[OPE] Cyrus B, "Oil, war, lies and bulls**t" (1/4)

From: <glevy@pratt.edu>
Date: Sat Oct 11 2008 - 16:54:45 EDT

Asia Times Online :: Asian news and current affairs
Oct 9, 2008

Page 1 of 4
Oil, war, lies and bulls**t'
By Cyrus Bina

There's hardly any doubt that the George W
Bush administration lied rather consciously about the cause of invasion
and subsequent occupation of Iraq. President George W Bush also has been
deliberately untruthful to the American public on a number of domestic
issues, such as illegal, indiscriminate wiretapping of US citizens,
torture of foreign detainees and American political prisoners, and
limitless encroachment on civil, human, and legal rights of the American
citizenry at large.

As a consequence, at least on the issue of
the invasion of Iraq, there's no discernable disagreement about the Bush
administration's appalling lies. However, what is still questionable
within the public (particularly, the anti-war) discourse is the mistaken
belief that oil has been the primary cause of the US war

in Iraq. This belief, as I shall demonstrate below, is but a
harmful ploy that essentially belittles the truth; this belief plays as a
de facto cover-up that inadvertently, but sadly, conceals the Bush
administration's scandalous tracks in this bloody colonial adventure, and
consequently trivializes the real cause of the invasion of Iraq.

For instance, this supposedly "progressive" view is boon to
the Israel lobby in the United States, whose singular aim today is to
justify the Bush administration's mindless warmongering and to distract
the public from the real cause of war in the Middle East.

this critical sense, I will argue, rather regretfully, the anti-war
movement itself has indeed played a significant part in the Bush
administration's reckless and frantic foreign policy. Moreover, I contend
that speaking of oil as the cause of war is clumsily out of context and
thereby distracts our attention from the neoconservative
/militarist/Christian Zionist vision of the Bush-Cheney administration.

And, particularly, by invoking "No Blood for Oil",
the anti-war left - including radicals and certain self-proclaimed
"Marxists" - is, advertently or inadvertently, blameworthy of
sweeping the real cause of war under the carpet.

Since the oil
crisis of the early 1970s, I have been weary of the relevance of orthodox
economic doctrines and their damaging methodological influence over what
is known as heterodox economic alternatives. However, my deepest
resentment is reserved for the so-called mainstream economics textbooks in
which competition, and by implication monopoly, has been treated
axiomatically, that is to say, as-a-matter-of-factly. I contend that
invoking the fiction of "perfect competition" and appealing to
its equally silly corollary (that is, "perfect monopoly"), has
not been more exposed than in the case of oil industry.

deepest concern here arises from the intrinsic fakery - not necessarily
falsity - of the textbook competition-monopoly spectrum, camouflaged as a
real market-structure theory. In other words, the truth about this
tautological proposition is axiomatically undeniable; nevertheless, it is
absolutely alien and indeed irrelevant to the context and concrete reality
of capitalist competition.

Competition has an evolutionary
context within the contending process of accumulation in capitalism, which
compels the competitors to participate in the concentration and
centralization of capital in their perpetual war of survival. Neither
"pure competition" nor "pure monopoly" nor the faked
harmony within their purported spectrum will be suitable for a testable
hypothesis concerning advanced capitalism.

To be sure, this
proposition is not wrong; it's simply devoid of the context. This is what
I mean by unrelated axiomatic (or fictional) construction. And that's what
H G Frankfurt, the author of On Bullshit, calls, "bullshit". In
this manner, the very accumulation of capital in the globalized oil
industry has been idealized by mainstream economic as "monopoly"
and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as an alleged
(price-making) cartel.

What is depressingly noticeable is that
the liberal/radical left also tends to utilize this very idea of
competition - before resorting to some selective cartelized features of
the bygone oil era, under the "Seven Sisters" leading oil
companies, peppered with the equally bygone US foreign policy under the
defunct Pax Americana (1945-1980) - as a guiding principle.

Moreover, this unauthentic impression (overblown with irrelevant,
anachronistic, and/or out-of-the-context facts) has become a typical facet
of nearly all liberal/radical (leftist) writings on today's oil.

Similarly, this sort of fakery and this manner of unconcern for truth
have become the signature of the majority of anti-war writings on oil and
the war. It appears that no amount of historical examination, critical
reasoning and/or concrete evidence on the decartelization, competitive
globalization, and the epochal transformation of oil have any effect on
these liberal/radical adversaries. In other words, for this
well-intentioned but clueless anti-war crowd, neither historical
specificity nor epochal context nor concrete evidence has any relevance.

The theory they know is patently owned by the orthodoxy, the
oil they imagine is non-competitive (and deemed controllable), and OPEC
they envision is a "cartel" - contrary to the empirical

Being baffled by this much misapprehension since the
early 1990s (this is, since the beginning of the US sequel in Iraq), I
have persistently been in search of a fitting category - beyond categories
of "truth" and "falsehood" - a category that would
accurately describe the right-wing economic theorizing, and its left-wing
blind following, in respect to mischaracterization of oil, misapprehension
of the post-Pax Americana interventions, misrepresentation of American
hegemony and the mistaken identity of the present epoch.

I was
particularly interested in a meaningful category that would adequately
describe the anti-war writings on oil and their purported linkage to the
question of war.

This question was on my mind till one day, in
2005, when I came across in a bookstore a stack of petite volumes titled
On Bullshit. Thumbing through the tiny pages, the author's brief
description on the back-page reassured the skeptical reader: "Harry G
Frankfurt, renowned moral philosopher, is Professor of Philosophy Emeritus
at Princeton University." This was a godsend, I thought as I gave a
quick read of the first few pages, and realized this is what I have long
been seeking for the streamlining of my otherwise long-handed criticism of
the "market typology" and my long-drawn-out dissatisfaction with
neoclassical competition as embraced by nearly all textboooks on
microeconomics and industrial organization.

More importantly,
I noticed that this book offers an apt category for depiction of nearly
all recent writings on oil and war, whose relevance to the context and
whose competence on the issues are suspect. I have been writing for nearly
four decades on this subject, and only belatedly realized that I need a
serious sui generis category - a shorthand - for identification of these
writings and utterances; writings and utterances that are steeped in
circular reasoning; that are devoid of historical periodization and
replete with the panoramic fakery - in both academic and popular
literature on oil, war, globalization and hegemony.

In this
67-page gem of a book, the author remarked: "It is impossible for
someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. ... [Thus] the liar is
inescapably concerned with truth-values." By contrast, Frankfurt
rightfully insisted that "[f]or the bullshitter, however, all these
bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the
false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man
and the liar are ..."

The author then went on: "his
focus is panoramic rather than particular. ... He is prepared, so far as
required, to fake the context as well." And finally a gentle reminder
by the author: "Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from
lies in its misrepresentational intent."

"Bullshit" indeed seemed to have been the accurate description
of what I have painstakingly encountered in the mainstream as well as
heterodox economic literature on oil in recent decades. I have written
well over half a million words (and spoken four times that) to expose the
faulty methodology and the lack of concern for truth concerning the
epochal transformation and globalization of oil by the conservative,
liberal and radical economists; and by international relations academics.

In the majority of writings in these literatures, the
preemption of truth has been accomplished by absolute lack of concern for
contextual reality. The writers often resorted to axiomatic reasoning -
not as an abstraction from complexities of the truth but abstraction from
the truth itself - in order to justify their models - rather circularly.
They preferred to hang on to the bygone colonial era, under the
International Petroleum Cartel (1928-1973), and to force the
out-of-the-context revival of this anachronism upon the present reality of
global oil.

That's why - before setting the context - I
decided to insert the word "bullshit" in the subtitle and
throughout this article - not as a sign of disrespect or put-down - but as
a sui generis category of immeasurable value in order to accurately
classify the enormous body of the popular writings on oil , war, and

The price of oil had already passed the threshold of
US$145 per barrel, before falling below the $100-mark and back, given the
deepening financial crisis at home and the staggering financial and
political cost of foreign adventures abroad; the day-to-day price of oil
has now moved to an uncharted territory. No amount of cozying up to Saudis
by the American administration will ever do the trick, as it used to in
the pre-1970s cartelized era.

Indeed, as I have demonstrated
nearly three decades ago, since the 1970s, bargaining and cozying in this
business cannot explain the underlying long-run price oil. Moreover, to
look at oil systematically, and in a non-arbitrary manner, any bargaining
is necessarily confined within the boundary of these differential oil

The size of these oil rents is also dependent upon the
level of long-run oil price, whose magnitude is subject to the production
price of costliest oil region (that is, least productive deposits) in the
world. Geographically, the lower-48 states region of the United States has
been the site of the world's oldest and most explored oil deposits. This
oil region had been under the auspices of the International Petroleum
Cartel that had controlled nearly all world oil till the global
restructuring of the early 1970s. Upon the decartelization of oil in the
early 1970s, the US oil (the world's highest explored, highest-cost oil)
has become the center of gravity of value and pricing of oil globally.

That's why, the difference between yesterday's and today's oil is
the difference between arbitrary pricing, ad hoc accounting and unmediated
control by the defunct International Petroleum Cartel on the one hand, and
the mediating operation of the "law of value", manifested
through competitive globalization and worldwide pricing of oil on the

This, in my view, is the critical distinction between
the liberal/radical (leftist) view, which relies on the idealized
orthodoxy (that is, mainstream economics) for theoretical and ideological
nourishment, and the one that focuses on the evolutionary material reality
of competitive pricing of oil in the globe. Today, the extent of this
contrast has never been so clearly apparent than over the issues
surrounding the US invasion and occupation of Iraq on the one hand, and
the alleged question of oil on the other.

Since the oil crisis
of 1973-74 that restructured and unified the industry, the reality on the
ground has rendered the colonial control of oil untenable. Therefore, the
theoretical underpinning of modern oil and lingering fantasies of
yesteryear's cartelization (together with the unreality of US hegemony
under the Pax Americana) have no commonality.

But liberals and
conservatives alike see the oil as an immutable entity devoid of
historical evolution, and insist that, even in its undivided globalized
configuration, oil - even now - is allegedly privy to the necessity of
physical control and military invasion, thus insinuating an arbitrary

Moreover, these observers often start with power
(as a point of departure) and conclude with power and power relations to
reach their point of arrival, without any inkling about the circularity of
their argument. The case in point is the US invasion of Iraq, in


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