybe it was Karl Rove in a turban stretched to six feet. Sorry, it really is bin Laden.” This reader hardly finds such banter compelling. Again, Palast tries to convince by means of comical allusion rather than by incontrovertible evidence.

Palast writes that the US has suspiciously regarded Iranian intentions toward OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries). In his narrative, Iran was attempting to take over control of OPEC from the Saudis and it was Iran that started the war with Iraq: “Seizing OPEC was the real, if unannounced, dream of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Shia mullah-crats in Iran when they attacked Iraq in September 1980.”

Behold! Palast, who has enviable access to so much secret documentation, also has something that other journalists can only — er — dream about: access to the neural imagery of others. Not only is this statement a product of political fancy, it is also factually void of historical validity. To begin, OPEC is a membership organization whose aim “is to coordinate & unify the petroleum policies of Member Countries & ensure the stabilization of oil prices in order to secure an efficient, economic & regular supply of petroleum to consumers, a steady income to producers & a fair return on capital to those investing in the petroleum industry.”

While the imperialist West would like people to believe that OPEC is a cartel, the reality is that OPEC has been set up to protect oil-producing countries from the ravages of capitalism, cyclical crises, and the manipulation of world markets. As such, no country has the sole authority to enforce any specific policy. For instance, when most oil-producing Arab countries imposed an oil embargo subsequent to the 1973 war between Egypt-Syria and Israel, the Iran of the Shah, Venezuela, and other OPEC members did not join in that embargo. This was a clear demonstration that no single OPEC member or grouping can impose its will on the others who, as per statute, have full freedom to cancel membership.

So why does Palast state that Iran’s objective is to control OPEC?

Palast’s aims are unclear. This disinformation, however, demonizes Iran, thus serving Zionist aims: to defame Iran as an aggressive state whose ambitions, whatever they are, requires military confrontation that only the United States can carry out. Indeed, Israel without the military forces of the United States could not have entrenched itself in Iraq, and it now wants to repeat the enterprise in Iran.

As for the start of the Iran-Iraq War, US Major Robert E. Sonnenberg wrote in the opening sentence of his book The Iran-Iraq War: Strategy of Stalemate: “On September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, starting a war that continues to devastate both countries. In chapter 4, he writes, “Iran did not start the war.” This is the prevailing view on the start of the Iran-Iraq War.

In the article, “Which Prototype is Bush Following: Nero, Holagu, Malthus, Hitler, or Sharon?,” B.J. Sabri reports a little publicized fact that the Iraqi president, king Fahd, and the US ambassador in Saudi Arabia had convened to plan for the US-Saudi proxy war with Iran via Iraq. Palast did not mention how Iraq unilaterally abrogated the treaty for Shatt al-Arab, signed in Algiers in 1975. Nor did he mention that, greatly surprised by the scale of the Iraqi invasion that seized almost the entire province of Ahwaz (formerly a part of the Iraqi province of al-Basra, which Britain gave to Iran in exchange for oil exploration in Iran), Iran didn’t counterattack until almost two weeks after Iraq invaded it.

Palast, interestingly enough, contends there is no War on Terror — this being adduced by the dearth of terrorist attacks on US soil. The War on Terror is about oil.

Palast says the neo-conservatives planned to grab and sell Iraq’s oil and everything else not nailed down. He notes that while the neo-conservatives’ plan for the liquidation and destruction of Iraq was being carried out, the ultimate target was Saudi Arabia. Big Oil, however, had other plans that would come to the fore.

Big Oil has made out profligately from the Iraqi invasion and occupation, as have the Saudis and other oil producing nations that control their resource. Ultimately, the plan was not the seizure of, but the control of, oil and its pricing. High prices have translated to record high profits.

Of course, the argument is lacking, since it does not take into consideration the aims of Israel as a part of the equation to attack the Arab states.

An Obstacle to US Hegemony

Palast criticizes the destructive economic policies of the Bretton Woods institutions, bankrupting developing countries by holding fire sales for the benefit of behemoth corporations. The man who frightens these amoral institutions most is the Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.

Palast, who has interviewed Chávez, notes that the Venezuelan president is called a Marxist and a socialist. Palast conversely declares, “He is neither.” Chávez is a “Norwegian-ist.” Hmmm. Elsewhere, Chávez has stated, “I am convinced, and I think that this conviction will be for the rest of my life, that the path to a new, better and possible world, is not capitalism, the path is socialism, that is the path: socialism, socialism.”

The 2004 Election

Palast lambastes the fixed election of 2000 and the electoral skullduggery that extended to 2004. He claims 3 million votes went missing in 2004. This he backs up with details of rejected provisional ballots, spoiled ballots, uncounted absentee ballots, and obstacles rendered to voting. The targets were Democratic voters. It is highly unlikely, though, that a Democratic victory would have benefited the average beleaguered American or to the de facto war criminals in fatigues, massacring Iraqis in a losing cause.

But given the compelling evidence of a stolen election, why did John Kerry fold his hand? Palast provides a plausible answer. Kerry knew that a certain individual who ran voter harassment teams in the 1960s was sitting pretty on the Supreme Court.

Palast writes, “I fear the election was an intelligence test that America flunked.” No argument here. Electoral deception aside, Palast notes that there were still 59 million (Palast, the statistician, chooses to round from 59.8 million down to 59 million) “pinheads,” including many prejudiced types who voted against their economic well-being. The British-based sleuth doesn’t answer how better off these “pinheads” would have been if Kerry were elected. One is left to wonder: if the 59 million voters for Bush are pinheads, then what are the 56.4 million voters for Kerry? Palast doesn’t say.


Palast throws an original light on the many dark corners of capitalism, imperialism, political corruption, and elsewhere. In the end, despite all the evil he exposes within the belly of the beast, Palast argues the US is better than other countries. Americans, he claims, have inalienable rights and “no one, NO ONE, may take them away.” What, then, is the PATRIOT Act? What do laws matter if there is no power to enforce them? Palast acknowledges this and then asks, “Whose standards should we adopt?” He then rattles off some unsavory standards in China, Britain, and Switzerland. He might have tried a comparison with his beloved Scandinavians in Norway or perhaps even the people of Iceland. Nonetheless, it is patriotic hubris that holds that the US is somehow the epitome of world standards while it is simultaneously making a mockery of international and domestic laws and otherwise shaming morality.

Armed Madhouse is witty, and it is definitely not a boring read. Palast asks pertinent questions and provides pertinent answers that are stridently independent. But some of the questions left unasked and some of the conclusions reached tend to leave this reader wondering. In the end, Armed Madhouse turns out to be a somewhat maddeningly uneven read with questionable analytical insight.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.