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Sidney Pollack, Scott McClellan, and Wars for Oil

Sidney Pollack, Scott McClellan, and the Wars for Oil


By Bernard Weiner, Co-Editor
The Crisis Papers

OK, let's connect the dots: The Iraq War & Occupation. Scott McClellan's memoir. The death of film director Sydney Pollack.

When I heard about the death of Pollack last week, I happened coincidentally to be rewatching one of his earliest films, from 1971, "Three Days of the Condor." In it, Robert Redford plays a bookish CIA analyst who survives the mass-murder of his entire unit because he was "out to lunch," literally and figuratively. The rest of the movie involves Redford (codename "Condor") staying one step ahead of the assassins sent to get him while he tries desperately to figure out what the hell is going on.

All Condor knows is that somehow there's a CIA plot involving areas around the globe where three distinct languages are spoken: Spanish, Dutch and Arabic. By the end of the film, and remember that it was made in 1971, he finally has it figured out: The three regions where those languages are spoken -- the Middle East, Latin America, and former Dutch colonies in the Pacific and East Africa -- possess huge untapped oil reserves, and the U.S. wants to ensure that it will have effective control of those energy resources far into the future. To do so, it will stop at nothing, including violent or non-violent regime changes abroad and hiding its motives from the American citizenry at home, even if doing so requires assassinating its own researchers and agents.

Certainly, in addition to CIA analysts, there were a number of officials, authors and journalists in 1971 who had been thinking and writing about the long-range strategic role of oil in world affairs, and the humongous profits to be made from its extraction. Everyone knows the value of black gold now, but most American citizens at that time were in the dark about the potential economic and political ramifications of U.S. oil policy: the propping-up of dictators and governments friendly to the U.S., wars and occupations when deemed necessary, the massive corruption that would emerge, the environmental degradation associated with oil extraction, oil as a political tool by OPEC countries and the possibility of quick-rising prices at the pump, etc.

In recent years, Hollywood & TV have spun off a few commercial features that center around the economic and military ramifications of the U.S. trying to control oil/gas reserves around the globe ("Syriana," "Oil Storm," "The Deal," etc. ). But 35-plus years ago, all this was sub rosa. Sydney Pollack, with "Three Days of the Condor," was one of the first Hollywood directors to lift up the rock and permit us to smell the dangerous stench of energy-greed and rapacious power roiling underneath. R.I.P., Mr. Pollack.


SCOTT McCLELLAN'S REVELATIONS

The Scott McClellan flap is almost silly. The mainstream media is shocked, shocked!,to learn from the former White House press secretary that Bush and Cheney and Rove lied and deceived to lead America into invading and occupying oil-rich Iraq. And that they lied and deceived about having outed a CIA agent in political retaliation for her husband having revealed that the Administration had lied and deceived America into invading and occupying Iraq.

And the mainstream media is shocked, shocked!, to learn from McClellan's memoir that the mainstream media were cheerleaders -- "complicit enablers" is McClellan's term -- for the Bush Administration's plan to invade and occupy Iraq. Who, us? This helps explain the mass-media's current virtual silence about the recent revelation that the Pentagon sent out scores of ex-military officers disguised as "independent consultants" to hype the Administration's talking points daily in the mass-media about the absolute necessity to rush to war against Iraq. No wonder it's CYA time.

Of course, McClellan downplays his own role in the deaths and maiming of several hundred thousand human beings in Iraq: our troops and Iraq's insurgents and civilians. True, the mass-media corporations were all too willing to act as stenographers for the CheneyBush spin rather than do much digging on their own, but it was McClellan who was among the chief White House dissemblers in helping create the atmosphere of lies and deceit that aided the mass-media in its "enabling" function. In short, there's blood all over his hands.

Finally, the mainstream media is shocked, shocked!, to learn from McClellan's book that practically every action taken by the CheneyBush White House was done for partisan political reasons, not necessarily for the good of the American people.

THE FACTS WERE OUT THERE

Why is all this flap "silly"? Because anybody paying even half-attention to what's gone down in the past seven-plus years knew long ago about all this mendacity, moral corruption, media-enabling, and partisan machinations. A few respected sources in the mass-media and many analysts in the foreign press and on the internet were asking the right questions and revealing the truths behind Administration lies. So the facts were out there if you knew where to look.

And certainly McClellan wasn't the first CheneyBush insider to reveal embarrassing nuggets.

In addition to Richard Clarke and Tom Ridge and David Kuo spilling insider beans about what was really going on, how can we forget former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill revealing that he was amazed and puzzled at his first Cabinet meetings in 2001 by the amount of time devoted to the topic of attacking Iraq. It didn't make sense. Saddam Hussein was isolated, contained, Iraq had no WMD to speak of (both Rice and Powell said as much at the time). Why the big rush to war?

Had O'Neill been party to Dick Cheney's top-secret energy-panel discussions, he might have been able to figure it out. It was at those 2001 Cheney meetings, we've since learned, that maps of Iraq's oil fields were brought out and discussion ensued about the various corporate "suitors" interested in divvying up rights to the various oilfield-sectors. As early as 1998, the extreme rightwing movers and shakers associated with The Project for The New American Century (PNAC) had urged President Clinton to attack Iraq, and James Baker and military analysts had discussed Iraq's oil as essential to America's "national security."

The theoretical planning talked about in Pollack's 1971 "Condor" movie morphed into the public consciousness for real in 2003, when CheneyBush unleashed their "shock & awe" invasion and occupation of Iraq. And let us not forget that while Rumsfeld was nonchalant about the massive looting and destruction of the various governmental buildings by Iraqi citizens post-invasion, the U.S. made one exception: the American military seized the oil ministry and tightly guarded it.

And, under CheneyBush, the U.S. is leaning on the Maliki "government" in Baghdad to make permanent the U.S.-friendly oil agreements that enrich Western energy conglomerates handsomely, and also to lock-in agreements that would permit U.S. military forces to remain in Iraq for a long, long time. Interestingly, Muqtada al-Sadr, the powerful Shia religious leader, urges repudiation of the agreements, and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered of all Shia religious authorities, also has indicated that the Maliki government should not sign the agreement without first holding a nationwide referendum on the issue. America may rue the day it agreed to what it thought was the fiction of Iraqi "sovereignty."

Sistani also has recently issued a fatwa against Iraqis selling food to the American occupiers -- not a good sign, especially when a good share of Iraqis now believe killing each other is bad but killing American troops is OK.

Meanwhile, Bush and John McCain are pretending none of this means anything and all is going swimmingly in Iraq. That rose-colored-glasses view of reality is what got the U.S. into the Iraqi quagmire in the first place and would keep American forces there ("for one hundred years") if McCain were to be victorious in the November elections.

EVERYTHING GOT POLITICIZED

One other McClellan observation from his memoir: The former press secretary decried the emphasis on "permanent political campaigning" in Washington to the detriment of sound public policy, as if this observation were a new revelation, even from the inside.

Recall that the first expression of that complaint by a CheneyBush insider came early in the Administration, in late-2002, when John DiIulio, appointed by Bush to head the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, told author Ron Suskind that "mayberry Machiavellis" were in charge in the White House.

"There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything — and I mean everything — being run by the politiitical arm. It/s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.

"I heard many, many staff discussions but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. ... On social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking: discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue."

It's been that way for nearly eight years: everything done for partisan political advantage, little if anything done because it's for the public good. Indeed, in this Administration, to even bring up the idea of a "public good" could get you fired. It's all about every man for himself, every corporation for itself, grab what you can get while the getting is good, privatize and outsource everything you can. As for getting fired: Rove & Co., operating out of the politics-is-all mode, got rid of key U.S. Attorneys around the country who were too independent and installed their lackeys, more amenable to harassing Democrats and making it more difficult for minorities to vote.

The end result of two terms of this kind of misrule is: an economy in disastrous shape; a foreign/military policy that is an incompetent disaster on the ground and and destructive to both America's reputation abroad (especially so in the case of its use of torture as state policy) and to the military services domestically; an environment that is effectively controlled by the polluters; a Constitution that is in tatters with even the 800-year-old concept of habeas corpus no longer operative; a voting system that is corruptible and corrupt with clear evidence of stolen elections, run as they are by vote-counting corporations supportive of the Republicans; a political system that skews badly to over-weening Executive power with Bush as a kind of dictator who violates the rule of law, ignores subpoenas by Congress, and neuters bills passed by Congress with his "signing statements."

DECADES TO TURN IT AROUND

As the November balloting approaches, it's important that we keep two things in mind:

1) For the sake of our country and the world, it is absolutely essential for the electorate to run up massive victories against the Republicans, both to ensure that the necessary reforms can be made free of vetoes and filibusters in the new Congress, but also to make it really difficult to manipulate the tallies into "squeaker" GOP victories.

2) CheneyBushRove have so thoroughly screwed up the domestic governmental system and entangled the U.S. in so many self-destructive foreign/military misadventures (with an attack on Iran likely in the next few months) that it might well take a decade or two to effectively undo all the damage. Expectations for drastic change need to be realistic.

That's the reality of what a post-CheneyBush era will look like, even if a true reformer were to move into the White House next year. There will be change, to be sure, but significant progressive change is not likely to come quickly or easily.

However, if we all work together and never give up, that change will come, sometimes maddeningly slow and sometimes with revolutionary rapidity. The key words are: Organize. Organize. Organize. And: Never. Give. Up.

*************

Copyright 2008, by Bernard Weiner

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor for the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To comment: crisispapers@comcast.net.

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