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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Our Oil Tantrum's Ugly Aftermath

It took eight years (twelve, if you count George senior's tenure), but the Bush family has finally accomplished its grand goal, reinstating American (or at least, Texan) control of the oil business (exploration, extraction, refinement and distribution) in the Middle East. This is the Bush legacy's coup de grĂ¢ce, its final act, its swan song, its reason to be, the fat lady has finally sung, its time to saddle up and ride into the sunset. This is ambulance humor of course... everything about the Bush epoch is so sad and repulsive... what else can I do? But the real question isn't why the Bush's have done what they have done, they are oil people! The real question, and I find myself looking to pre-war Nazi Germany as comparison, is why we, the general public, the average Joe and Jane, why all of us have willingly, or at least passively, participated in so thoroughly childish and destructive a program?

I was born in Santa Maria, California. This little coastal valley town used to be the epicenter of the oil business in the US (the movie, There Once Was Blood was situated there). Anyway, many of my friend's fathers, (this was the mid 60's), were engineers in the industry and many of them were shipped off to the Middle East to "consult" during the big drilling wave at the time. It was high times for the oil industry. High times for big U.S. oil companies. There was sooooooo much oil in Saudi Arabia and surroundings; to these people, and especially to the big oil families from Ohio, Texas, Nebraska, and California, it must have looked like the boom would never end. But it did. After the U.S. oil industry worked its considerable engineering and logistical magic upon the Saudi oil fields, after the U.S. oil companies had made an obscene amount of money, and established themselves in all practicality, as a de-facto country-within-a-country in which ever country they were, the locals got together, held a powwow, started OPEC and sent us sailing home. Makes sense; its their land, its their oil. Services rendered. Thanks you very much. Good bye.

You would have to look pretty hard to find any one event that has ever made anyone more angry, more embarrassed, has ever more drop-kicked to such an extent, the financial dreams (deserved or not) of a people. These oil families had never experienced anything but boom times. The oil business is a business described by words like wildcat, boom, and gusher. While U.S. interests were there in the middle east, the rather skimpy U.S. fields back home were mostly pumped to exhaustion, so what these families came home to was a new kind of business, a low margin refinement and distribution business; still staggeringly huge mind you, but very much the antithesis of anything that could be ever again be called "wildcat".

Like I have said, these were not the kind of people who do well in a low margin, cost-cutting, management strategy, MBA-styled business. These were Cowboys in the truest sense. These were John Wayne types, with personalities and egos bigger than the ten gallon hats they wore. Depending on your sensibilities, these people either represented the best of American gumption, or what has been derided as the very kronos of the "Ugly American". Putting politics aside, what you are faced with is a proud people not used to loosing, not used to anything but wild unrestricted growth. They were used to printing money, now they would have to work for it.

If ever a stage had been set for the kind of ugly reprisal, reprisal fermented in resentment, stoked by anger, and at the very least, a perception of entitlement, it was personified in the post OPEC American oil family. It should be said that this pathologic frustration, this hubris, was not in itself limited to oil families... the very fabric of U.S. ego had been worn bare as well. Post war euphoria stoked by U.S. triumph on a world stage and by unprecedented economic growth had set the American public up upon a high and teetering pedestal of self worth. That first little OPEC conference did more to dash the new American ego than anything since the dust bowl and market crash of the twenties and thirties.

The Bush family has been actively planning and scheming and organizing to take back the Middle East ever since OPEC was established. Bush senior's rather restrained march across Iraq set the stage. Bush junior broke the bank and went for broke, spinning the Twin Towers tragedy to great effect to initiate a plan set to writing almost thirty years earlier. Ego-bruised as we were by our national and cultural failings in Korea and Vietnam, the moral reckoning that was the civil rights revolution, the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, and the establishment of OPEC, well we just pony-ed up and rode right along for the Bush Crusades.

Today's New York Times article "Deals With Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back" (Andrew E. Kramer, June 19, 2008) has confirmed the theory I have been working on for 20 years. Of course everything we are doing in the middle east is about oil, but more importantly, it is about the dashed ego of an overly proud people who have had to face, kicking and screaming, a mortality that has felt, well, down right un-American. Though the Bush Crusade was enacted on a global scale and paid for with obscene amounts of public moneys (and lives), we, the average citizens, who will not benefit from its spoils, who will pay dearly for the international loans and U.S. bonds that will eventually fund it, we the un-rich, the gas buying public, have fought right along side the rich cowboy wildcat oil families as though it was our own fortunes to be won or lost.

The overwrought nationalist pride (some call it patriotism) that we collective catharse as a tendency to tantrum has almost ruined us as a people and as an economy, has greatly eroded the moral foundation of the U.S. as democratic example. Along the way, we have abandoned, one by one, many of the radically moral tenants upon which this first truly modern nation was established. Our childish reaction to a world rapidly becoming level, to a world of nations as equal competitors has so scared us that we seem eager to forget the little things like fairness, patience, equality, majority as protector of the minority, rule of law, policy as standard barer, being a global example, benevolence, triumph through hard work and productivity, that were and are the only difference between first world productivity and poverty and chaos. We have been so angry that we have slowly replaced these higher goals with simple greed and lynch-mob like retribution. Moral righteousness traded in for a quick fix of angry indignation.

So how do you feel? Better? Was it worth it? Can we forgive ourselves. Can we apologize to the world, and move forward as good people? Will we be able to repair our status as true leaders? Have we learned the difference between what feels good and what builds a better future? Is our national tantrum over yet?

Randall

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