Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed Out

The light bulb goes on



By G.D. Maxwell

Finally! An explanation that makes sense.

Ten years ago, I quit a perfectly good job that paid me more money than I ever thought I’d make. I sold a perfectly good house in a perfectly good neighbourhood in Toronto, divested myself of most of my worldly possessions through a series of comic garage sales, packed up what was left and moved to Whistler to work for twelve dollars an hour and be a ski bum.

People around me asked the inevitable question, "Are you out of your mind?" I patiently explained to them my reasons for moving. I loved mountains and there was a hole in my soul the CN Tower just couldn’t fill. I loved skiing much more than I loved slushing to the subway in Ontario’s winter. And passion trumps money every time if you just give it a chance; in other words, life’s life, it ain’t no dress rehearsal.

It was a simple explanation for a complex act and more than a few friends thought I was lying, crazy or probably both. But it was an explanation that made sense.

The problem I’ve been having with the war being waged in Iraq by my home and native land mostly revolves around the lack of sense of any – all – of the explanations offered by the Bush administration. I don’t expect much of what George W says to make sense. But he has surrounded himself with some very smart, if extremely scary, guys and I did expect them to come up with something that made more sense than the flimsy film of half-truths they’ve offered to date.

Oh yeah, I forgot to warn regular readers. This column isn’t about skiing, wacky Whistler culture, or the unsettling fact the WEF has booked space for their 2005 get-together in our town. It’s about war and politics, so if you’d prefer to get back to your hacky-sack game, this is a good place to stop.

So what’s this war all about? Is it about bringing down a sadistic dictator who commits atrocities against his own people? You mean like the leaders of North Korea, Zimbabwe, Libya, Nigeria, China, Indonesia and others? Hell, if that’s the reason we’d better get ready for a state of war for the rest of our lives.

Is it about the unproven links between Saddam and al-Qaeda? Well, what about the proven links between al-Qaeda and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Somalia and others?

Okay, maybe the links aren’t airtight, but what about the likelihood of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands – being sold outright – to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups? Isn’t it about that?

Cou’be. But the singular lack of success of the UN weapons inspectors in finding anything to suggest Iraq even has the capability of producing WMDs might at least turn the spotlight on, say, the former Soviet Union who has a stockpile of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons second only to the US. And even President Putin admits they can’t even keep track of where they all are or whose hands control them.

Or, if you believe Russia’s our friend, what about North Korea’s shipments of missiles to Yemen and others? Pakistan’s nukes? In my world, tangible threats trump imaginary ones every day of the week.

Well then, isn’t it about bringing democracy to Iraq? I’m not sure the track record is too good on this point. Weren’t we going to bring freedom to Afghanistan? Outside of Hamid Karzi’s Kabul, Afghanistan has pretty much reverted to tribal warlord rule reported to be so repressive it makes the Taliban look like a love-in.

And if it’s all about instilling and protecting democracy, why did the US go nuts when the democratically elected government of Turkey voted to not allow the country to be used as a staging area for invading Iraq, a move that so outraged some in the US power structure they suggested Turkish military leaders might want to think about overthrowing the government?

Okay. But it’s definitely not about oil, is it?

I was ready to buy the disclaimer that it wasn’t about oil. The Bushies had made some pretty good arguments that oil would be cheaper if they just sidled up to Iraq, lifted sanctions and let it sell all it wanted on the world market.

Then I got sent Geoffrey Heard’s paper, It’s Not About Oil or Iraq. It’s About the US and Europe Going Head-To-Head On World Economic Dominance and the research it was based on The Real Reasons for the Upcoming War With Iraq by William Clark.

And damned if a lot of those nagging questions didn’t start to get answered.

To grossly oversimplify the heavily researched and extensively footnoted arguments Messrs. Heard and Clark present – these are, after all, largely macroeconomic analyses – it is all about oil. Well, not oil per se , but the currency in which oil is traded, US dollars, and the potentially devastating economic impact of some oil producers, most notably Iraq, switching to trading oil in euros.

The argument goes something like this. Since 1945 oil has been exclusively traded in US dollars. Since 1971 when Richard Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard, it has been a global reserve currency that the US, and only the US, could produce by simply printing. If Japan wanted to buy oil, it needed US dollars. That made it okay for Americans to buy way more Sonys and Toyotas than Japanese bought Chevys. The trade deficit didn’t matter if Japan never tried to hold the US good on all those dollars because they desperately needed the dollars to buy oil.

Ditto those cheese-eating surrender monkeys in France, as the right-wing press now likes to refer to them.

But with the advent of the European Union and the euro as a viable reserve currency, this US oil hegemony is threatened. When Iraq started denominating oil in euros in 2000, the neo-conservative think tanks in the DC beltway went ape-shit. Largely ignored during the Clinton administration – or as one pundit put it, the best Republican administration in the last 25 years – the neo-cons, under the leadership of now Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz had been pushing an invade Iraq plan since Gulf War I. After September 11 th , the plan found sympathetic ears in the oil-clubby confines of the Bush White House.

In one fell swoop, the US can lock up Iraq’s oil – second largest reserves in the world – dismantle OPEC’s price controls and cut the world price of crude in half by ramping up production, lock oil trading inexorably to the US dollar, establish a permanent military presence in the Middle East, hold up a shining example to other oil-producing countries, Iran for example, of what happens if you get too far out of line, and protect the US economic house of cards for, hopefully, the rest of my life.

Hell, if they’d just explained that in the first place I’d have jumped right on board. If it’s a race between me and the cheese-eating surrender monkeys being reduced to third-world status, better them.


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Read it for yourself and see what you think. You can find Clark’s paper at: http://www.sierratimes.com/03/02/07/arpubwc020703.htm

and Heard’s (under the title Not Oil, But Dollars vs. Euros ) at: http://www.pubtheo.com/page.asp?PID=1181