Walking the Planks

Dems' creaky platform leans to right, has a warped colonial veneer

"Part of his genius," says Anonymous, "is his focus on the United States. One of the last remnants of European colonialism in the Arab world was a tradition of resistance against national governments. These tyrannies [today's governments] in the Arab world are too strong. There is no way [bin Laden] can ever beat them one at a time. It is too costly in terms of money, lives, and families. He argues that the U.S. is weaker because it's a democracy, because it doesn't like to lose people, because it's so hypersensitive to any kind of opinion around the world that is critical, that if they can drive the Americans out of the region, the rest of it falls like fruit from a tree. The tyrannies in all of the countries go."

Neither Bush nor the other conservatives openly admit to the historical importance of the Western colonial presence in the Middle East. They deny that the war in Iraq grows out of a century-long colonial exploitation of the region's oil. From the beginning of the 20th century on, the colonial powers set the rules of who was to have what oil and how it was to be used in what markets through an international oil cartel. We manipulated governments—overthrowing the nationalist Mossadegh in the '50s in Iran and placing the shah in power, then supporting Saddam as a counterweight to Iran during the long war (1980-88) between those countries. Earlier, we intervened directly to organize the economy of the oil states with the creation of the joint Saudi-American oil company Aramco. Later, we pretty much defanged OPEC. The first Gulf war was seen by many as a reaffirmation of American colonialism, wrapped in slogans of democratic self-determination and humanitarian endeavor. Bin Laden, who began his career as an instrument of Western colonial powers against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, sought to rally his backers, under a fundamentalist religious banner, to oust the Americans from the Persian Gulf.

Neither political party in the U.S. openly accepts this history; both of them instead color what amounts to a continuation of colonial presence with the same slogans of democracy and humanitarianism. The Democrats argue that we must diversify our sources of oil, away from the Middle East. But in fact, ever since the rise of OPEC, we have been steadily engaged in diversifying—we're already getting oil from non-OPEC countries in the Western Hemisphere, such as Mexico and Canada, which increasingly operate within the dictates of NAFTA. These sources have steadily reduced our dependence on the Gulf. Europe does remain dependent on Gulf oil. And it will draw heavily on the adjacent oil finds in the Caspian, as will China, which will soon be one of the largest energy importers—if not the largest—in the world.

Expecting sweeping new proposals from the Democrats?
photo: Joeff Davis/joeff.com
Expecting sweeping new proposals from the Democrats?

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    Nowhere in the Democratic platform is there any mention of this recent history, nor is there one reference to our new colonial presence in West Africa, where the U.S. discusses a military presence to protect the growing oil industry in the Gulf of Guinea. Instead, the Democrats repeat slogans that date from Jimmy Carter's presidency about the need to harness renewable resources and alternative fuels. Neither party has shown in the past 30 years the least bit of interest in developing such resources.

    Only on social issues does the Democratic program differ from that of the Republicans. Otherwise, the differences are vague, and in the case of the Iraq war, depressingly similar. As for Islam, it doesn't exist.


    Additional reporting: Alexander Provan

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