Just as the news that the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Advisory Board had declared Saudi Arabia “the kernel of evil” was rolling into Washington, and roiling US relations with the Kingdom, another far less-noticed item off the Dow-Jones Newswire was putting the whole brouhaha in its proper context:
“The fate of $25 billion in foreign investment into the Saudi gas sector depends on Riyadh increasing the production potential of the gas fields on offer to the eight companies vying to take part in the landmark deal.”
Crown Prince Abdullah, determined to modernize the Kingdom he stands to inherit, is liberalizing the terms of foreign investment and opening up the Saudi market for energy exploration and production but the major oil companies want to go back to the good old days, when there wasn’t any competition.
Or, rather, back to the bad old days, if you’re looking at it from a free-market perspective. At the end of World War II, the Arabian-American Oil Co. (Aramco) a consortium dominated by Exxon, Mobil, and Socal was granted complete control over the production of Saudi oil. This cozy arrangement was subsidized by the US Treasury, to the tune of $30 million in royalty payments to King Ibn Saud, and a $25 million “loan” from the US government’s Export-Import Bank which was used by the King to build a pleasure railroad from the capital to the summer palace. The 1975 “nationalization” was a fraud designed to defuse popular discontent with these arrangements, since the same Exxon-Mobil-Socal gang was recruited to run the “new” state-owned company.
In any case, Western corporate chieftains retained their special privileges through an exclusive marketing arrangement with Aramco, the Saudi state-owned oil company. With over half of Saudi oil production still going to the old cartel, nothing had really changed except that the Saudis were retaining the rest.
But this cartel soon began to break down under the pressure of market forces. With the price of oil plunging, and the Kingdom strapped for cash, the Saudis were facing an economic crunch, and started looking around for a better deal. The Crown Prince signed a preliminary agreement last year with nine Western oil companies, including ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch/Shell, to convert Saudi utilities from oil-burning to natural gas: the result would free up more Saudi crude oil for export. But the negotiations have been stormy from the start, and the agreement is near the breaking point.
The two oil majors, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, are demanding more access to higher grade gas fields, and a guaranteed 18 percent rate of return. The Saudis insist that the acreage on offer is sufficient, and that the companies are just being lazy. As one Arab source puts it: “The area is of great potential. But what it needs is more exploration. The companies want their cake and to eat it too. They don’t want to explore.”
They also don’t want to compete. But if no agreement can be reached, the Crown Prince has made it clear that others will be allowed to take up the slack. Dow Jones informs us that
“If the talks falter, the project is likely to be split up and tendered again. Some junior partners in the projects and companies that aren’t participating are preparing bids for a possible resale, sources say. Reports say these companies include TotalFinaElf , Conoco, ENI, ChevronTexaco and Chinese Petroleum Corp.”
The suspense is building. A meeting of Saudi ministers on the negotiating committee held last Sunday failed to reach a consensus. With the competition waiting in the wings, there was no time to lose. By Tuesday morning, the Washington Post was reporting the by-now-infamous “kernel of evil” briefing given before the Defense Policy Advisory Board, which targeted the Saudis as the hubcap on the axis of evil and recommended the seizure of their oil fields and their assets in the US.
As I pointed out in my last column, this “advisory board,” chaired by ultra-hawk Richard Perle, is a redoubt of the War Party, and it was Perle who invited Rand Corporation analyst Laurent Murawiec to give the Power Point presentation that wowed Washington and ruffled already rocky relations with Riyadh. Now we learn more about this controversial performance, and also about the performer, from Jack Shafer of Slate, who reveals that Murawiec is a “defector” from the LaRouche cult.
According to Shafer, the briefing started out by lamenting the Muslim world’s war on modernity, a pretty standard line:
“But then Murawiec lights out for the extreme foreign policy territory, recommending that we threaten Medina and Mecca, home to Islam’s most holy places, if they don’t see it our way. Ultimately, he champions a takeover of Saudi Arabia. The last slide in the deck, titled ‘Grand strategy for the Middle East,’ abandons the outrageous for the incomprehensible. It reads:
In its exalted megalomania, its sheer world-conquering scope, there is, indeed, as Shafer avers, a Strangelovian lilt to this rhetoric. There is also something distinctly kooky about it: that sort of Napoleonic grandiosity is usually confined to insane asylums, and the outer fringes of the political spectrum. While we have no knowledge of Murawiec’s confinement in the former, certainly he did some time in the latter as the “European Economics Editor” of the Executive Intelligence Review, the LaRouchian mouthpiece. Shafer dug this tidbit out of the Financial Times, which innocently and no doubt unknowingly noted the LaRouche connection in an author’s bio at the end of a piece by Murawiec in the January 23, 1985 edition.
For those not familiar with the LaRouche ethos, or the history of his eclectic cult, I shall simply refer you to this, which gives as good an account as any. Suffice to say here that it is the LaRouchians’ style, more than the rather arcane content of their often-incomprehensible ideology, that has labeled them the archetypal nutballs of a political bent. In the LaRouchian worldview, LaRouche is considered a world-historic figure, a beloved sage who travels around the globe dispensing advice to heads of state and is received, wherever he goes, as a kind of world-saving prophet. The very titles of his articles are commands to be obeyed: “What Argentina Must Do Now,” “LaRouche Advises Democrats on What They Must Do,” and “LaRouche Issues a Blunt Warning” are characteristic of this exhortatory style. Only he can save the world from the Conspiracy, which, according to LaRouche and his followers, is somehow vaguely connected to the Queen of England and the old Venetian families known as the “Black Guelphs” or some such nonsense.
At any rate, it is not hard to hear the echo of LaRouchian conspiracism in Murawiec’s “kernel of evil” thesis, now being touted by the clueless Instapundit and the National Review gang as a kind of manifesto. Once again, it is an evil royal family at the root of all the world’s problems: the House of Windsor, in Murawiec’s new delusionary system, has been replaced by the House of Saud.
The details are changed, but the structure of the conspiracy theory is fully intact, as is the paranoid style that targets the Saudis as the ‘kernel of evil” that is “active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to footsoldier, from ideologist to cheerleader.” LaRouche also speaks of a “kernel” of evil, “the kernel of the international oligarchy,” as he puts it, the “London-centered” conspirators who really run the Terrorist International. What’s behind “The New International Terrorism,” according to LaRouche, is a vast network of Muslim “mercenaries,” the “keystone-element within a new international terrorism, which reaches westward across Eurasia, from Japan, coordinated through a nest of terrorist-group command-centers in London, into the Americas, from Canada down to the tip of South America.” In one demonology, it is London, in the other, it is Riyadh, but it’s the same method and the same madness.
It isn’t clear when Murawiec broke with the LaRouchies. Shafer notes that he moved on up to the Washington Post‘s “Outlook” section in 1999, and this year his byline has appeared twice in The National Interest, the neocon journal of foreign affairs. Murawiec’s defection was noted in a 1997 piece by Helga Zepp-LaRouche, and by LaRouche himself, who described him as
“A real-life ‘Beetlebaum’ of the legendary mythical horse-race, and a hand-me-down political carcass, currently in the possession of institutions of a peculiar odor.”
I’m not too clear on the “mythical horse-race” stuff say what? but there is a certain “hand-me-down” quality to Murawiec’s monomania, reminiscent of that legendary leopard who merely changed his spots. At the end of his Slate piece, Shafer zings Perle:
“Now that Murawiec has assumed such a vocal place in the policy debate, the man who gave him the lectern owes us the complete backstory. Over to you, Richard Perle.”
I would agree that Perle has some ‘splaining to do. But Murawiec’s political odyssey, from LaRouchian to neoconservative, is not so hard to fathom. Aside from parallel conspiracy theories, there is, in both, the same world-saving, world-conquering grandiosity that is the hallmark of all political megalomaniacs, whether on the fringes or close to the center of power. Great minds think alike .
If Big Oil and its neoconservative auxiliary are desperate for a pretext to seize oil and gas reserves they cannot otherwise gain access to, then they are going to have to do a lot better than the second-hand conspiracy theories of not-quite-deprogrammed ex-cultists. Speaking of which .
It’s interesting to note a peculiar pattern that seems to be emerging: many of the biggest warmongers, in the post 9/11 era, are ex-nutballs of one sort or another who went “straight” and veered off into a more lucrative variety of extremism. Murawiec is merely the latest case. Think of David Horowitz, the ex-leftist cheerleader for the Black Panthers who now goes around lecturing blacks on their alleged “racism” and demanding all-out war on the Arab world. Think of Stephen Schwartz, the Weekly Standard‘s “expert” on Wahabism, who gave up the fringe politics of left-anarcho-Trotksyism to become a major theoretician of the Riyadh-as-“kernel of evil” school. Now we have a former cadre of the LaRouche organization who apparently stayed in the group long after it had evolved from a typical “commune” of New Left Marxoids into a full-fledged loony bin solemnly addressing an official Pentagon committee on the eve of a fateful war.
There’s a lesson in there, somewhere .