Obama and the Middle East Oil War

Briefing the President-Elect

The assembly of Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Susan Rice and Joe Biden is a kettle of hawks with a proven track record of support for the Iraq war, intervention, neoliberal economic policies and a world-view consistent with the foreign policy arch that stretches from George HW Bush’s time in office to the present.

— Jeremy Scahill on Obama’s proposed new national security team, 1 Dec. ’08 Guardian UK

Dear Senator Obama:

I’m concerned that you’ve yet to show a grasp of Middle East realities. Nor have you provided a broad critique of US policy in that region beyond your early opposition to the invasion of Iraq. This lapse is dispiriting to we who had hoped your “change” mantra meant you intended to reverse the neo-con drive for global hegemony.

If you do grasp Middle Eastern realities, your choices of advisors and cabinet members suggest that you are aligning yourself with that imperial drive. This is also seen in your determination to expand the US debacle in Afghanistan. Perhaps you fear that opposing the militarism that corrupts us would antagonize the power structure that even now you have begun to lead…or that leads you. Who, one might ask, is co-opting whom?

Your words are ever eloquent, ever civil. You seem to be averse to lying. But you are now enmeshed in a power structure that habitually lies, that knows no other way to speak. It cloaks the reasons the US military occupies Iraq and Afghanistan and keeps the entire Middle East under the gun.

You’ve surely noticed that much of the world’s oil supply is in the Middle East beneath Islamic lands – hence the power structure’s persistent linking of Muslims with “terrorists” (a word invariably left undefined). Your nationalist advisors have by now taught you that US “interests” (also invariably undefined) relate primarily to OIL. “Interests” is code for the US cornering oil reserves and guaranteeing pipelines and shipping lanes – not only for their own sake, but to control the world economy.

Such control, of course, also serves to bring cheap oil home where so many here think it belongs. Thanks to the perpetual greed of US oil and automobile companies, the US is morbidly addicted to oil. Consumer self-indulgence reinforces such addiction. If we haven’t done so already, we will soon pass “peak oil.” Unless the industrial world drastically reduces our over-consumption and switches to renewable energy, it may well tank within the lifetime of your children. Your predecessor failed to understand – or care – that our children will have to live in the toxic and depleted world we bequeath them.

Therefore, with future generations in mind, let me propose several Middle East-related priorities for your presidency:
~ eliminate US dependence on foreign oil (and on coal and nuclear, the other dirty sources of energy). Push energy conservation – the cleanest and most efficient “fuel” of all.
~ comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and international law; abolish US nuclear weapons and do so hand in hand with working to abolish nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East…and beyond. While you’re at it, sign the treaty abolishing cluster bombs.
~ repeal the Patriot Acts; abolish torture and extraordinary rendition. As per your promise, immediately close Guantanamo while providing reparation, habeas corpus and other civilian due process to its inmates.
~ outlaw Blackwater-type mercenaries; prosecute US war crimes and do so all the way up the chain of command.


Besides Afghanistan and Iraq, there are other theaters of the Middle East Oil War. Here I’ll only touch on two – Israel and Iran.

Mr Obama, you seem all too comfortable with the pro-Israel tilt in US foreign policy. In your campaign you echoed the boilerplate of US politicians fearful of the make-or-break Israel lobby. Despite the pro-Israel hawks who have your ear, I hope that as Presdent you’ll feel more empowered than you did as a candidate to support the Palestinians whose land the Israelis systematically confiscate.

Years ago I observed that Israel, like its (then) ally white South Africa, was an apartheid settler state. Since that era Israel has kept expanding its illegal settlements and consolidating its apartheid. You hardly acknowledge the Palestinian people and their struggle for justice and against apartheid.

Year after year the US keeps pouring billions of dollars of military aid into Israel. In effect Israel has become the largest military base in the Middle East. It’s a strategic enclave (or “green zone”) artificially wedged into the Islamic world, destabilizing that region and keeping the pot boiling. Israel has one of the most powerful and aggressive military machines on the planet. Its neighbors see that machine as an existential threat.

As long as Israel maintains apartheid, retains its nuclear arsenal, and flouts UN resolutions and international law, you must cut off the military aid that pours oil on the fires of Israel’s intransigence. Otherwise there is little chance of reining in Israel’s expansionism or of achieving an enduring peace in the Middle East.


I’m no expert on the complex and remarkable land of Iran. Most US policy makers, politicians, generals and citizens know even less about Iran. For example, how many know that this proud nation – unlike certain others – hasn’t invaded another country in centuries?

The 1979 Islamic Revolution deposing the Shah was a pivotal year in US-Iran relations. It began three decades of scant diplomacy between the two nations. But Iranians also recall 1953, an equally pivotal year. That’s when the CIA – trashing international law and Iran’s sovereignty – toppled the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, replacing him with the despotic Shah.

Few here seem to realize that the current President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – despite all the fuss about him – is neither Iran’s most powerful leader nor its commander-in-chief. Such ignorance of a country with one of the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas can get us – and you – into a heap of trouble.

Cheney-Bush have virulently opposed the development of Iran’s nuclear energy. Their menacing words and bellicose actions embody the hubris and double standard of one nation dictating what another nation’s policies should be. After all, the US is the world’s prime developer and major exporter of nuclear technology. This includes deploying and exporting weaponry hardened with toxic and radioactive depleted uranium. The US is the world’s only perpetrator of nuclear holocaust. Since 1945 this bully has continually practiced nuclear blackmail (“All options are on the table.”).

Here many ask: with its vast oil reserves, why does Iran seek to develop nuclear power? Besides prestige, self-defense and deterrence may well be factors. But Iran knows its oil will eventually peter out. Iran seeks to develop nuclear energy in part because it dares not keep all of its energy eggs in one basket. Few here realize that due to US-championed sanctions, Iran’s oil refining capability is stunted – thus forcing Iran even now to import gasoline.

In September a group of peace and justice activists met with Iranian leaders in New York for the opening of the current United Nations session. President Ahmadinejad told us that Iran spends three times as much on developing renewable energy as on nuclear energy. I hope this could be true not only for Iran but for the US.

How Must the US Treat Iran?

With respect.

End the sanctions. Stop the demonizing. Stop the menacing. Pull back the destroyers and the cruise missiles. Stop violating Iran’s sovereignty with clandestine and provocative infiltrations of US Special Forces.

Keep your promise to negotiate. And again, work to abolish nuclear weapons both at home and in the world at large. That just might abort any Iranian drive to join the nuclear club.

Given the current financial collapse and given your predecessor’s eight-year credibility collapse, the days of the US imperium are numbered. So, dismantle the military bases in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. Slash the military budget that squanders the hundreds of billions needed to rebuild our country.

Mr. President-elect, rejoin the community of nations. Restore our honor.

Ed served 14 months in federal prisons for his civil resistance against the SOA. More recently he has been one of the “Hancock 2,” the “Hancock 15,” the “Hancock 33,” and the “Hancock 38.” Reach him at: edkinane@verizon.net. Read other articles by Ed.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on December 13th, 2008 at 9:37am #

    to me, it is more, much more important to find out why Obama was in ’03 against US invasion of iraq than that he opposed it.
    in other words, did he oppose the invasion based on a principle or on an ad hoc reason?
    i opposed US invasion of iraw on desirable and necessary truth that no land has the right to attack any other land under any known circumstance.
    if any land had to be attacked, it wld have been US for its use of Abombs since no other land has to date commited such a crime against mostly civilians. thnx

  2. Max Shields said on December 13th, 2008 at 9:59am #

    Obama as I understand his words was the “wrong” war. There seems to be no morality behind those words. It was simply a case of interventionism in the “wrong” place, at the “wrong” time.

    What’s interesting is that Obama has enjoyed an “anti-war” support – by default rather than by standing for the most ardent advocate of peace while NEVER really conceding an “anti-war” position.

    During the primaries many saw him for what he was until the Dem crowd dwindled to him and Hillary. Once that happened, the stand off was minor, but he took some of the “out of Iraq” space while she stood behind a faux “worker” populist stance.

    All of this is simple campaign positioning and has nothing to do with principles or morality. The larger head to head with his opponent from the Repub was more of the same. Never were there core principles stands made outside of the simplistic time-worn parameters of the duopoly conversation – which means there were NO meaningful debates and for the most part each were clueless about the economy as it melted before our eyes.

    We have a tired old (very very old) president to be. He represents nothing new. He could be 5 years old and he would still be an old time crony Dem. Nothing more nor less.

    None of us know the future. What appears before us seems only slightly like the past as the empire unravels, but it appears it will be treated to more of the same that got us here.

  3. Don Hawkins said on December 13th, 2008 at 10:21am #

    Whatever the system in this age it just maybe unplanned for many players looking for the answers. I could be wrong on the looking for answers part.

  4. bozh said on December 13th, 2008 at 12:39pm #

    it is possible that in ’02 Obama did not espy the aims of yet another US invasion.
    we do not know all of the goals the planners/strategists of the invasion had in mind.
    it cldn’t have been oil; it flowed freely and in sufficient amount. perhaps who was to make money out of sales of iraqi oil may have been one reason (reason, but not justification) for the invasion/occupation.
    thus, the only payout for that invasion, one can firmly conclude, wld be to establish some kind of permament US/UK/israel (or as long as needed) presence in iraq.
    another aim may have been to split iraq in 3+ parts. also knowing/believing what violence btwn the three peoples the invasion wld engender, may have been another reason that US invaded iraq.
    it was well known that saddam had to hold the grip on his evil empire by repression and murder.
    that is true of nearly all empires such as china, india, pakistan, russia, UK, france, et al.
    or, may one conclude that US war planners were just stupid? thnx

  5. Don Hawkins said on December 13th, 2008 at 4:24pm #

    In human history up to this point weather climate did cause changes to civilization. What is already underway human’s have never seen and unless we move fast the changes will be unlike anything ever experienced. When most talk about this economic system or that and use history as a guide well that will not work anymore new rules. I must say it is driving a few mad but to say it is not happening because it is an inconvenient truth is far beyond stupid. There are a few systems human’s have used for hundreds of years thousands but for human civilization to survive those systems must change and that includes the economic system a very big part. Are there any people right now who know this and are trying to get the word out? Yes a few and it is starting to work but still to slow. The few will start in just a few months to get the truth out will it be enough? Maybe if we all help.

  6. Don Hawkins said on December 14th, 2008 at 7:19am #

    At the top of the Earth better known as the North Pole where Santa lives there are changes taking place right now that look to be to late to slow. The temperatures up there are a tad bit warm. As far as major changes to the climate weather when you melt the sea ice the oceans get warmer and those highs and lows you see on the weather channel change and not just change a little but change the weather in the Northern Hemisphere. Those major changes look to be about 5 to 7 years away. Still not to late to stop the oceans from turning yellowish green or sea level rise of 100 feet or more but must start now. Then of course there is that little problem of eating all the animals we can on planet Earth and the ones we don’t eat we wear Trees are going bye bye because we use them to and now bugs are coming into play. Because of bugs in Canada the trees in many places are gone. What are we doing to slow this down in December of 2008 not much and why? One reason is because in order to slow climate change we human’s need to slowdown ourselves and well tell that to GM or Exxon and see the answer you get. The next 8 months if nothing else will be fascinating to see. Think of this as kind of a war.

  7. Max Shields said on December 14th, 2008 at 8:35am #


    I agree that the “economic system” is the foundation, the crux, the root cause of US foreign policy.

    Asking the new President to rejoin the community of nations, misses the point of American Empire. Joining such a community for the first time might be closer to a truth request. The US empire has only had tangential relations with this so-called community. A community that is in flux.

    I’ve never been a proponent of nation-states, and am very dubious about the notion of creating a union of such states. However, that is only because I don’t believe that there should be a global governance in some kind of super-world federacy.

    That said, I find some real value in the Earth Charter, not as a “constitution for a world federacy” but as guiding principles which local and regional “entities” can sign-on to, as a basis for global solidarity. It is democratically principled and tuned to local place rather than some kind of armed “peace keeping” rule governing entity.

    But, again to the original topic: Obama is not about to change the economic system. He’ll try, I suppose, to save it by making some adjustments – mostly retrofitting. It will never touch the empire’s mission and so that mission will continue full force. It may crop up as humanitarian interventionism or as out and out occupation of one sort or another.

    Our understanding of what is happening today, regarding the economy rests on historical conjecture. I submit we are facing the unknown and that it is far deeper than the historical touchstone: Great Depression. US use of fossil was nothing compared to today; and the globalization of markets and finance was simply incomparable. That is what we are facing. Perhaps the greed factor crosses then and now, but the actual consequences are, I think, very different.

    This is a house of cards. It is collapsing. Obama will try to save it. War will continue to play a role because that is the single tool of Empire’s choice as it has been for thousands of years.

  8. bozh said on December 14th, 2008 at 8:42am #

    i too think that the warming may destroy much life on this planet. and i think that US is now waging all these wars because it also thinks like u do.
    however, it is unable/unwilling to control its greed; thus has chosen to wage wars for choicest regions of the planet such as siberia, polar, and subpolar areas.
    bns may fry in heat; while mns or even a bn settles in cooler areas.
    many amers might also be left behind and face slow/painful death. thnx

  9. Don Hawkins said on December 14th, 2008 at 3:45pm #

    Yes many Americans most Americans as on this path and that path is not working together but still this side or that side there will be two people working together say deep in the ground in Kansas. The key is working together and those two in Kansas have two key’s that they turn together and the rest is academic.