Yay Blood for Oil


I thought the war in Iraq was an error, but I was never among those who thought it was secretly all about oil. Bill Buckley didn't either, but apparently thinks that would've been a dandy reason:

To say that we must not fight for oil is utter cant. To fight for oil is to fight in order to maintain such sovereignty as we exercise over the natural world. Socialism plus electricity, Lenin said at the outset of the Soviet revolution, would usher in the ideal state. He was wrong about socialism but not about electricity. Electricity gives us whatever leverage we have over nature.

To flit on airily about an unwillingness to fight for oil suggests an indifference to the alleviation of poverty at the next level after bread and water. Throw in, perhaps, the wheel. That too is an indispensable scaffolding of human power over nature. But then comes all the power not generated by the muscles of human beings and beasts of burden.

Seeing Buckley's characteristically purple prose deployed in service of this argument evokes nothing so much as a five-year-old tromping around in dad's Armani suit, sleeves flopping down over the hands to scrape the ground. I eagerly await the next installment:

There are those who cavil at the bludgeoning to death of street vendors for their hot dogs. These vain protests can come only from those who fail to reflect on the importance of food and nutrition. For nourishment of the body is that essential precondition for all the further achievements of Western civilization, for every work of art to succor the human spirit, for every lofty tower of steel and glass rising above our mighty centers of commerce… etc., etc.


NEXT: John Peel, RIP

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  1. Who needs oil when you can make hemp fuel?

  2. I thought that we produced most electricity by coal, nuclear, and natural gas. We don’t use oil itself for much electricity production.

  3. whati particularly haven’t understood about the blood-for-oil argument is why it is inherently better than the money-for-oil arrangement. it seems to this humble observer that not only are we unlikely to militarily secure the mideast’s oil reserves, but that to attempt to do so if far more inefficient and expensive than promoting peace in the region and continuing to buy what we need.

  4. His point is that oil, prosperity and security are all tightly linked, which is a reasonable point.

  5. Julian, you totally fucking nailed Buckley for the pompous ass he is. Brilliant.

  6. Blood for oil makes sense if (a) it is essential and (b) there are no readily available alternatives. Since 1973, at least, it has been clear that we are on the Middle East crackpipe (yeah, I know–1973 predates crack, but you get the idea). When, for example, the US faced severe shortages of natural rubber in WW2, there was a goddamned concerted and urgent effort to find alternatives, with governement highly incentivizing private industry. We’ve never taken such an approach with oil. Instead, two oil pushermen are now atop the totem pole in D.C.

    As a libertarian, I don’t find the government useful for much. However, when foreign interests put a knife to your throat, for decades, I would expect my government to play a meaningful role in getting it removed. Instead, we get planned trips to Mars, government-mandated HDTV, and other such nonsense. It has been a bipartisan clusterfuck of criminal negligence.

  7. Buckley’s stylistic sins aside, your hotdog analogy is stuffed full of straw. He isn’t saying that neccesity legitimizes larceny, but rather that, on a global scale, blood and oil are inseperable. Oil drives the global economy; if OPEC were to shut down production tomorrow, there would be plenty of blood to go around.

  8. Maybe folks here have forgotten, but oil doesn’t just drive cars; its byproducts are essential components in plastics and virtually everything we handle every day.

    Like it or not, we desperately need oil. And it ain’t to fuel our SUVs.

  9. Well, we wanted to go nuclear, but the tree-huggers pretty much shot that down, didn’t they?

  10. Joey, I believe they are also used to create fertilizers, aren’t they?

  11. Joey,

    In fact, the need for oil to produce so many goods that are impossible currently to produce any other way is precisely the strongest argument, in a macroeconomic sense, AGAINST wasting it on driving tons of metal at 10 miles-per-gallon.

  12. Oil & Electricity,

    About 1%-2% of our nation’s electricity comes from oil-fired plants. Almost all new power plants over the past twenty years have been natural gas plants which use airplane turbines (or what basically constitute airplane turbines) to produce the electricity.


    Oil constitutes the foundation for the creation of many products certainly; but plants can serve the same foundation (indeed, as I recall, the first “plastic” – known as Bakelite – was made from plants). Treating oil like it cannot be replaced with something else is the same sin that Garrett Hardin made in the 1960s. We are no more dependent on oil ultimately than we were dependent on whale oil in the 19th century.

  13. Some people need to start reading the work of Julian Simon, and get off the Paul Erlich kick.

  14. Jason, yes, *ultimately* the economy can shift away from oil if the proper incentives arise, but over the short term the damage will be significant. This is especially true in the third world, where the shift will traumatize economies which are already quite weak.

  15. Just to clarify, I’m not talking about some ridiculous “peak oil” scenerio, but rather a geopolitical crisis which causes a significant drop in global oil supplies.

  16. Glenn Bridgman,

    Well, invading Saudi Arabia (if they cut off their supply) to get their oil would be ultimately counter-productive; since it would interfere with the market correction that would occur in light of such an embargo. I say bring the embargo on. We’ll grow our way out of it. 🙂

  17. Eventually we will, but that would be poor consolation for the starving and destitute created by the shock breaking the back of Third World economies.

  18. Bravo, Jason, I second the notion that we could use a bit more Julian Simon.

    Also, I don’t believe the rubber alternative was produced because of government incentives. While they did in fact offer large incentives, companies had been developing these alternatives previous to the program.

  19. Oil drives the global economy; if OPEC were to shut down production tomorrow, there would be plenty of blood to go around.

    Exactly. A professor of mine pointed out to me, back during the first gulf war, that you could get a lot of insight into how clueless the protest crowd was by substituting the phrase “the basis of the world’s economy” for “oil” in any of their rants.

    It’s strange that Buckley chose electricity as his example case, though. I would have chosen transportation — raising the cost of oil raises the cost of anything that isn’t produced in your immediate vicinity, and reduces the wealth gained from laboring at any job which is not within easy walking distance.

  20. Julian, you usually do a better job of quoting an article and keeping its meaning intact by your selections.

  21. However, when foreign interests put a knife to your throat, for decades, I would expect my government to play a meaningful role in getting it removed.

    which is fine, henry, but i don’t see that that knife is at our throats at all. since the 1970s — in which the saudis learned a very big lesson about *their* dependence on oil as well — the relationship has been very cordial and profitable all around.

    and if ever that changes, then

    if OPEC were to shut down production tomorrow, there would be plenty of blood to go around.


  22. Glenn Bridgman,

    I am sure that the Third World will also adjust.


    And raising that cost will spur companies to discover new means of transport, more effecient ways to use the resource, etc. which will create new jobs and new sources of wealth creation.

  23. gaius marius,

    The aftermath of the 1970s demonstrated that economies can successfully adjust to dramatic drops in oil supplies; indeed, we are less “dependent” on oil today than we were then.

  24. Curtis-
    I don’t think quoting two consecutive full paragraphs verbatim in an essay this short can really be called selective or manipulative.

    Everyone else-
    Calm down, have some dip. Then read this:

  25. Julian, I didn’t state that you were manipulative or deceitful. There was more to the article, in my opinion, that was necessary to its understanding. I wasn’t being sarcastic – I think this wasn’t your best, that’s all. Relax.

  26. We landed a couple of hundred miles to far north when we went to Iraq. Should have taken SA into the US Empire by force. Just think, there is the downside (most of which has happened anyway); Muslims and Europeans would hate us (check), people on both sides would die(check), oil prices would spike (check). But the upside is great; cut off the petro dollars that fund terrorism around the world, much smaller/weaker/softer native population, would have cheap oil for decades, could break OPEC, could hold our control over the oil fields over the rest of the world, could have a new dust bowl for all the out of work Texan wildcatters, would control Mecca, etc.
    Obviously I would prefer a world of peace and solar power, but if you are going to go big, GO BIG.

  27. we are less “dependent” on oil today than we were then.

    surely, mr bourne — but we will kill for it for some decades to come as needed, unless some technological advance in power generation befalls us.

    the problem i see with the current leadership is that they are too willing to do just that. a spike in prices (say $100/bbl) could lead to seizing saudi fields, imo, simply because the folks who believe in Global Democratic Revolution need only a pretext (a la wmd — or, in china, perhaps taiwan) to act on ideology. i suspect that this similarly drives their strategy toward china, which neocon lit brazenly defines as our ultimate ideological enemy (never mind the pragmatism). just read through the PNAC archives.

    this group of ideologues has said and done so many crazy things over the last 20 years that one wonders if they don’t consider conquering the mideast simply prelude to putting an oil chokehold on china, which is still very petroleum dependent.

  28. Ach Tung, Mein DOLTS.

    Ven vee need zee oil, zen vee vill take zee oil

    unt zen vee vill exshterminate zem religious fanaticks unt cleanze zee worldt.

    Ja Vole!!!

  29. MAX,



    This costs $1,600,000 to dismantle and over $10,000 a year to store (for > 5,000 years). total cost is


    Cost to target and fire one to Saudi Arabia:


    all other things remain the same…and we don’t get our nose bloodied.

    put it another way…. with what we save, we could purchase




  30. Hmmmm, a corvette. Screw Bush, Kerry, and Badnarick. I’m voting for voice of reason.

  31. This is still the right’s mischaracterization of the blood for oil argument. The allegation is: The president waged war, and spilled blood, specifically to interfere in the supply of oil and drive up prices. Thus allowing his buddies in the energy biz. to add a few feet onto their yachts. Slop Cheney’s hogs at Halliburton along the way, and then cap it off by making a gift of free Iraqi oil to his Texas pals.

    It isn’t blood for oil supplies; it’s blood for higher priced oil. So far, the master plan is right on schedule.

  32. I was in high school and college around the time of the first Gulf War.

    In the buildup to the invasion, the charge that the war was about oil was made by hippie freaks and severely contradicted by the president and his supporters.

    Then the war happened. And that didn’t take very long.

    Then the defeated Iraqi state was allowed to use its military against the uprisings, and that rest was history.

    Then Bush and his entire party turned on a dime, and started making arguments about oil and strategery. The idea of the war being about oil went from being unutterable in polite society to convention wisdom in a couple of months.

    So I know exactly what Julian’s talking about.

  33. When grownups fight wars they usually have Reasons of State.
    Not utopian, philosophical reasons.
    Nor untamed, untrammelled bellicosity.
    Oil is one of those things only grownups worry about.
    If this is “All About Oil” then I, for one, find that fact oddly reassuring.

  34. Bill Buckley is starting to sound like his dear ol’ dad. William F. Buckley Sr is still, 65 years after his exile (for more than one coup attempt on behalf of the oil companies down here, not to mention his involvement with the 1811 murder of the elected reform president, Francisco I. Madero and speculation he was the financer of our Osami bin Ladin, the terrorist nun, Madre Conchita) a Mexican boogie-man. If any one person is responsible for Mexico’s nationalization of the oil business, it was Buckley.

  35. The best path to lessening our dependence on oil is the $50+ per barrel prices. OPEC always aimed at the $25-$30 range since it gives them a nice payoff while dis-incentivizing the search for alternatives (that undercuts the demand side) or searching for oil in really (relatively)shitty places (that undercuts their supply side). If oil prices contiue at the $35+ level, which is likely with Chinese demand even if the oil producing regions suddenly became as stable as Belgium (ha-ha), we will be seeing a lot of product substitution – bakelite computer cases and fullerine lubrications, ect. Also the big evil oil companies are taking their windfalls from this last year and with an expectation of $30+ per barrel prices and are starting drilling way-way deep and ramping up production in new and equally unstable regions (west africa).

    The market might actually get us off the crack.

  36. Funny how neo-cons suddenly get all commie when it comes to oil.

  37. ILAH,

    Is Safire a “neo-con?”

  38. THe issue of “fighting for oil” depends on what is the justification. If a third party blockades contracted oil shipments from country A to country B, or a party balks on a vital contract freely entered, it may not be wrong to fight for oil. It’s a valuable necessary pright-of-property commodity and if access to it is RIGHTFUL (that’s all context of the situation) then fighting for that gooey petroleum product property is judtified.

    It’s a fact and situation question, but in principle Buckley is not wrong: who is wresting the oil and who is wresting it to its rightful owners decides whether it’s justified to fight for in a particular situation.

    It’s all in the wrest.

  39. The oil in the Persian Gulf will be extracted, and the only open question is how many people will be butchered in the process. The notion that human beings are going to allow a valuable, easily extractable, resource lie in the ground, due to political conflicts, is just laughable, particularly when the people who sit atop the natural resource are militarily, economically, and technologically weak. All of human history indicates otherwise.

    The natural resource will either be exploited through outright bloody conquest (think of the Trail of Tears on steroids), or through accomadation with native entities which enslave their fellow residents (which has been the model for the past eight decades), or with the consent, and to the benefit, of the native populations. Obviously, the third path would be the least unpleasant, but I’ll be damned if I know of a easy or simple way to find it.

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