Blood and Oil

For the past several days, the past several weeks, the past several years, and for the past several decades, the media, the politicians, and the economists — along with investors, entrepreneurs, and geologists — have obsessed about oil.

Analyses and assessments of oil abound, as thick and opaque as the black stuff itself. Is it peaking, is it increasing, or is it self-rejuvenating? Is its price determined by the market, the cartels, or the futures traders? Is it the new gold, or the last century’s promissory note to this century’s failing central banks? Has it been the motivation for America’s wars over the past 60 years?

The answer to all these questions is a not completely confident "Sure!"

That government we deserve is hard at work in Washington, trying to understand what is happening. Congress calls to account the oil company executives, damns the traders and the producers, and considers sentencing the rest of us to a new national speed limit. They do what they can, this crowd of intellectually challenged creatures. The media does its part to inflame popular distrust of the dwindling number of producers, transporters, processors and gas station owners in the country. Politicians on both the left and the right use our current dismay over the price of a barrel of oil to promote their various class and cultural enmities.

Was the Iraq invasion and occupation really about oil? 58 permanent US bases in Iraq with US sovereignty over Iraqi airspace is what the Decider wants — that sounds like some kind of Cold War invasion and occupation to secure a resource flow. Couldn’t be that, of course. There’s no oil in Iraq or the region, and back in the day, the Soviets always insisted they had been invited, and that the voluntary mutual pact was one of brotherhood and unity in freedom. Oops, never mind.

Kudos for the titular Baghdad government for pushing back against the US-dictated and extremely overdue status of forces agreement. That’s the spirit.

If — as you read this — you are beginning to feel annoyed and frustrated, I share your angst. Without more information, and a deeper and wider understanding of history, economics, the market, and even chemistry, engineering, and world politics, it is difficult to make sense of the role of oil in our American lives and the existence and actions of America’s government.

A new documentary entitled Blood and Oil has just been released, and it goes a long way to preparing a mindset that will create common ground between left and right, pro-war and antiwar, young and old, Americans and the rest of the world. Narrated by Michael Klare, and based on his 2005 book, Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum, this one-hour documentary is a clear, dispassionate and yet riveting history of America and (especially but not only) Middle Eastern oil.

The 2005 book, reviewed here, here and here, is critical of the Bush administration’s economic and foreign policies, and offers policy prescriptions. Dr. Klare is a professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts, and has written several other books on resource-based conflict.

There is debate over how much oil motivated and guided the U.S. toppling of Saddam Hussein and the occupation of Iraq. Like many in Washington, in Iraq, and around the world, Michael Klare believes it was about oil, and our addiction to it, an addiction George W. Bush curiously describes as a "true" fact. In the book, Klare takes a more deterministic perspective than the system-oriented view of William Clark, author of Petrodollar Warfare, incidentally a view I tend to share. Klare’s perspective on the Iraq war in some ways may be problematic for some observers of American politics — it implies organized competence in government over the long term, and discounts a variety of other governmental and political motives for invading Iraq from "Saddam tried to kill my Dad," "We need to make the Middle East safe for Jesus," and AIPAC’s Likudnik enthusiastic paranoia mated with congressional craving for easy re-election.

Blood and Oil has several important advantages over Klare’s earlier and well-researched book. First, the 52-minute presentation is tight, clear, and well-integrated — suitable for home use, classroom use, independent and even corporate television broadcast. Second, it is strengthened by actual newsreels from the past 80 years, and while some of this may be available on YouTube, or perhaps on the History Channel, there is really amazing stuff here. You will watch black and white video of FDR’s secret meeting on a Saudi yacht, something I had never seen or heard of before Blood and Oil. Lastly, the video is oriented to be informative, not polemic or political, and the Media Education Foundation focuses the power of the visual material and the narrative on simply raising viewer awareness.

A good companion video that would address another important aspect of oil in national and international policy would be the Mises Institute’s great Federal Reserve primer, Money, Banking and the Federal Reserve. Government finance through manipulation of market commodities isn’t news, and resource wars are the rule, not the exception. These two videos, however, viewed in tandem, constitute an education suited to middle school children, young adults, older Americans, teachers and professors, reporters and analysts. Together, they would also be content-appropriate and incredibly useful for the 534 congressmen and senators not named Ron Paul.

If you teach, use it in the classroom. If you believe the Iraq invasion was not about oil, watch Blood and Oil and then refine your argument. If you feel, as I do, that America’s domestic and foreign energy policy is confusing, and that blood is indeed more valuable than oil, watch Blood and Oil. Given the intensity of murmurings of expanding the U.S. war to Iran, American Marines extended in Afghanistan, and $5 gas, the sooner we all become informed, the better.