Iran’s Oil Bourse could Topple the Dollar

Two weeks ago George Bush was sent on a mission to the Middle East to deliver a horse’s head. We all remember the disturbing scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” where Lucca Brassi goes to Hollywood to convince a recalcitrant movie producer to use Don Corleone’s nephew in his next film. The “Big shot” producer is finally persuaded to hire the young actor after he wakes up in bed next to the severed head of his prize thoroughbred. I expect that Bush made a similar “offer they could not refuse” to the various leaders of the Gulf States when he met with them earlier this month.

The media has tried to portray Bush’s trip to the Middle East as a “peace mission”, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, three days after Bush left Jerusalem, Israel stepped-up its military operations in the occupied territories and resumed its merciless blockade of food, water and medicine to the 1.5 million people of the Gaza Strip. Bush must have green-lighted Israel’s aggression or it would have been seen as an insult to the President of the United States.

So, what was the real purpose of Bush’s trip? Why would he waste time visiting the Middle East if he had no real interest in promoting peace or resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Sometimes personal visits are important; especially when the nature of the information is so sensitive that it has to be delivered face to face. In this case, Bush went to the trouble of traveling half-way around the world so he could tell the Saudis and their friends in the Gulf States that they were going to continue linking their oil to the dollar or they were going to “sleep with the fishes”. For the last two months, a number of sheiks and finance ministers have been publicly groaning about the falling dollar—threatening to break from the so-called “dollar-peg” and covert to a basket of currencies. Bush’s trip appears to have rekindled the spirit of brotherly cooperation. The grumbling has stopped and everyone is back “on board”. The regional leaders now seem less bothered by the fact that inflation is trashing their economies and driving food, labor, energy and housing through the roof. Reuters summed it up like this:

After a flurry of public disagreements over currency reform last year, Gulf central bankers are trying to close ranks, talking up the pegs as a source of stability and playing down the dollar’s weakness as a temporary phenomenon.

Looks like Bush smoothed things over.

In the last few weeks, the Saudis and Co. have watched nervously while the Federal Reserve has slashed rates by a whopping 125 basis points. The cuts are steadily eroding the $1 trillion of capital the sheiks have invested in US Treasuries and securities.

“Inflation is at 16-year highs in Saudi Arabia and Oman, a 19-year peak in the United Arab Emirates. Gulf policymakers are intervening directly in loans, property and commodity markets to offset rate cut.” (Reuters)

Property values have skyrocketed. Commercial property in the UAE has doubled since the beginning of 2007. The inflation-bomb has forced other Gulf states to provide food subsidies for their people and a “70% wage rise for some Emirati federal government employees.”

Disgruntled migrant workers rioted in Dubai recently, demanding to be fairly compensated for the sharp increase in prices. The Saudi riyal has climbed to a 21-year peak.

Currency traders expect another 8% rise in the dirham and riyal by April and they are predicting that interest rates will compel Central bankers throughout Gulf states to covert to either the euro or a basket of regional currencies. So far, however, the loyal Saudi princes have continued their support for the dollar.


So, how important is it that oil continue to be denominated in dollars? Would the United States really wage war to defend the dollar’s status as the world’s “reserve currency”?

The answer to this question could come as early as this week, since the long-awaited Iranian Oil Bourse is scheduled to open between February 1-11. According to Iran’s Finance Minister Davoud Danesh-Jafari “All preparations have been made to launch the bourse; it will open during the 10-day Dawn (the ceremonies marking the victory of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran). The bourse is considered a direct threat to the continued global dominance of the dollar because it will require that Iranian “oil, petrochemicals and gas” be traded in “non-dollar currencies”. (Press TV, Iran)

The petrodollar system is no different than the gold standard. Today’s currency is simply underwritten by the one vital source of energy upon which every industrialized society depends—oil. If the dollar is de-linked from oil; it will no longer serve as the de-facto international currency and the US will be forced to reduce its massive trade deficits, rebuild its manufacturing capacity, and become an export nation again. The only alternative is to create a network of client regimes who repress the collective aspirations of their people so they can faithfully follow directives from Washington.

As to whether the Bush administration would start a war to defend dollar hegemony; that’s a question that should be asked of Saddam Hussein. Iraq was invaded just six months after Saddam converted to the euro. The message is clear; the Empire will defend its currency.

Iran switched from the dollar in 2007 and has insisted that Japan pay its enormous energy bills in yen. The “conversion” infuriated the Bush administration and has moved Iran to the top of the White House’s target list. In fact, even though 16 US Intelligence agencies issued a report (NIE) saying that Iran was not developing nuclear weapons; and even though the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, found that Iran was in compliance with its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation (NPT) Treaty; a preemptive US-led attack on Iran still appears likely.

And, although the western media now minimizes the prospects of another war in the region; Israel is taking the precautions that suggest that the idea is not so far-fetched. “Israel calls for shelter rooms to be set up in a bid to prepare the public for yet another war, this time, one of raining missiles.” (Press TV, Iran)

“The next war will see a massive use of ballistic weapons against the whole of Israeli territory,” claimed retired general Udi Shani.

Russia also sees a growing probability of hostilities breaking out in the Gulf and has responded by sending a naval task force into the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic.

According to an article on the Global Research site: “The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva guided missile cruiser, joined up with Russian naval warships in the Mediterranean on January 18 to participate in the current maneuvers….The current operation is the first large-scale Russian Navy exercise in the Atlantic in 15 years. All combat ships and aircraft involved carry full combat ammunition loads.

France is also planning military maneuvers in the Straits of Hormuz. Operation “Gulf Shield 01,” will take place off the coast of Iran and will employ thousands of personnel in combined arms operations that will include simulated attacks on oil platforms.”

Exercises are scheduled to take place from Feb. 23 to March 5, and will involve 1,500 French, 2,500 Emirate, and 1,300 Qatari personnel operating on land, at sea and in the air, the ministry said…Around a half-dozen warships, 40 aircraft and dozens of armored vehicles will be in the war games, Fusalba said.

The Jerusalem Post reports: “An American missile ship set to dock at Haifa port on Monday is equipped with anti-missile defense system that could be deployed in the region in the event of an Iranian missile attack against Israel….The US San Jacinto is an Aegis Cruiser in the Ticonderoga Class …It carries the most advanced underwater surveillance system available today and is equipped with the Aegis Missile System to protect against aircraft and missiles. The ship will remain in Haifa for three days.”

Also, within the last week, three of the main underwater cables which carry Internet traffic to the region have been cut in the Persian Gulf. As a result, three-quarters of the international communications between Europe and the Middle East have been lost. Large parts of the Middle East have been plunged into darkness.

Is this merely a coincidence or is it part of a broader military operation?

Ian Brockwell, of the American Chronicle said:

On the assumption that the cables cut were no accident, we must ask ourselves who would do such a thing and why. Clearly Iran, who were most affected, would gain nothing from such an action and are perhaps the target of those responsible?…Maybe this is a prelude to an attack, or perhaps a test run for a future one?

Communication has always been an important factor in military action, and cutting these cables might affect Iran´s ability to defend itself.

Despite the lack of media coverage, the build-up for war in the Gulf has continued and the probability of a US-led attack on Iran is quite high. Bush is convinced that if he doesn’t confront Iran, then no one will. He also believes that if he doesn’t militarily defend the dollar, then America’s days as “the world’s only superpower” will soon be over. The question is whether Bush will realize that America is already bogged-down in two “unwinnable” conflicts or if he will “go with his gut” once again and lead us into a ruinous region-wide conflagration.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Mike.

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Treber said on February 5th, 2008 at 9:46am #

    Make that four cables cut. Another one was cut in a separate incident in the last day or so

  2. Michael Kenny said on February 5th, 2008 at 9:47am #

    I don’t think there is any realistic possibility of a US attack on Iran. First of all, the US does not the ground forecs to invade, nor does it have airbases in the region from which bombers could be launched. Pinprick attacks from carrier-based planes would just confirm what the world knows already, namely, that Superpower USA is a spent force. For that very reason, no country on earth is going to support such attacks. And precisely for that reason also, the Iranians are unlikely to react to an attack with a counter attack. Moreover, Bush is already a lame duck and the world is already waiting for 20 January 2009. Bush and the US have become so irrelevant that if they were attacked, the smart strategy for the Iranians would be to play the victim and take the matter to the UN.

    I don’t think the Iranian Oil Bourse has anything to do with this. The Iranians have already insisted that Japan pay in Yen for its oil and there are probably other similar cases that didn’t get into the press. I would guess that the EU is paying Russia in Euros for its oil and gas. The Gulf monarchies are probably just waiting for Bush to leave office to move to their basket of currencies and the French military presence is designed to help them by offering an alternative to US power. All that is the consequence of the collapse of US power, not the cause of it.

    Nor would I pay much attention to Israel. Fundamentally, the Jews are ceasing to believe in Israel and more people leave each year than immigrate in. For that reason, the Israeli extremists would like nothing better than to provoke an attack, regardless of wherefrom, because they could then pose as the defenders of Jews worldwide, the guardians of the sanctuary, so to speak, and rally support by painting the Jews as the Perpetually Persecuted People.

    All this is just the Bush strategy for 2012: put Hillary in the White House and leave such a mess that she is still bogged down in it in 2012 and can then be taken out. Bush is revenge-driven (not very Christian …!). He went after Saddam because Saddam brought down Daddybird. What sweeter revenge than to put Hillary in the White House and then deprive her of a second term as Bill deprived Daddybird? As for the people, let them eat cake!

  3. Dave said on February 5th, 2008 at 10:32am #

    A minor point, but it wasn’t Lucca Brassi who went to Hollywood in “The Godfather” to confront the movie producer, it was the Corleone family consigliere, Tom Hagen.

  4. jeidelberg said on February 5th, 2008 at 1:11pm #

    It is already known the interest Iran has in changing to euros or any other currency different from the dollar. Now, knowing this, the Bush trip to Middle East was probably to anticipate this move from the Iranians.
    In exchange of some weapons, the Saudis would back up the US dollar and also it sends a message to Iran. Bush needs to be sure the dollar is not going to crash before its presidency is over. If not, how to explain the terrific budget for the last breath of his presidency?
    There is also the presidential campaign. Now that Reagan is coming to life, McCain may offer the same deal with the Iranians that Reagan did.
    I do not think war with Iran is off the table regardless what candidate is elected.

  5. Nihilistic said on February 5th, 2008 at 8:40pm #

    It was probably Lucca Brassi that did the dirty work of delivering the horse’s head and ultimately completing the art of persuasion I can’t see Tom hagen being assigned that task.

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain said on February 6th, 2008 at 3:44am #

    I find much in Michael Kenny’s contribution compelling and logical, but is there not a real element of illogicality and irrationality to be considered as well? America’s ruling class may not be entirely monolithic, but they all share a tendency to proclaim America’s ‘exceptionalism’. Being a second-rate power, let alone supplicant to Chinese or Saudi bond holders, would be too big a fall from grace to stomach. Where is the American political leader who can say to the US citizenry ‘Our days of world dominance are over. Our claims of moral perfection were dreams, in fact for much of the world they were nightmares. We hereby abjure our self-appointed role as world policeman, and will spend the trillion a year we habitually waste on armaments on healing the world, and preventing the imminent extinction of mankind through ecological collapse’. Such a leader would be laughed out of court, or assassinated. So I believe crazed mistakes are far more likely, particularly so long as religious maniacs, whether Christian or Jewish fundamentalists wield such power, as they plainly do at the moment. I say, hope for the best, but put your money on the worst.

  7. Dave said on February 6th, 2008 at 9:29am #

    “It was probably Lucca Brassi that did the dirty work of delivering the horse’s head and ultimately completing the art of persuasion I can’t see Tom hagen being assigned that task.”

    Tom Hagen didn’t do the dirty work. However, tThe book, nor the movie, ever hinted that Luca was involved. It was some unnamed Corleone family functionary, or a group of said.

  8. said on February 6th, 2008 at 3:46pm #

    Will the Empire defend the currency with a war?

    Of course.

    Will it matter who is in the White House?

    Probably not.

    That, no matter how you try to say it, is the scary reality of our 21st century reality.

    Now, if the damned stock market would lose 5% per day of its value for a couple of weeks … and the US would evolve into about ten separate little satrapies, maybe the 130 countries with our troops stationed in them could hope for a pullout. Alas, like most rapists, withdrawal is not a likely option.

  9. Richard Perron Jr. said on February 6th, 2008 at 5:56pm #

    If any people here believe that the President of the United States is the supreme ruler of this country, they are sadly mistaken. Presidents come and go. The real power is held by people or groups who have had government positions for decades, such as the military and CIA. Also, Big Business owns our government, bankers, oil companies, drug companies, etc. Mike Whitney’s article is correct because it makes perfect sense. Those in power will do anything to maintain power, and those with money will do anything to maintain/increase their money.

  10. john said on February 6th, 2008 at 10:25pm #

    I found your article fascinating and thorough. I’m not an expert on geo-politics, however, your points seem to be very possible. The banking cartel doesn’t seem to care who is in office to push their agenda as our political leaders are only puppets, so I think it’s naive to think that they’ll wait for Hilary. In either case, I appreciate your article very much.

  11. COMarc said on February 6th, 2008 at 10:31pm #

    Its not just oil that sets the US dollar as the world’s currency. Its the general willingness of people around the world to accept payment in dollars.

    Once, dollars could be scarce in the rest of the world. We exported more goods than we imported. So the rest of the world was always anxious to find dollars to pay for the goods they wanted to buy from us.

    Now that’s changed. Our multiple deficits, trade, govt borrowing, corporate borrowing, consumer borrowing, are all flooding the rest of the world with dollars. Now, if you want to hand someone in the rest of the world dollars to pay for anything, that person has to stop and think a bit about whether they really want many more dollar bills. How many are the already holding? And what are the other massive holders of dollars around the world going to do? If a country like China, which is collecting huge amounts of dollars every quarter due to our trade deficit with China were to start dumping these on the world markets, you wouldn’t want to be a Persian gulf oil sheik holding lots of dollars when this happened. The value of the dollar would plumment, and that sheik’s holdings would rapidly trend towards being worthless. If the US dollar eventually had the same worth as the old confederate dollar, you wouldn’t want to be holding lots of those dollars.

    Oil is a big part of this of course. Since we pay lots of dollars for our oil addiction, its obviously one area where you’ll see this concern. But this isn’t just about oil. Its about an entire world that is rapidly loosing faith in a US dollar that in reality is only backed by the full faith and credit of the US govt.

    The inflation in the Gulf is just another sign of this. First, as the dollar falls the sheiks would be likely to pull some of their dollars out of the US markets and put them in local investments. Real estate would be a common one. Thus the spike in land prices as well. Then, as both trends continue, they’d tend to accelerate each other. To pay for a higher cost of living at home, they’d tend to take more money from the US and bring it back home. And the speculation in local real estate and their own real estate bubble would then see the same sorts of speculation we saw in the US a few years back. They’d see a much larger rate of return in investments like that, while at the same time their rate of return in the US would be flat or maybe even going negative. The combination of a shaky US stock market and a falling US dollar would mean that their investments in the US would be losing money. So why not instead cash out and make money off the local real estate bubble. And those acts bring the US stock market down some more, bring the dollar down some more, and raise local real estate prices and inflation higher, thus feeding the trend even more.

    The one thing you’d want to avoid would be staying in the dollar and the US markets for too long. If others keep lowering the markets and the dollar by cashing out, you wouldn’t want to be staying put. Instead, the advantage goes to the person who cashes out the most fastest in getting out of US investments and dollars.

    BTW, don’t pay much attention to the words. Yeah, Bush’s visit probably silenced some of the talk that’s been around lately. The most notable being the open mic at a private OPEC meeting that let reporters here some of this discussion going on amongst the oil ministers. Bush’ s visit could quell the loose talk. And as long as the Saudis still get dollars for oil, they actually have a stake in not talking about the dollar and driving it down further. Bush probably reminded them of that.

    But Bush’s visit didn’t change the global economic factors described above. It didn’t change the growing US govt deficit to pay for military oil and the wars. It didn’t change the growing US trade deficit as we pay the cost of dismantling our native manufacturing capability and sending it and the jobs overseas. Those are all forces much bigger than Mr. Bush and any threats he delivered. So the overall trends of the dollars will continue. And no matter how the talk changes, the Sheiks still have a financial interest in holding fewer dollars. So while it got a little quieter, its probably very likely that they never really changed their actions.

    The fact of the US being the world’s ‘reserve currency’ is what lets the Federal Reserve just print money the way they do. Our entire system of finance is largely based on this. Its been that way so long, we’ve become very dependent on it. We count on the fact that we can run deficits without really having to go borrow money from anyone else by relying on the fact that everyone in the world was always happy to get a US $100 bill. That’s going to change if we keep going the way we are. And its going to be a rude shock to this nation when it does change.

    And, while the shortsighted might think that bombing Iran to stop their oil market from selling oil for Euros might change this fact, it won’t. One of the large strategic problems the US has is that the way we fight wars is very, very expensive. All those vehicles and jets and helicopters and well-stocked PXs and Burger Kings to make the troops feel like home make the US military the most expensive military operation in the history of the world.

    So, expanding the middle east wars to include both the Shiite areas of Iraq and the 3x larger country of Iran would really just make the problem worse. US government deficits would spike, and this would just flood the world with more dollars from our deficit spending which would drive the value of the dollar even faster which would hasten the end of the US dollar being the world’s reserve currency.

    I’m not saying the Bush administration is not capable of doing something that stupid. Any doubts about that went away when it became obvious the fools were going to attack Iraq. Its just that if they are doing it because the Iranian Bourse is trading in Euros or other currencies, then they are being incredibly stupid … again.

  12. James Aragon said on February 7th, 2008 at 1:13am #

    Every wonder why we always have to post our email?

    Sorry to dissappoint, but we have more than enough juice to bomb Iran’s infrastructure (nuclear, electric, whatever) to mere wreckage. All you need are B-52s from Diego Garcia (Indian Ocean) with cruise missiles and thousands of targets could be hit. Quite economical and the attack could easily cause the shallow Iranian economy to crumble. Now the ramifications for those of sitting within a stone’s throw of the Iranian border would definitely feel the wrath of SCUD missiles; still we are just pawns in the US struggle to maintain grasp on hegemony.

  13. Steve said on February 7th, 2008 at 4:02am #

    The US government owes trillions of dollars of worth of debt to creditors because of its sprawling empire at home and abroad. Thus the pressure to pay this with newly created dollars will be severe. Demand for dollars would be strong if the supply were not increasing year after year.

    In addition, American voters overall are a militant bunch. Despite some reservations over the recent wars, they could care less about bombing and occupying other countries.

    In reality, the dollar’s fall from the world’s reserve currency is a self inflicted one. In time, this will force the US empire to “sleep with the fishes.”

  14. Godfather said on February 7th, 2008 at 5:52am #

    The reason is matters to point out that it was Tom Hagen and not Lucca Brassi is that if Mr. Whitney cannot even get that basic, easy verifiable fact correct, then I have reason to doubt every fact in this essay. Which I do. Its fear-mongering nonsense.

  15. Pablito said on February 7th, 2008 at 12:49pm #

    I think the cynical view is the correct one. Yes, none of the fundamentals have changed. The oil ministers are just figuring out a way to do what they want without getting their knuckles rapped too hard. Perhaps secretly getting all countries on board for a simultaneous partial conversion to euros – there’s “safety in numbers”. Doesn’t matter how, eventually it is going to happen.

    The cynical (correct I think) view is also that Bush will invade. Yes he is perfectly capable of even more idiotic blunders. He doesn’t care what we think about it, other than giving us a collection of facile but transparent excuses (dutifully reported by the Ministry of Prop – er, I mean, mainstream media). And there will be more trampling of civil rights. And Hillary will continue this charade; once she gets in any talk of withdrawal will evaporate.

    And nothing that they do to “defend” the dollar will help. The fundamentals there too are unchanged.

  16. Cynthia Baxter said on February 8th, 2008 at 5:01am #

    I have recently begun to try to educate myself on global currencies/finances and have read your commentaries on the causes/effects of the woes of the dollar with great personal interest – the reason being that I have lived in Egypt for the last six years. After having spent 4 months in the US during the summer of 2007 I returned to Egypt last Sept to find, unexpectedly, that many of the local merchants catering to foreigners and tourists would no longer take US dollars! When I arrived 6 years ago, US dollars were highly sought after here in Egypt. The black market for dollars was booming and prices for local goods were lower if you were able to pay in dollars. The Egyptian merchant explained to me that if he accepted dollars today, he would lose money in the transaction as their worth continued to decline by the time he was able to use them. But he would accept Euros. Which leads me back to the old campaign slogan, “Its the economy, stupid!” – and not just domestically.

  17. bill alder said on September 20th, 2008 at 4:31pm #

    Well, the election aught to be very interesting. Here we have two choices, peace time Obama and war time McCain…… I don’t know to what degree that will be, but if Obama gets in, then Iran goes forward with their oil bourse and down goes the dollar further, but Obama and the banksters could inflate their way into creating some time for the dollar with a domestic spending program on road sand bridges.
    If McCain, then its bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran…… either way, look for a spike in oil and spending.
    I think Obama gets in and the Iranian oil bourse gets going and Israel bombs Iran to disrupt the exchanges, but Israel also gets bombed quite extensively. So Obama will approve, but not publically. In fact, he might even “condemn” israel’s move on bombing iran, but knows it needs to be done for the sake of the petro dollar.
    I predict an Obama presidency and an Israeli bombing of Iran, but also, Russia moves to open an oil bourse, which they are already planning and thus, we could’nt get away with bombing Russia……. The world will be very pissed at Israel. If Israel doesn’t bomb Iran, look for the petro dollar to go down hard with the iranian oil bourse and the former bush regime economics to be blamed for it. Maybe it was in the chess moves of Iran to wait for a “peaceful” Obama presidency to come in and then go forward with the oil bourse. It would make it much harder to bomb iran then. Smart move Iran…… then again, on second thought, Israel may not bomb Iran becasue then, they would be severely bombed as well……look for peace time devaluation of the dollar on the world market and high gas prices here at home, unless Obama move sto open our many huge oil fields that have been capped, then domestic oil will help curb the dollar fall, as more dollars would stay at home…….then look for headlines “new massive oil fields in america discovered”…..LOL…. we already know it, but that’s a car dthe media will play….it’s one of their last cards for dollar hedgemony.