the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today - my own government."
Dr. Martin Luther King, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,"
April 4, 1967 at New York City's Riverside Church
we don't have boots in the Iraqi desert by spring, we have to wait
till winter because of the heat," says conventional wisdom.
Don't believe the hype: our soldiers can handle the heat, but gas
and oil prices can't stand the cold. Heavy demand makes winter fuel
prices the highest of the year, and prices spike when an oil producer
like Iraq is attacked. Best to fight in the spring and summer when
prices are low. That's just the first lesson in the nexus between
oil, money, time and the taking of other people's property by force.
As the U.S. government rushes to invade and occupy Iraq, people
around the globe ask Why, Why now, and Why so alone?
all around you. Plastics, carpets, asphalt, paint, fertilized soil.
Look how electrified our lifestyles. All of it based in oil and
gas. Transportation systems, the glue of our economy, needed for
centralized workplaces and the economic cohesion of our nation,
dependent on oil. Agriculture, pharmaceuticals, a host of other
industries all critically dependent on oil. Globally, one's personal
income is more closely related to the amount of energy one consumes
than to any other factor. Oil is the most liquid energy, the form
most easily transformed to others. The more oil you use, directly
or indirectly, the richer you are. As the richest country on the
planet, U.S. oil consumption is more than 20 million barrels a day
and rising. We produce less than half those barrels, importing
the rest largely from Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Canada, Venezuela,
Nigeria, and Iraq. Within 20 years, we will import 6.5 barrels out of every 10 we consume.
oil production peaked in 1971, enabling OPEC's 1973 oil embargo
and the deep economic recession that resulted. Jimmy Carter changed
our country's policy toward Arab nations in 1980 by designating
the supply of cheap oil from southwest Asia (the "Middle East")
vital to national
security. Our policy in the region quickly evolved to prevent
the rise of a hegemonic power, like Iraq was becoming in 1990, able
to influence use of the region's oil. The world's oil production
will peak this decade, bringing with it a permanent change in oil
market control from those who consume to those who produce. This
change will occur at a time when our economy is far more dependent
on imported oil than it was in the 1970s. With deep roots in the
oil industry, the Bush administration rightly seeks to diversify
our sources of imported oil. Large oil and gas deposits in the Caspian
Sea (circumscribed by Iran, Russia, and the -stans in central Asia),
South America (including Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil), the South
China Sea (circumscribed by Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia),
and West Africa (primarily Nigeria, Angola and Gabon) are consequently
drawing sober U.S. interest.
Americans have historic and cultural ties to Africa, as illustrated
by our concern with the continent's poverty and HIV/AIDS rates,
its terms of international trade, and its continuing struggles against
colonialism. Many of us cheered last year when all 53 African states
vowed to increase trade and to cross national boundaries as necessary
to implement the mandates of a new African
Union. Few of us know that Africa produces one-seventh of the
oil consumed in the U.S., a figure that will rise to one-quarter
over the next decade. Even fewer know that oil discoveries in Africa
have outpaced those of every other region for several years. "West
Africa's oil has become of national strategic interest to us,"
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner
declared early last year. "African oil should be treated as
a priority for U.S. post-September 11th security," added Congressman
Edward Royce, chair of the Africa subcommittee in the House of Representatives.
Discussions are ongoing at the highest levels of our government
to formally designate west Africa a region vital to national security.
Those of us with interests in Africa - African Americans, in particular
- must understand the implications of this. With the size of Africa's
oil exports growing to rival Saudi Arabia's, we must assess
our government's war plans against the U.S. need for oil.
country is the largest consumer of the world's oil, but our economy
is tied to oil in more ways than one. Since the 1940s, oil has been
denominated in U.S. dollars only, making our dollar the world's
preeminent reserve currency. Nations buy and hold dollars like they
buy and hold gold because they can't purchase oil without dollars.
With this support for our currency, U.S. foreign debt has grown
to $2.8 trillion, or $10,000 owed to foreigners by every man, woman
and child in our country. Last year's trade deficit alone was more
than $500 billion and shows no sign of slowing. Any other country
with our lack of fiscal discipline would see its currency and stock
market crash hard. But the dollar's value is essentially backed
by oil, which allows our Treasury to simply print money as needed
to finance our debt. Since accounting makes no allowance for fiat
money, the General Accounting Office has been unwilling to certify
our nation's financial statements for several years. We can operate
this way only while our dollar is the world's preeminent reserve
currency; without dollar preeminence, there is hell to pay.
the real "weapon of mass destruction," the
euro. Eleven European countries formed a monetary union around
this currency on January 1, 1999; Britain and Norway, the major
European oil producers, were conspicuously absent. Due to the strength
of European economies, the euro now presents a serious challenge
to the dollar in its role as key reserve currency. The rise of the
euro also threatens to hobble the British pound's eventual entry
into Europe's monetary union. Britain and the U.S. have mutual interests
in oil to match their interests in the euro. Of the five largest
oil companies in the world, two (ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco) are
U.S.-based, two (Royal Dutch/Shell and BP) are based in Britain,
and one (TotalFinaElf) is French. U.S. and British oil companies
are all but banned from exploration in Iraq, while French, Russian
and Chinese companies have contracts waiting for the lifting of
sanctions. France and Germany, the largest economies in the Euro-zone,
can diminish U.S. credibility and keep the euro on track to become
the key reserve currency by preventing war with Iraq.
U.S. and British military attack for the last decade, Iraq has had
its exports restricted to oil through a United Nations oil-for-food
program that deducts war reparations from the receipts. Iraq has
used smugglers to trade its oil for goods and services, minimizing
official oil sales as a way to influence prices and punish its attackers.
Labeling the dollar "the currency of an enemy state,"
switched its oil denomination to the euro in late 2000, risking
the loss of $270 million to the dollar's strength at that time vis-à-vis
the euro. But the dollar lost 15% of its value against the euro
last year. Iraq's move to the euro - and Iran's expected move -
are placing tremendous pressure on OPEC countries and other oil
producers to drop our dollar as the main transaction currency for
oil. With a looming global peak in production, consuming nations
must switch currencies when oil-producing states do so. For instance,
Jordan began using euros to buy oil as soon as its major supplier,
Iraq, began using them to sell, and North Korea switched to the
euro late last year to protest the U.S.' halt in fuel aid. Given
the highly leveraged and fragile state of our economy, an OPEC switch
from the dollar to the euro would bring a quick and devastating
dollar and Wall Street crash that would make 1929 look like a $50
casino bet. Iraq's currency action adds urgency to the coming oil
price and supply crisis, so our leaders have moved to control both
the flow and the currency denomination of oil.
to destroy OPEC is twofold: pressure non-OPEC producers to flood
the oil market and retain denomination in dollars in an effort to
weaken OPEC's market control, and change the leadership of any country
switching oil denomination from the dollar to the euro (hence, the
"axis of evil"). The strategy requires that the U.S. military
assert our interests in oil and gas deposits worldwide. U.S. interests
in the Caspian Sea have been secured through regime change in Afghanistan
and a deal for a new pipeline through that country. U.S. interests
in South America, despite the failure of the coup in Venezuela (an
OPEC member), are being secured via military aid to neighboring
Colombia. U.S. interests in southwest Asia are being secured through
the planned invasion of Iraq, then Iran (both OPEC members) if it
switches oil denomination. U.S. interests in the South China Sea
are being secured through military deployments in the Philippines
and off the Korean coast (near OPEC member Indonesia). But what
of West Africa?
most African countries import oil from outside the continent, Africa
is a net oil exporter. That's because nearly all African oil is
produced for export to Europe and North America. The vast majority
of foreign direct investment in Africa is in the energy sector.
In the largest project to date, ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco have
invested $3 billion in a pipeline project to bring Chad's oil through
Cameroon to the west African coast for export; the oil could flow
by the end of this year. Yet the primary goal of the African Union
is economic, political and military integration. In a nod to the
continent's internal needs, ChevronTexaco is building a gas pipeline
from Nigeria to ports in Ghana,
Benin and Togo. Until OPEC lowered production quotas last year,
Nigeria was selling large blocks of oil to South Africa and Kenya.
As the African Union succeeds in integrating the continent's economies,
Africa's oil exports will be turned increasingly to internal use.
Does U.S. policy in Africa mirror our policy in the Persian Gulf,
a policy designed to prevent the rise of a hegemonic power with
influence on the use and denomination of the region's oil?
Tome and Principe, an island nation 150 miles off the West African
coast (triangulating Nigeria and Angola), agreed last year to host
a U.S. naval base in exchange for protection of oil in its territorial
waters. Nigeria has claimed exclusive licensing rights to an oil
block in these waters for many years. The U.S. base could also be
used to protect Cameroon's claims to Bakassi, the oil-rich island
off its coast long claimed by Nigeria. A new deployment of U.S.
Special Forces to Djibouti, a tiny country bordering Ethiopia,
Eritrea and Somalia, could likewise check national autonomy in the
Horn of Africa. This troop deployment, designed to catch terrorists
in east Africa, adds to the 3,000 French and German troops already
present in the area. Our State Department has openly threatened
Zimbabwe as that country puts its land back into Black hands. Like
accusations levied against Somali "warlords" a decade
ago, President Mugabe is charged with exacerbating Zimbabwe's famine
by distributing food aid only to government supporters. Our country
has numerous opportunities - and perhaps an incentive - to violate
African sovereignty. The upshot is that African Americans could
soon experience repression of the sort felt lately by our Arab and
Muslim brothers and sisters.
are we to do? Recognize that Black well being in the U.S. and around
the world will be adversely impacted by our government's war for
oil. Recognize that an oil war, by increasing the costs of energy,
threatens oil-importing developing economies everywhere, especially
those in Africa and South America, as well as Black America's. Recognize
that the war to control the world's oil is in the late planning
stages but is early in its implementation and can be stopped. Recognize
that Martin was killed because of the moral authority he brought
to the Vietnam anti-war movement, drawn from his use of the "race
card," and that the African American community retains that
authority. Recognize that our ability to drive domestic response
to an immoral foreign policy is what keeps the warmongers up at
night. Recognize that
thoughtful Black people, from Nelson
Mandela to your next-door neighbor, are against this war for
two reasons: because it is against Black interests - in the U.S.,
in central and South America, in Africa - and because it is so very
terribly wrong. Talk to your friends and family about your opposition
to the war. Stick an anti-war poster in your yard and a bumper sticker
on your car. Join or help organize a local or national protest.
Call, write, email and visit your congressional representatives.
Take a few "sick days" from work, and don't buy anything
you don't absolutely need. Get behind the anti-war movement now,
before it's too late.
must also work on root causes with those in other communities. It
may already be too late for a smooth transition from oil dependence
to sustainable energy use, but we must begin now. If we are sensible,
we'll invest in solar and wind technologies, human-powered and public
transportation (bikes and buses), public agriculture, and other
requirements of sustainable communities. We must get our economic
house in order and rebuild our manufacturing base. "Made in
the USA" means we'll have more jobs, even though they may be
difficult and may not pay very well. Our lifestyles will change
dramatically. Our standards of living will decrease, but the quality
of our lives will improve. We'll be forced to depend more on each
other, to communicate more with each other, to build stronger families
and communities. And just maybe we won't have to kill people to
maintain our economy. We can only suspect that, had the people's
will prevailed in 2000, our president-in-exile would have begun
September 20, 2001, President Bush declared, "The war will
be fought not just by soldiers, but by police and intelligence forces,
as well as in financial institutions." Hmmm. War is not the
answer. It's a shortsighted desperation play that is doomed to failure.
Our military forces may take but cannot hold Iraq's oil, as they
have failed to tame Afghanistan's land. Far from staving off disaster,
our arrogance may instead compel OPEC to "go euro" en
masse, taking many oil-consuming nations with them by force
of economics. And a trade war with Europe will lend the coup
de grace to our economy. In the meantime, many people will be
hurt and killed, research and development on fuel efficiency and
renewable energy will be slowed, the necessary policy and tax initiatives
on energy consumption will be delayed, and our country will be far
worse off when intelligent leadership finally prevails.
Ebron is the chief executive of blackEnergy, the place to practice
Black cooperative economics. blackEnergy
brings the benefits of deregulated energy to Black communities
here for a list of sources for further reading on this subject.
comments are welcome. Visit the Contact
Us page for E-mail or Feedback.
here to return to the home page