Palast explains the origin of his title, taken from a line in an Alan Ginsburg poem, which he felt summed up the problem of the armed madhouse in an insane administrationa regime that grants no asylum from militarized greed, whose sole saving grace is its incompetence: If they knew what they were doing it would be worse.
History and politics are full of irony and even coincidence, which can be interpreted as conspiracy or as part of chaos theory. Palast lets you reach your own conclusions. These are complicated issues that involve players on multiple continents, the economics of natural resources and the politics of war. And while these issues may seem remote from the everyday life of average Americans, Palast connects them, proving that all politics are local. Palast lays out the facts as he has been given them, approaching his subject with an irony and sarcasm that serve to lighten the load. The irony of facts meeting the rubber on the road leaves a mark that divides the dry accounting of what passes for serious news these days from the tantalizing analysis buried in the quest for some truth and understanding of where we are and how we got here.
Divided into five sections roughly summed up as: fear of Osama, oil connections, globalization, election fraud and economics (where the political gets personal), Palast advises that the sections can be read in any order as they are independent of one another. While the sections are not co-dependent, there is a chronological arc in each one. However, this is real life, not an episode of Law and Order in which the bad guys are always caught and the good guys have their day in court and usually win. There is no neat beginning, middle and end to this reality-checked tale of political intrigue, and the web Palast weaves in each section has threads that often tie knots in other sections, or at least leave some hanging chads. Palast is correct: the order of operations isnt so important. But the overall story contains an additive value in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; the circle is completed when all sections are included. It is the whole that provides the big picture, exposing the webs in the underlying network and the intrigue and deception that currently pass for the political process.
For example, in the first section, The Fear, Palast explains how Bush and Co. capitalized on the fear engendered from 9-11 to push through their pre 9-11 agenda. Stealing from the FDR playbook, Bush took the Roosevelt dictum We have nothing to fear but fear itself and 70 years later converted it to We have nothing to sell but fear itself. An apt summary of the PR presidency. By selling fear, Bush not only led the public down the path to war, but enabled a power grab both in the executive office and in corporate suites. This isnt big news; its a known known among those who have objected to the Iraq War. What was not widely understood, however, was that concomitant with the strategy of fear, Bush gave Osama everything he wanted; in short: high oil prices and withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia. Theres nothing funny about this, but the sardonic commentary accompanying the narrative forces a smile, even if its temporary until you remember who it is that is actually laughing all the way to the bank.
Whatever story line you previously applied to make sense out of the Iraqi debacle and the politics involved on both sides of the Atlantic, Palast will show that you were either wrong or at least partly wrong because you were using incomplete information for your analysis. Palast offers a narrative that feels like a bad film script. Bad not because the script doesnt read well, but bad because it would be dismissed by any sane producer as too unbelievable and preposterous. The Republican spin machines will predictably say ditto to unbelievable, but with dead-eyed seriousness and a tone of offense. However, Palast has facts on his side, not that team Bush has ever let facts get in the way of a good story before. That aside, this story is a narrative that needs to see the light of day so that we can make sense of what sometimes seems like random, willy-nilly policy.
Perhaps the most interesting, yet the most complicated, section is Chapter 2, The Flow. Palast has evidence, which he documents, of the original Bush plans to invade Iraq and control the oil. From the outside looking in, there were always reports about the tension between the Bush State Department and the Bush Defense Department. What we didnt know was how deep those rifts were and how they really played out in the war zone. Palasts analysis unmasks the two teams and goes a long way in explaining the apparent inconsistencies and bungling of operations as the two sides duke it out. Palasts behind-the-scenes look at the changes in personnel in Iraq, for example, start to make sense, in a madhouse kind of way, when seen through the lens of the internal conflicts in the Bush Administration.
The goal for the neocon/Defense Department team was to seize control of the oilfields and then have Iraq withdraw from OPEC or at least wreck havoc on its quotas. This is the heart of the conflict and the problem: the neocons want control of OPEC because it is in OPEC that the power to control the price of oil resides. Privatization of Iraqs oilfields, so it was theorized, would tear apart OPEC by increasing Iraqi production beyond the quotas and flooding the market. This would create chaos in the oil market, perhaps dissolving OPEC itself in the process. Certainly, the price of oil would drop precipitously and the Saudis would be rendered powerless.
But the State Department was aligned with the Saudi loyalists, as well as the Saudi royal family itself, and Big Oil interests, and opposed the neo plans. They were much more interested in inflating the price of oil and keeping the profits; stability allows them control of the price, the higher the better. They dont want to sell off Iraqi oilfields to the highest bidder; they want to keep it all under control of a government that is under control. Only through the unique power of government monopoly can a nation hold back production to the OPEC quota, Palast explains.
The plot thickens and the players have multiple disguises. No, they dont sport faux mustaches but the secrecy of their operations and their public professional demeanor belie the Machiavellian antics. Palast explains the dilemma:
"Oil is about the flow and tides of power, centered on a struggle over two competing visions for the Middles East; on one side, the aggressive neo-con agenda for remaking Arabia as a Little USA (or better another Chile); on the other, Big Oil and the State Departments history-hardened view of the Middle East as a giant gas station inhabited by creatures with inscrutable superstitions and violent habits best not disturbed." (p. 124)
Palasts training in forensic economics gives him a leg up on how to look at numbers and trends and make sense out of all of it and he brings this training to his analysis of the oil grab. He studied and investigated energy corporations and originally studied economics under Milton Friedman. He parted ways with Uncle Miltie a long time ago, but Palasts image of Milton morphing into Thomas is one of his funnier asides.
One cant take apart the current war mentality without looking at the military industrial complex and its role in the feeding frenzy. Palast runs through the usual suspects and exposes their toys at our expense. (Whoever said US ingenuity was declining? Of course our genius engineers can retool submarines to make them appropriate and useful in landlocked Afghanistan and the one lone beachhead in Iraq.) While the war machine continues to make its bombs, Palast has a number of his own bombshells. A few include:
It was the Saudis who funded A-bomb Khan after Iraq War I, ultimately leading to Libyas exchange of nuclear ambitions for a lucrative oil contract with BP, and Khan spreading his ideas to North Korea.
Colin Powell opposed the occupation of Iraq, not the invasion.
The business plan for Iraq, authored by Grover Norquist, included a private enterprise utopia in Mesopotamia. The model, said Norquist, was Chile under August Pinochet, and included a tax-free business environment and copyright protection for software, music and drug companies. These laws are still part of the Iraqi legal code and are in effect. (Palast compares the takeover of Iraq to a corporate takeover that uses Abrams tanks instead of junk bonds.)
Wolfowitz knew that his numbers were bogus when he told Congress that Iraqs reconstruction would be able to pay for itself.