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Policy of the Absurd: A Blood Tax

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While Franklin Roosevelt provided a plan for the United States' long-term energy needs, George Bush has instituted a blood tax to provide for a short-term solution to guarantee the nation's oil supply.

Riding on the USS Murphy, a tall, black-bearded Arab king anticipated his important meeting. His bodyguards, fierce-looking men armed with daggers on their belts, assisted him because battle wounds had long ago weakened his legs. The destroyer carrying these men met the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake where three admirals and F.D. Roosevelt waited to greet the Bedouin monarch. After boarding the U.S. Navy cruiser, the Arab monarch grasped the U.S. leader's hand in a firm grip. The handshake sealed the destiny of two countries-Saudi Arabia and the USA-and shaped the course of events in the Middle East for decades to come.

F.D.R. and King Saud met on February 14, 1945. Roosevelt's actions that Valentine's day demonstrated how far and how rapidly American strategic thinking about the Gulf region had evolved during the war. Since that day, America has enjoyed a love for Saudi Arabia, especially for its oil. Before 1942, the U.S. government had no official interest in Saudi Arabia, even though Standard Oil Company of California had struck oil there in 1938 and had created a village of American geologists, drillers and engineers to deliver the oil to global markets.

But the war had consumed huge amounts of petroleum, thus awakening F.D.R. to the dwindling U.S. domestic oil reserves. He saw the long-term value of the Saudi fields, the only ones in the Middle East where an American company held exclusive production rights. At the same time the U.S. Armed Forces, fighting a global war, wanted an airbase someplace in the Middle East that was not under British or French control.

Standard Oil's lobbying efforts paid off in 1943. Roosevelt declared Saudi Arabia vital to the U.S. defense and therefore eligible for financial aid through the Land Lease Act. As J.D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil wrote in his autobiography, "One of our [Standard Oil Corp.'s] greatest helpers has been the State Department."

At the time, the U.S. government began to work hand-in-hand with selected oil corporations, and the U.S. energy plan became intertwined with its defense strategy. Half a century ago, this made sense, because no other technical solutions were imaginable. F.D.R. changed traditional ways of thinking by meeting with King Saud and negotiating a long-term supply of oil.

Visionary Presidents

Since the days of the Old Testament, history has rewarded men as great leaders who wisely manage resources for a nation's prosperity. Even God seems to reward those who conserve food or fuel during times of feast in preparation for periods of famine, as the story of Joseph shows (Genesis: 40-50).

F.D.R. entered history as a great president because of his visionary abilities to plan for the U.S.'s long-term prosperity. He recognized that the U.S. economy and military depend on oil and he delivered a solution that seemed viable at the time. Since then, the cheap gasoline resulting from F.D.R.'s diplomacy made the suburbanization of America possible, even though developing a relationship with a Bedouin King at the time seemed highly unconventional.

In a similar way, many people consider J.F. Kennedy a great president because he set a visionary agenda to make progress in areas such as racial civil rights as well as the space program, even though racial integration, like walking on the moon, seemed outlandish at the time. These mandates made paradigm shifts for the entire nation because they advanced the way Americans live and understand their civil freedoms and technical abilities. Visionary policies like these made the American Dream real at least for capitalists in opportune industries producing petroleum and automobiles.

Blood Instead of Vision

Fast-forward five decades, skip over at least seven major military conflicts over the oil in Iraq alone. Now, can we say that the Bush-Cheney administration has created a long-term solution to our growing demands for energy? Like F.D.R. and J.F.K., are they showing great leadership in delivering long-term solutions for the nation's prosperity?

Unlike these great predecessors, the Bush-Cheney Administration seems to think for the status quo of "business as usual" in the short term of special interest groups, and not for the nation's long term prosperity. The Bush plan to invade Iraq was not about WMD's, or links to Al Queda, or to deliver democracy. This has become ever more obvious now the Bush presidency is winding down and no bid contracts for the top oil refineries are shaping up.

Bush II uses military force to stabilize and secure the oil zones of the world, the largest of which are in the Middle East, the second largest Iraq. In speeches and in documents, the U.S. government has made this abundantly clear at least since President Carter defined his doctrine when he addressed Congress in 1980, saying, Washington would use "any means necessary, including military force," to keep the oil flowing.

American Voters Chose the Path

Carter's prophetic words have unfortunately become true in Iraq. He was the first and the bravest of Presidents to tell the US public that we cannot maintain the massive consumption of oil and that we must ration it as well as look for alternative energy sources. In this area, and in others, he was a President ahead of the history and, unlike many elected officials, intrinsically concerned about facing the truth.

He proposed making drastic changes to how we consumers behave. That was the late 70's, a time when America faced the consequences of a coup in Iran. The Ayatollah imposed religious rule displacing the Shah. The unrest resulted in another of many oil price induced recessions to hit the US. Carter lost reelection because the American public preferred to ignore the truth, the necessity to develop a long term, viable energy policy.

The smooth Teflon talking Reagan won on the promise to restore "prosperity." He sold the presidency on a shoeshine and a smile. Remember his slick salesman campaign slogan? "Prosperity is just around the corner." The gullible American public preferred to drop Carter's inconvenient proposal to curb consumerism and to elect Reagan who continued to lead the public down the road that ended in the predicament we're into today: waging war to secure our energy needs. Reagan began a neoconservative movement and attitude laissez-faire economics, using Milton Friedman's model of unbridled industry. With his Iran contra episode, Reagan also made some of the first demonstrations of what we now see as neocon cowboy approach to warfare, transforming the military into a security service for the petroleum industry.

It's ironic how the Republicans attempt to revise history by turning the B-actor into a superstar of historical triumph, when history now raises its ugly head to reality. Prosperity is still around the corner.

The Results of Reagan's Free Wheeling

Unlike any previous era, the United States possesses a near-monopoly on the use of force internationally. The Bush administration has used the 9/11 assault to justify the Bush II doctrine that asserts "contingent sovereignty" and the right of preemptive war as laid out in the neoconservative Project for a New American Century.

This rise of unilateral force and the unbundling of state sovereignty is a new and expensive policy. This new American militarism proves that we are now willing to spill blood for the sake of oil production. This unique Bush-Cheney policy demonstrates that the U.S. urgently needs to stabilize oil supplies. It's crisis reaction to the absence of any long term energy policy. This crisis only increases the price of oil and profits for the petroleum refineries and distributors, the purveyors of an enormous infrastructure that took decades to develop and now stands as an enormous obstacle to innovation and change.

Growing Urgency for Energy

In April of 1998, American dependency on imported petroleum crossed the 50 percent mark and continues to increase ever since. A surge in oil prices, arising from shortage, has caused nearly every recession since WWII --

  • 1973, Arab oil embargo

  • 1979, Iranian revolution
  • 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait
  • 2003, US invades Iraq

These recessions serve as a painful reminder of the important role that oil plays in the U.S. economy and military.

Given this volatile dependency on foreign oil, one might expect the Bush II Administration to pursue a long-term plan to eliminate this dire addiction. On the contrary, the Bush-Cheney national energy plan (NEP) increases the U.S. commitment to full-capacity petroleum extraction for maximum oil consumption. This plan enables corporations like Exxon Mobil, a major campaign contributor, to increase profits while already enjoying some of the highest of all corporations worldwide. This plan offers no strategy at all and reflects a complete lack of leadership and vision because it merely holds to a "business-as-usual" approach in a world that has drastically changed since F.D.R. first met with King Saud a half century ago.

The Bush-Cheney NEP leads the U.S. to increase its dependency on imported oil and thus also to increased deployment of military forces in the oil zones. This plan increases an already unprecedented military spending. Under this plan, the U.S. military becomes a security service provider to oil companies like Exxon Mobil, Halliburton, and others. The costs for the imported oil alone will run at least up to $3.5 trillion dollars for the next two decades. Given America's highest-ever trade deficit, spending for imported oil will strike a heavy blow to the U.S. economy.

Government and Cozy Corporate Cooperation

This cooperative arrangement between the U.S. government and large oil contractors is not new. It began at least five decades ago when U.S. domestic oil pumps began to scrape bottom and oil companies began to lobby for access to foreign investment and production opportunities. Now it forms a highly suspicious collaboration where government officials provide non-bid multi-billion dollar contracts to the likes of Halliburton while its former CEO, Cheney, still benefits from its stock options and "deferred salary." This type of arrangement smacks of corruption in high places. G.W. Bush, many of his cabinet members as well as his father held high-level positions in the oil industry.

G.W. Bush promoted Condolezza Rice; after all, she did serve as a former director at Chevron Texaco, after whom the company named one of its supertankers. The Bush-Cheney administration carries a very oil industry flavor and has promoted a number of policies such as an extremely pro-oil industry NEP, not to mention its rejection of the Kyoto Treaty and its put down of the Climate Change panel. As a result of the current NEP, the U.S. alone consumes over 25 million barrels of oil per day, two-thirds of which automobiles burn.

The Bush-Cheney NEP takes the U.S. down a slippery oil slick of higher military costs to defend and secure the world's oil zones. Congress just approved the highest military budget in world history at well over $441B now. The Bush II plan leads to higher costs to produce energy, higher levels of war-related deaths. Thus far in the Iraqi occupation alone, over 2,500 soldiers have died, paid their blood tax. The U.S. has paid over $300 billion in tax revenues for the invasion while it paid only $1.2 billion in the research and development of hydrogen fuel cells. Where would the U.S. be now, had this financial investment been reversed?

What Would Real Leadership Do?

What should the nation's leaders do instead of pursuing the same old slippery oil slope and status quo of corporate lobbyists? Great presidents have set agendas to improve the way Americans live. Great presidents, like F.D.R. and J.F. K. had a vision to lead the country to improvement through major changes, and not to narrow-minded industry favors and paybacks. Because of large, visionary changes in our life-style, American citizens enjoy a more racially integrated society and we have even walked on the moon, both feats seemed unthinkable when first initiated.

We will need to pursue a national energy plan that makes the country less dependent on oil, eventually independent of any foreign oil for energy. We need a national plan that enables us to boost new technologies such as wind, nuclear, hydro-electrical power, hydrogen fuel cells, public transportation, solar energy and other new technologies that replace petroleum and set the country ahead of the growing historical trend of wars over oil zones.

Does this sound outlandish? Well, so did J.F.K. in 1961 when he went before Congress and the public saying "I believe this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth." Now, just imagine a president with real leadership, addressing Congress and the public saying, "I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of replacing all manufacture of gasoline burning vehicles with electrical or hydrogen vehicles."

A new energy plan would also drastically reduce the current Bush-Cheney national defense budget, because it would project a decreasing need for middle-class men and women to provide security services to oil corporations. Every barrel decrease in our consumption of oil brings a decline in the blood tax that our soldiers have to pay to gain access for large oil corporations to invest in and profit from foreign oil development.

The current plan does not inspire progress in new energy technologies. On the contrary, it holds the country back from leading the world to avoid wars over limited resources.

As a President who makes claims to Christian piety, and even to prophetic leadership, surely G.W. Bush knows that the Old Testament tells repeated stories of wars over limited resources such as fertile land, water, and precious minerals. The story of Joseph, however, shows how we can find new ways to solve old problems, conserve our limited resources and renew our wealth, just as he led his people to gain new prosperity in the lands of Goshen.

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Mark Biskeborn is a novelist: Mojave Winds, A Sufi's Ghost, Mexican Trade. Short Stories: California & Beyond. Poetry & Essays. For more details: See Mark's stories on or wherever books are (more...)
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