The United States of Oil

By Damien Cave

Published November 26, 2001 8:30PM (EST)

Read the story.

In "The United States of Oil," Damien Cave states "Before Sept. 11 Saudi Arabia was reportedly pushing the U.S. to pressure Israel into Palestine peace concessions and, according to a Newsweek story, Bush was beginning to comply." The White House has been promoting this misleading story for some time in an attempt to direct attention away from White House actions that may have triggered the Sept. 11 attacks. In May 2001, after Bush walked away from the Palestinians, Israel's Sharon enraged the Arab world by attacking Palestinian positions with US-made F-16 fighter jets. These attacks underlined the fact that Israel is the Middle East's most powerful military power because roughly $91 billion in past U.S. aid (and $3 billion/year currently) has been used to indirectly subsidize U.S. defense contractors via the sale of advanced weapons to Israel.

Newsweek's story that Bush was pushing Israel to make peace with Arafat prior to Sept. 11 is hilarious, given that the White House let Lockheed Martin sell Israel 52 more F-16 fighters on Sept 5, one week before the Sept. 11 attacks. The fact that the F-16s are made in Fort Worth Texas and that Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne Cheney, was on Lockheed's board of directors from 1994 to Jan 2001 only underlined the point for the Arab world.

Cairo's Al-Wafd criticized the sale in a blistering article on Sept. 8 -- an excerpt: "The timing the U.S. chose to announce its decision to give Israel the dangerous F-16 jets is really strange. It seems as though the U.S. is telling Israel 'Go ahead Sharon! Carry on with the assassination of Palestinian children and the destruction of the houses of peaceful civilians! Proceed with the destruction of the Palestinian defenseless people's infrastructure and with desecrating Islamic sanctities in the holy land!'"

In interviews with CNN in 1997, with ABC News in 1998, and in his 1998 Jihad Declaration, Osama bin Laden explicitly cited American support of Israel, and its harmful effects on Muslim Palestinians, as one of the primary motivations for his declared jihad. How was bin Laden likely to view the sale of the 52 F-16s on Sept. 5?

The American voters are unlikely to get the full story. Condoleezza Rice has asked the TV networks to censor any statements from bin Laden and the networks, vulnerable to FCC actions, have hastened to comply. If bin Laden is captured, any statements he makes are unlikely to escape the secret military tribunal that President Bush is setting up.

-- Don Williams

Of course the administration has a background in oil. So much the better to understand and manage energy policy.

If Afghanistan proved to be an alternative to Saudi Arabia in delivering Russian and Central Asian oil to the world market that would be great but unfortunately Afghanistan does not reach the sea and we would have to pass through Iran or Pakistan.

I would love to see a militarized oil corridor going to the Caspian Sea and perhaps that can be worked out with Pakistan.

Meanwhile you people are placing all your hopes on "alternative energy" unproven on a mass scale.

-- Wayne Huber

Mr. Cave's stunning revelation that the Bush family and their associates are former oilmen is indeed groundbreaking journalism in the grand tradition of "Weekend Update" and "The Daily Show."

He seems (as many did a few months ago) to build the case that this administration would support helping the industry with higher prices, but the plummeting prices we now are experiencing (I thought the companies had the power to manipulate prices?) make such a position untenable, thus we are greeted with his final paragraph:

"But there is no clear evidence, right now, of oil company desires affecting current U.S. foreign policy. If anything, the terrorist attacks have reduced the energy industry's influence. Before Sept. 11 Saudi Arabia was reportedly pushing the U.S. to pressure Israel into Palestine peace concessions and, according to a Newsweek story, Bush was beginning to comply. But after Sept. 11, the chance that the U.S. would accede to Saudi requests evaporated, given the numerous Saudi connections to the attacks."

It is as if Mr. Cave builds his own straw man of a premise then demolishes it since the facts can't support them.

All I can say to this is if the oil industry creates public service of the caliber of Cheney & Rice maybe we should regularly hire people from there.

-- Peter Ingemi

Great article about the oil-soaked Bush administration. How about checking out the reports of this year's negotiations between the Bush administration and the Taliban. Sounds like they were our best buds until the Taliban refused to cooperate with the US plan to build and control an oil pipeline in Afghanistan. When they balked, we threatened to blast them to pieces, like we seem to do to everyone that doesn't do exactly what we want them to do. All the stories point to a pre-planned military attack against Afghanistan slated to begin in mid-October. Fits right in with the lack of proof against bin Laden and the refusal to accept the Taliban's multiple offers to hand bin Laden over to a neutral country for trial, post-9/11. There are multiple articles out there -- BBC's George Arney "US Planned Attack on Taliban," "Zalmay Khalilzad and the Great Game" by David Lloyd and Rick Berg in Counterpunch and there is a new book out in France called, "Bin Laden, Forbidden Truth" by Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, which deals with it as well.

I believe it very much effects current policy. I believe that the war in Afghanistan has very little to do with terrorism and practically everything to do with the 3 trillion dollars worth of oil and natural gas in the Caspian Sea basin area. Getting the American press to open their eyes and investigate this rampant corruption is another matter. Keep up the good work. After the disgusting display of American journalists as government propagandists, not only since 9/11, but for many years now, it's nice to see a start in the right direction, namely, full reporting.

-- Laurie Sampson

Oil is indeed too valuable to be consumed merely for energy. Safe, clean, and cheap, the means whereby Electricite France has the lowest cost for energy in continental Europe, the basis of Japan's power, nuclear power is the only technology that will reduce pollution and increase supply anytime soon enough to help. A direct hit from a jet plane will not break our steel and reinforced concrete containers, and we are independent of imports the moment we can double our generating capacity. Till the superbattery is delivered, low-intensity alternatives such as solar or wind and simply bad economics and worse public policy.

-- Richard Henkus

It's unfortunate that the Bush administration's (and the Republican Party's) heavy involvement in the fossil fuel industry will prevent the United States of Oil from robustly pursuing the most logical long-term response to the events of Sept. 11: serious fuel efficiency and energy conservation measures paired with the "energetic" development of every promising source of clean alternative energy.

However, in the event a case of rationality strikes the "U.S.O." -- or we see a much-needed change of executive and congressional leadership -- I'd like to suggest a couple of things we can do.

Since the use of petroleum is the main reason we're so involved in the troubled Middle East, and its use (and the use of coal) is "driving" a process of disastrous climate change, let's use oil's current low price as a floor upon which the country will levy a gasoline tax -- to increase in steps over the coming years -- whose revenues will be directed to the development and improvement of clean alternative-energy technologies, much more fuel-efficient cars, and rail and transit projects.

Individuals can be a part of this process too, every time they get in their cars. Environmentally conscious drivers can reduce fuel usage and emissions just by slowing down and driving at a much more fuel-efficient speed, around 55-57 mph on freeways, and avoiding pointless fast acceleration between the red lights on surface streets. (And it sure wouldn't hurt for the GOP-dominated Congress to reinstate the old 55-mph national speed limit, and to finally enact rational auto fuel-efficiency standards.)

If national patriotism isn't enough to persuade our leaders to enact rational energy policy, maybe some environmental "planetary patriotism" will help propel the United States, leaders and citizens alike, eventually to a real national energy security.

-- Gregory Wright

Concerning "Oily Waters" by Damien Cave, p. 3:

According to the EIA, total U.S. energy use has not remained flat since 1973. See, for example:

Total energy consumption was about 76 quadrillion BTUs in 1973, but 96 quadrillion BTUs in 1999.

*Per-capita* consumption has remained fairly steady since 1973 -- meaning that increases in energy efficiency have been offset by rising appetites: more and bigger cars, larger homes, more appliances, and more sprawling communities that make driving a necessity.

And, of course, population growth has trumped all gains in efficiency. Each U.S. resident may use no more energy now than in 1973, but there are some 73 million more of us today.

-- Clark Williams-Derry

While I can agree that development of alternative energy sources are critical for the long run interests of the U.S., I have to question the accuracy of several points raised in this article. The author states that: "President Clinton, however, did not continue the trend. John Holdren and Dan Kammen, who both worked on Clinton's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, say that over two terms, the president repeatedly ignored calls for energy efficiency incentives and a carbon emission tax."

I find this an interesting statement since both my recollection and that of the United States Senate Republican Policy Committee quite definitely recall active Clinton support for a BTU tax of Clinton's invention. The Republican Policy Committee provided this report: "In 1993, the Democrat-majority House actually passed Clinton's Btu tax (without a Republican vote), and it only failed to become law after the Senate took a longer look at it." This doesn't look like ignoring the carbon emission tax.

The second element that seems amiss is the author's take on the Saudi natural gas deal. He states: "Last year -- for the first time in decades -- the Saudi finance ministry announced that it would award contracts to foreign oil companies, giving them the right to produce and sell Saudi natural gas from three large fields. Given Bush's ties to oil, and the long history of U.S. ties to the Saudi kingdom, American oil companies might have seemed like shoe-ins. But when the awards came through in May 2001, American companies were not the big winners. ExxonMobil, the world's largest oil company, did win contracts as part of a larger consortium, and other companies picked up pieces of the massive $40 billion project, but Chevron was completely excluded from the deal, and most of the winning companies hailed from Europe."

Actually, natural gas is a difficult product to sell in Saudi Arabia since they have traditionally had little use for it, and the only effective way to move it to market is via pipelines -- none of which stretch to areas (such as Europe) where there might be a viable market. In fact, the projects referenced are for local, Saudi electric generation, water desalinization and petrochemical production. This is emphatically not a traditional Arab oil venture. It is, in fact, local development. I find it had to accept, further, that U.S. companies were significantly excluded. What follows is the official Saudi announcement of the awards. "Prince Saud said the first venture, led by Exxon-Mobil with Royal Dutch Shell, British Petroleum and Phillips The second venture, led by Exxon-Mobil, with Occidental and Marathon, combines the development of known natural gas reserves in the northwest of the Kingdom The third venture, led by Shell, with TotalFinaElf and Conoco, will focus on the exploration and development of associated gas in the Shaybah Field in the Rubm Al-Khali." How does one conclude from this that the U.S. was shut out? Exxon-Mobil has two contracts, Phillips, Occidental, Marathon and Conoco are also represented. Royal Dutch Shell has two contracts on the European side, but is accompanied only by British Petroleum and TotalFinaElf. Is this a massive shift in Saudi preferences driven by anger over U.S. Middle East policy? Hard to accept the above as proof.

I enjoyed the articles, but worry that the author has not researched his material well -- a fact that calls much of what he writes into serious question.

-- Francis Ferguson Ph.D.

I was dismayed to read the "Oily Waters" series in Salon. Many good points are explored in this piece, but the author seems to forget that the president has little power in today's government. Clinton did not "ignore" alternative energy completely. Instead, he dealt with an extremely conservative Congress. The House consistently zeroed all funding for renewable energy research and development, year after year after year. Sadly, this was not the arena in which to propose a carbon tax. Despite what anyone may say about Clinton, he is politically shrewd.

The alternative energy provisions in the Cheney energy plan were mere bones to the industry. The market for renewables has yet to be created in a comprehensive way. Billions in Federal tax dollars are used to support fossil energy businesses and technologies. Very little comparatively (probably less than $500 million) is appropriated for alternative energy and energy efficiency. The Energy Plan actually proposes to cut renewable funding further and make increases contingent on bonuses from oil bids in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The author is correct, the Bush/Cheney team has difficulty seeing past fossil energy. This is truly sad because Bush reportedly uses a geothermal heat pump and solar hot water heater on his Crawford ranch. Yet again, what is good for the wealthy few represented by this Administration is not good enough for the rest of us.

-- Laurie Jodziewicz

Damien Cave's "Oily Waters" effectively notes our society's tendency to think only about today's oil and gas prices. We just don't seem to have a scientific or economic understanding of the long-term implications. Yet science is discovering new renewable, cleaner methods of generating and using energy. I personally commute to work on a bike (in Chicago, even in winter); for every biker like me, there are hundreds of SUVs clogging traffic and the air. Until such technological solutions are found, we will all experience a declining quality of life and greater dependency on foreign governments to fuel our society and economy. How depressing to think the current and previous administrations lack the long-term perspective to encourage such technological change. Can corporations step up to the challenge and make a difference on pure marketplace dynamics?

-- Russ Klettke

Damien Cave's article on big oil looked promising. Having read it, it seems to be intended to be a duplicitous defense of the oil industry. Negative aspects of the domination of American policy by oil are alluded to and then dismissed. We are assured that if anything the oil industry's influence is declining, with no substantive data to justify such an absurdity, however.

Cave glides over the Carlyle Group and the bin Laden family's involvement in it as though it is merely incidental interest, when nothing could be further from the truth. No mention at all is made of Osama bin Laden's brother in Bush II's oil company, an investment which is documented but which Bush denies to this day.

Salon is steadily moving to the right along with the rest of the media, as this snow job plainly shows. Many of us miss the old Salon. But it's articles like this one and your continual use of far-right-wing columnists that keeps us from coughing up the subscription. I simply will not support this sort of duplicitous, dishonest writing.

-- Carl Wright

By Salon Staff

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