Oil Costs More Than You Think

In its quest to control global oil and gas reserves, the U.S. has forgotten its noble heritage and is endangering its future by supporting dictators abroad. While the Middle East’s resources are a tempting prize, the continuing alienation of its people and the likelihood of wider confrontations are a recipe for disaster.

To reach its goal, the U.S. has relied principally on supporting malleable strongmen and interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign countries. Most recently the U.S. has resorted to military intervention. Washington initiated the policy of interference and support for dictators in 1953 when, along with Britain, it overthrew the elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran and reinstalled the shah. Unfortunately, the U.S. learned nothing from the events of the ensuing years. The Iranian Revolution was as much about jettisoning U.S. control of internal Iranian affairs as it was about overthrowing the shah and establishing an elected government. With the loss of Iran, the U.S. focused on Arab countries ruled by corrupt families.

To my mind, the extent of the corruption in the Persian Gulf is unprecedented in the history of man. Just ask yourself a simple question: How is it that the rulers of Saudi Arabia are so rich? Is it because all the roughly 20,000 family members are so very intelligent? Is it because they are so hardworking? The answer is simple. The Saudi monarchy has taken brazen corruptness to a level never seen before. The Saud family is plundering the birthright of all present and future citizens of Saudi Arabia. They are in on every big government contract, and their commissions can sometimes run into the billions of dollars. For example, the commission paid to Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud on the al-Yamamah military contract (with BAE Systems) in the UK has allegedly exceeded well over $2 billion, with many more billions expected to follow. In 2006 the British government stopped all investigations into the widely reported commission and rescued this "royal" middleman by resorting to an "in the interest of national security" argument. As expected, in 2007 another large Saudi military contract, more wasteful military expenditures, and more commissions, all to the detriment of Saudi citizens, rewarded Britain’s complicity.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The late King Fahd’s palace in Jeddah, just one of many, reportedly cost well over $1 billion. This is the same King Fahd whose favorite title was the "Custodian of theTwo Holy Mosques"! The senior members of the Saud family take from the state treasury at will, robbing the citizens of Saudi Arabia without hindrance. Once depleted and plundered, the trillions in oil and gas assets will be lost to all generation of citizens, present and future. Although corruption and lavish lifestyles are forbidden in Islam, the Western media’s confusion persists: it is not a matter of Islam condoning corruption, but rather of regional dictators who are supported and protected by the U.S. How can the U.S. believe that its support for these rulers and their policies will "win the hearts and minds" of Muslims?

As if these sad legacies of Washington’s drive for control of Persian Gulf petroleum were not enough, the U.S. has encouraged regional conflict. The Iran-Iraq war could have been stopped at the very moment Saddam Hussein invaded Iran. Instead the United Nations, with implicit U.S. backing, took no action, and the U.S., along with its European allies, supplied Saddam Hussein with all sorts of weaponry, including outlawed chemical and biological weapons. The U.S. also supplied Iraq with battlefield intelligence. The cost of this war to Iraq exceeded the country’s total oil revenues over the entire period from the creation of Iraq to 1988 (the year the war ended); the cost to Iran exceeded Iran’s oil revenues from 1945 to 1988. The U.S. encouraged the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar to shower their Arab brother, Saddam Hussein, the supposed Arab protector, with cash in an effort to protect their shaky regimes. Later, the U.S. did less than it could have to discourage Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. Instead, the U.S. led a coalition of mercenary allies to reinstall the Kuwaiti monarchy, thereby winning sweetheart deals from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates for favored oil companies, engineering firms, and arms manufacturers.

Then came the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a war motivated in part by a desire to control the oil of Iraq and its neighbors and to render Iran more malleable. Iran was labeled a supporter of terrorism and a member of an "axis of evil," while Arab dictators were praised as "moderates." The Iraq war continues today with higher costs than any previous war in the Persian Gulf and with no end in sight. Oil, greed, and aggression go hand in hand and bring out the worst in men and in governments. Can anyone expect the people of the Persian Gulf region to welcome U.S. support for regimes that rob them of their freedom, plunder their resources, and subjugate them? An Iranian-style revolution, but on a much wider scale, cannot be avoided if the U.S. continues on its present course.

While Persian Gulf rulers have wrapped themselves in Islam, they are anything but Islamic. The fundamental principle of Islam is economic and social justice. Pious Muslims the world over are repulsed by impious rulers and those who support them. This is one of the chief causes of anti-Americanism in the Muslim World.

Sadly, in its efforts to dominate the Middle East, the United States has forgotten its own heritage. The U.S. has chosen to side with dictators at the expense of the people of the region. The U.S. no longer even promotes free elections, as recent elections have not produced the results Washington wished for; given Muslim mistrust of Washington’s record in the Middle East, those allied with the U.S. are unlikely to be elected anywhere in the Muslim world. The U.S. has become a willing accomplice to the subjugation of millions of Muslims. Since 9/11 the U.S. has used the terror card to shore up Musharraf, Mubarak, and the House of Saud and their deplorable policies. This is the same United States that produced the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. How long does the U.S. think it will get away with this transparent double standard?

The U.S. government’s double standard for favored regimes was evident recently when the White House was asked for a statement on the doubling of the sentence handed out to a Shia girl (not from the majority Sunni sect of Saudi Arabia) who was the victim of a gang rape: she dared to question Saudi injustice when her rapists were given relatively lenient sentences while she received 90 lashes for "allowing" herself to be raped. The same government now occupying Iraq initially responded that Saudi Arabia was a sovereign country with its own judicial system!

Let’s connect the dots. The masses in the Middle East and much of the wider Muslim world are disenfranchised. If the disenfranchised try to overthrow their governments, they are called terrorists by the U.S. There is little opportunity to affect change peacefully. Increasingly, these people see their misery as connected to the U.S. government’s policies. I cannot help but repeat something that I have said for many years: the reason the U.S. is surprisingly popular with many in Iran is that the U.S. has not imposed the current regime on the people of Iran. It’s that simple.

The Middle East is ready for an explosion like none seen before. At the same time, America’s growing control of the region’s resources threatens China. China will be increasingly daring in its support of anti-American elements in the region and around the world, as it has little choice but to thwart U.S. domination of the Persian Gulf. Any hostile act against U.S. interests could trigger a massive U.S. response, which could in turn fuel widespread uprisings against American allies and interests. A world war could erupt because the U.S. pursues hegemony through corrupt, unelected proxies at the political, social, and economic expense of millions of innocent people.

How can Americans, whose ancestors fought for their own independence, be accomplices to rulers who deprive millions of people in the Middle East of their rights? How can America not see the folly of its imperial ways? How can America be blind to the catastrophe that is sure to follow?

Read more by Hossein Askari