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Internationalize The Oil
By Robert Wolfe
Over the course of the past few years I have watched with a growing sense of horror as the world has gradually separated into two armed camps, in neither of which do I feel at home. On the one hand we have the US-led "coalition of the willing", bent on pursuing a costly war for murky objectives in Iraq, and on the other hand we have the coalition of the anti-Semites, headed by the Islamists, cheered on by the EU and the UN and held together by the entire international left. My situation is mirrored in the situation of Israel, not even invited to become a part of the "coalition of the willing", yet the main object of the hatred and disdain of the opponents of that coalition.
I knew this would happen. In an article entitled, "What Happened To The 'War On Terror'?", written in December of 2002, some months prior to the invasion of Iraq, I wrote that "Israel is sure to be made the scapegoat for a US invasion" and added: "Even if the attack quickly succeeds, which is far from certain, the United States will not be able to establish a stable government, whether democratic or otherwise, to replace Saddam Hussein, and will find itself compelled to commit troops and resources for an extended period to keep from being forced out of the picture altogether."
However, I derive no pleasure from the fact that these predictions have been confirmed. To the contrary, I wish that the war had led to the rapid establishment of a stable democratic government in Iraq. But since it was easy to predict that this would not happen, I have to ask myself: just why did things work out this way?
The short answer is called oil. Oil clearly had something to do with the US decision to invade Iraq, but oil also has something to do with the nature of the opposition to US policy. It turns out that many of the leading opponents of the US invasion were receiving indirect payments from Saddam Hussein that were being funneled to them through the "oil for food" program. And in a broader sense, much of the international debate over Middle East policy boils down to two simple choices: appease the Arabs and Muslims so as to get their oil, or dominate the Arabs and Muslims so as to get their oil. Neither approach looks good to me, and both ultimately lead to scapegoating Israel.
What is worse, I am having more and more trouble even imagining how a viable alternative to these two choices might arise. The whole world now runs on oil, and most of the major reserves of oil are in the Middle East or the Muslim countries of Central Asia.
In several articles in the past I have advocated the internationalization of the world's oil supply and its distribution through a world agency charged with promoting the economic development and prosperity of every country on earth. This approach still looks good to me, but I see less and less reason to think it will be adopted any time soon. Neither the industrialized countries that consume the oil nor the Arab and Muslim countries that possess it appear willing to relax even slightly their collective stranglehold over the extraction, processing and distribution of the world's greatest energy resource. Instead of taking the path of world economic cooperation, they prefer to cooperate in denouncing Israel as the main threat to world peace.
The United States is the only industrialized country that doesn't join in this chorus, and therefore Israel has little choice but to align itself with the United States in world affairs. This means that morally and politically, if not logistically, Israel has had to support the invasion of Iraq. But it is far from clear to me that this support is in accordance with Israel's long range interests.
Certainly Israel has every reason to hope for the emergence of a democratic Iraq, but what if something else emerges instead? What if the ultimate result of the US invasion is a theocratic Shi'ite dictatorship aligned with Iran? Would such a government be better or worse than Saddam Hussein so far as Israel is concerned?
One thing is for sure: the weaker the US position in Iraq, the greater the temptation for the United States to bring pressure on Israel to appease the Arabs and Muslims so as to repair the damage to its international position caused by the opposition to its invasion of Iraq.
Faced with a choice between a left that hates me and a right that I can't trust, I find myself, like so many others, increasingly depoliticized. The values for which I stand, and for which Israel as a country has traditionally stood, seem more and more out of place in today's world.
In place of common sense, we find rampant religiosity; in place of cooperative effort, we find extreme individualism; in place of a sense of justice, we find a talent for scapegoating. And behind it all, the titanic struggle to produce or consume, at a higher or lower price, a greater or lesser quantity of oil, the magical elixir which makes everything run smoothly while quietly polluting the entire planet.
Democracy, human rights, the rule of law - all these high sounding slogans are, in today's world, just so many masks for the right to get in your car and drive as far as you want as fast as you want.
It nonetheless remains true that the spread of democracy, human rights and the rule of law to the Arab and Muslim world is the only way that Israel is ever going to be accepted as an integral part of the Middle East. The problem is that it does not seem likely that democracy can be imposed on the Arabs and Muslims by the United States or anyone else. They have to actually want it, and right now they do not.
Moreover, one of the main reasons they don't want it is that they have oil instead. Oil provides them with the wherewithal to arm themselves to the teeth and study religion instead of history and science. In this way they can nourish dreams of conquest, dreams which will never come true, but which do provide a basis for an unrelenting campaign of hatred directed against Israel. And since the money which they get for the oil comes from the industrialized world, the enlightened democracies of the West are actually accomplices in the Arab and Muslim demonization of Israel whether they want to be or not.
Is there an alternative to oil? I don't see it. Solar energy, battery driven cars, wind and water as power sources - all these proposed alternatives, helpful as they may be, can provide only a small fraction of the energy now provided by oil. The only real alternative is a drastic reduction in the amount of oil consumed by the industrialized countries, particularly the United States, which is far and away the world's largest consumer of oil.
In a rational world, an extensive mass transportation grid would replace automobiles and trucks as the main instrument for the transport of goods and people. Production of oil would be reduced and oil distributed to the various countries around the world on the basis of real need rather than artificially stimulated desires. The goal would be a healthy environment combined with the economic development and prosperity of the entire world and not just one powerful part of it. Existing oil reserves would be utilized only gradually, making possible continued development and prosperity far into the future.
But we don't live in a rational world, rather one driven by power and greed. Real change only takes place after some disaster proves the impossibility of continuing on in the old way. In the meanwhile, the symbiotic relationship between the thirst for oil of the industrialized world and the thirst for grandeur of the Arab and Muslim world has led to a massive revival of anti-Semitism on a world scale. Where are the progressive forces that will protect Israel and the Jewish people against this trend? I don't see them.
Are we really supposed to believe that Israel will be sustained over the long haul by Christian conservatives who think Armageddon is just around the corner? Somehow I doubt it. The only conclusion I can draw from the existing state of affairs is that since there is no international voice for a rational world, Israel and the Jewish people must be that voice.
That is, after all, the traditional role of the Jewish people. What does it mean to be a "light unto the nations"? To praise a non-existent entity for creating a cruel and unjust world? No, it means to stand for a better way of life than that imposed by brutal autocrats who like to make statues of themselves for the people to worship. And today that better way of life requires global planning and global cooperation.
No one has a greater stake in seeing these goals realized than Israel and the Jewish people, for global planning and global cooperation is the only real alternative to the constant intensification of anti-Semitism on a world scale. The power to produce and distribute oil must be removed from the hands of those who now control it and placed in the hands of a responsible international body instead. However distant this goal may appear and however unlikely its realization, it still represents the one path which leads away from the scapegoating of Israel and the Jewish people and towards real peace and prosperity in the world.
I see internationalization of the production and distribution of oil as the first step towards the internationalization of global economic activity in general. The technology and the resources already exist to provide every human being on this planet with a decent standard of living and a clean, healthy environment. What is needed is merely the political will to make global prosperity the goal of global economic activity in place of the existing goal of profit and power for a select few.
Internationalization of the production and distribution of oil will provide the necessary basis for a more comprehensive program of global economic planning and economic cooperation. I therefore call on all those who read this article to raise the demand for internationalization of oil, to discuss ways and means of realizing this goal and to develop a systematic critique of the existing system of production and distribution of oil. This is the path out of depoliticization for all those who, like myself, still believe in the possibility of a more just, humane and rational world.
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