By Greg Palast for TomPaine.com/OurFuture.org
[New York, May 22, 2008.]
I can’t make this up:
In a hotel room in Brussels, the chief executives of the world’s top oil companies unrolled a huge map of the Middle East, drew a fat, red line around Iraq and signed their names to it.
The map, the red line, the secret signatures. It explains this war. It explains this week’s rocketing of the price of oil to $134 a barrel.
It happened on July 31, 1928, but the bill came due now.
Barack Obama knows this. Or, just as important, those crafting his policies seem to know this. Same for Hillary Clinton’s team. There could be no more vital difference between the Republican and Democratic candidacies. And you won’t learn a thing about it on the news from the Fox-holes.
Let me explain.
In 1928, oil company chieftains (from Anglo-Persian Oil, now British Petroleum, from Standard Oil, now Exxon, and their Continental counterparts) were faced with a crisis: falling prices due to rising supplies of oil; the same crisis faced by their successors during the Clinton years, when oil traded at $22 a barrel.
The solution then, as now: stop the flow of oil, squeeze the market, raise the price. The method: put a red line around Iraq and declare that virtually all the oil under its sands would remain there, untapped. Their plan: choke supply, raise prices rise, boost profits. That was the program for 1928. For 2003. For 2008.
Again and again, year after year, the world price of oil has been boosted artificially by keeping a tight limit on Iraq’s oil output. Methods varied. The 1928 “Redline” agreement held, in various forms, for over three decades. It was replaced in 1959 by quotas imposed by President Eisenhower. Then Saudi Arabia and OPEC kept Iraq, capable of producing over 6 million barrels a day, capped at half that, given an export quota equal to Iran’s lower output.
In 1991, output was again limited, this time by a new red line: B-52 bombings by Bush Senior’s air force. Then came the Oil Embargo followed by the “Food for Oil” program. Not much food for them, not much oil for us.
In 2002, after Bush Junior took power, the top ten oil companies took in a nice $31 billion in profits. But then, a miracle fell from the sky. Or, more precisely, the 101st Airborne landed. Bush declared, “Bring’m on!” and, as the dogs of war chewed up the world’s second largest source of oil, crude doubled in two years to an astonishing $40 a barrel and those same oil companies saw their profits triple to $87 billion.
In response, Senators Obama and Clinton propose something wrongly called a “windfall” profits tax on oil. But oil industry profits didn’t blow in on a breeze. It is war, not wind, that fills their coffers. The beastly leap in prices is nothing but war profiteering, hiking prices to take cruel advantage of oil fields shut by bullets and blood.
I wish to hell the Democrats would call their plan what it is: A war profiteering tax. War is profitable business – if you’re an oil man. But somehow, the public pays the price, at the pump and at the funerals, and the oil companies reap the benefits.
Indeed, the recent engorgement in oil prices and profits goes right back to the Bush-McCain “surge.” The Iraq government attack on a Basra militia was really nothing more than Baghdad’s leaping into a gang war over control of Iraq’s Southern oil fields and oil-loading docks. Moqtada al-Sadr’s gangsters and the government-sponsored greedsters of SCIRI (the Supreme Council For Islamic Revolution In Iraq) are battling over an estimated $5 billion a year in oil shipment kickbacks, theft and protection fees.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the surge-backed civil warring has cut Iraq’s exports by up to a million barrels a day. And that translates to slashing OPEC excess crude capacity by nearly half.
Result: ka-BOOM in oil prices and ka-ZOOM in oil profits. For 2007, Exxon recorded the highest annual profit, $40.6 billion, of any enterprise since the building of the pyramids. And that was BEFORE the war surge and price surge to over $100 a barrel.
It’s been a good war for Exxon and friends. Since George Bush began to beat the war-drum for an invasion of Iraq, the value of Exxon’s reserves has risen – are you ready for this? – by $2 trillion.
Obama’s war profiteering tax, or “oil windfall profits” tax, would equal just 20% of the industry’s charges in excess of $80 a barrel. It’s embarrassingly small actually, smaller than every windfall tax charged by every other nation. (Ecuador, for example, captures up to 99% of the higher earnings).
Nevertheless, oilman George W. Bush opposes it as does Bush’s man McCain. Senator McCain admonishes us that the po’ widdle oil companies need more than 80% of their windfall so they can explore for more oil. When pigs fly, Senator. Last year, Exxon spent $36 billion of its $40 billion income on dividends and special payouts to stockholders in tax-free buy-backs. Even the Journal called Exxon’s capital investment spending “stingy.”
At today’s prices Obama’s windfall tax, teeny as it is, would bring in nearly a billion dollars a day for the US Treasury. Clinton’s plan is similar. Yet the press’ entire discussion of gas prices is shifted to whether the government should knock some sales tax pennies off the oil companies’ pillaging at the pump.
More important than even the Democrats’ declaring that oil company profits are undeserved, is their implicit understanding that the profits are the spoils of war.
And that’s another reason to tax the oil industry’s ill-gotten gain. Vietnam showed us that foreign wars don’t end when the invader can no longer fight, but when the invasion is no longer profitable.
Palast is currently working with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on investigation the latest attacks on the right to vote in America. Support this effort and receive a signed copy of Armed Madhouse from the author at Palast Investigative Fund.
View Palast’s commentary on oil and war windfalls on Air America Radio’s Palast Report – on YouTube here.