War is the health of the state.
-Randolph Bourne, 1918
Because of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, multinational corporations will get to extract 64 percent of that nation’s oil reserves. Though Iraqi public opinion strongly opposes such deals—known as production sharing agreements, which are actually quite rare in the world—these corporations stand to earn huge sums of money that would otherwise flow to the Iraqi government. In fact, even if oil drops back to $40 a barrel from its current $60 price, these corporations will bring in nearly $200 billion from just the first 12 Iraqi oil fields.
These numbers, drawn straight from Greg Muttitt’s November 2005 report “Crude Designs: The rip-off of Iraq’s oil wealth,” aren’t surprising. They certainly won’t shock anyone who sees A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash, a new film directed by Ray McCormack and Basil Gelpke that seeks to explain both the importance of oil in modern society and the lengths we’ll go to keep it flowing.
“More and more, oil is going to come from less and less stable places,” Stanford professor Terry Lynn Karl says at one point in the 90-minute documentary. “Ultimately, there are only two options. One is militarize the taking of oil… get your population to understand that if they want to continue to drive SUVs and consume energy in the way they are, we will be in war after war…”
Called “Syriana for dummies,” A Crude Awakening is just one of four films showing at this year’s Maui Film Festival that remind us of Bourne’s old sneer that states require “enemies” to keep their populations in line. And in this first decade of the 21st century, war very much remains the health of our state.
Our war in Iraq came about because a rich Saudi construction engineer named Osama bin Laden convinced a dozen guys to hijack airplanes and fly them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. None were Iraqi, and Iraq played no role whatsoever in the 2001 attacks, but they provided the necessary pretext to convince the nervous, angry American people that we needed to sweep the world of “evil-doers” like bin Laden and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Never mind, as Samira Goetschel’s wonderful Our Own Private Bin Laden shows so well, that bin Laden—and Saddam, for that matter—was once an agent of U.S. interests. “We created a religious fanatic force to fight communists,” one insider says in the documentary of our arming the radical Islamist bin Laden to fight the Russians. “How on earth did people not think of the consequences?”
When your whole focus is expediency—as in, what’s the most expedient way to kick Soviet ass in Afghanistan?—consequences are for future generations to handle. In late 1970’s and early 1980’s, there was no greater enemy of the American state than Russia. So we gave Stinger missiles to militant Islamic fighters. Today, those militants are our number one enemy, so we quietly cheer as the Russians reduce the tiny Muslim republic of Chechnya to rubble.
This isn’t a uniquely Western concept. The Taliban—the Pakistani-supported Islamist group that took over Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and gave sanctuary to bin Laden—were masters at whipping their people into a frenzy against their own “enemies.” Christian Frei’s new The Giant Buddhas tells the disturbing story of how six months before the Twin Towers came down the Taliban dynamited two of the largest and most ancient Buddha statues in the world in their Holy War against all things non-Islam.
The loss of the historic statues didn’t register here, but the 3,000 killed in New York and Washington did. “September 11 struck me real hard,” Mike Moriarty says in the new documentary The War Tapes, filmed by and about a unit of National Guardsmen. “I went to Ground Zero. I saw it still burning. I called the recruiter and said, ‘You slot me into a unit only if they go to Iraq.”
Iraq is where corporate interests, patriotism and political expediency all intersect, which is why we’re still there today and will likely remain in some way or another for the next decade no matter how much blood is spilled. The choices and allies we make there will determine whom we fight in 2018. Bourne’s observation will be century old by then, but its basic truth will be intact: it doesn’t matter who we fight, as long as we fight.
On June 16 Our Own Private Bin Laden and The War Tapes screen at 5 p.m. at the MACC’s McCoy Theater, with The Giant Buddhas playing at 7:30 p.m.; A Crude Awakening screens at 5 p.m. June 17 at the McCoy Theater. MTW