Parallax Views w/ J.G. Michael

Oilcraft: The Myths of Scarcity and Security That Haunt U.S. Energy Policy w/ Robert Vitalis

October 14, 2020

On this edition of Parallax Views, it's often been said that U.S. war in the Middle East are fought not to protect America from Weapons of Massa Destruction, terrorist threats, or to spread democracy but rather for the cynical purpose of gaining access to natural resources, specifically crude oil. "No more blood for oil!" cried many an antiwar protester and pro-peace activist during the the George W. Bush administration's Iraq War debacle. But Robert Vitalis, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, argues in his provocative and controversial new book, Oilcraft: The Myths of Scarcity and Security That Haunt U.S. Foreign Policy, that we've been hoodwinked by the conventional wisdom, accepted by elements of the political Left, Right, and Center, about oil and U.S. policy. "Oilcraft", Vitalis says, does not represent a form of "Statecraft" but a form of magical thinking based on myth rather than reality that has negatively impacted U.S. energy policy for decades. Vitalis joins us on this edition of the program to lay out his controversial case. Among the topics covered are:

- Robert's previous books When Capitalists Collide: Business Conflict and the End of Empire in Egypt (1995), America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier (2005), White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations; who these books, like Oilcraft, sought to undermine institutional myths and challenge our preconception about geopolitics and grand strategy in the 20th and 21st century
- Why the title of the book is not a reference "statecraft" but rather the myths of witchcraft; the influence of Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (2012) by Barbara J. Fields and Karen Fields on Oilcraft
- The U.S.-Saudi Special Relationship and whether it's origins are as true as people have been led to believe since 9/11
- Why Robert, who himself opposes many U.S. interventions overseas from a left-wing perspective, believes the "Blood for Oil" narrative used to explain the the U.S.'s Middle East Wars is incorrect; why the idea of the Iraq War being a "War for Oil" doesn't, in view Robert's view, make sense
- What Robert argues is the misrepresentation of Alan Greenspan's thoughts on oil and it's relation to the Iraq War based on a quote from Greenspan's book The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World (2012)
- Why should antiwar activists oppose the "War for Oil" narrative? Isn't opposition to the war, regardless of the reasons for it, what should matter most?
- How the belief of oil's role in informing U.S. foreign policy and international cuts across political spectrum Left, Right, and Center; the libertarian Cato Institute as one of the few voices that stand in opposition to the conventional wisdom; What does the Cato Institute get right about this issue and why does Robert, himself left-leaning, agree with them on this matter?
- The U.S. refrain of the "need to secure access" of resources and how the Left understands this as meaning "control"
- Oil as a world market in which "the oil will simply flow"
- Our oil addiction as being faith-base and akin to a cult
- The story about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) meeting King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia in 1945 that is used to explain the U.S.-Saudi strategic relationship
- Douglas Feith, the under Secretary of Defense for President George W. Bush who has been described as one of the architects of the Iraq War, and his curious comments about oil, OPEC, Saudi Arabia during his involvement in the Ronald Reagan administration
- Scarcity ideology and it's relationship to war and social Darwinism; specifically Robert points out the "Heritage of Mankind" argument and how notions like it and others are originate in deeply racist thinking born of Colonialism
- The U.S.-Iran relationship and U.S concerns with who controls the profits or rents of oil production; Robert makes the case the countries like Iran and the wealth they gain from the oil market are seen as threats to the U.S. do to said countries opposing American aims and policies
- Is it possible to "Break the Spell" of Oilcraft?
- Robert's opinion on the Wall Street Journal review of Oilcraft that characterized him as a libertarian even though his arguments came from the Left

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The War State:
The Cold War Origins of the Military-Industrial Complex and the Power Elite, 1945-1963
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