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November 2007 (Volume 59, Number 6)

Notes from the Editors

Former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan’s new book The Age of Turbulence (Penguin 2007) set off a firestorm in mid-September with its dramatic statement on the Iraq War: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: that the Iraq war is largely about oil” (p. 463). The fact that someone of Greenspan’s stature in the establishment—one of the figures at the very apex of monopoly-finance capital—should issue such a twenty word statement, going against the official truths on the war, and openly voicing what “everyone knows,” was remarkable enough. Yet, his actual argument was far more significant, and since this has been almost completely ignored it deserves extended treatment here.

Greenspan’s statement came in a chapter entitled “The Long-Term Energy Squeeze.” Here he argues that “as long as the United States is beholden to potentially unfriendly sources of oil and gas, we are vulnerable to economic crises over which we have little control.” This is the product, he claims, of an overriding fact of today’s global economy: “[W]orld growth over the next quarter century at rates commensurate with the past quarter century will require between one-fourth and two-fifths more oil than we use today” (p. 462). Moreover, Greenspan insists that:

the intense attention of the developed world to Middle Eastern political affairs has always been critically tied to oil security. The reaction to, and reversal of, Mossadeq’s nationalization of Anglo-Iranian Oil in 1951 and the aborted effort of Britain and France to reverse Nasser’s takeover of the key Suez Canal link for oil flows to Europe in 1956 are two prominent examples. And whatever their publicized angst over Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” American and British authorities were also concerned about violence in an area that harbors a resource indispensable for the functioning of the world economy….[P]rojections of world oil supply and demand that do not note the highly precarious environment of the Middle East are avoiding the eight-hundred-pound gorilla that could bring world economic growth to a halt. (p. 463)

Greenspan thus historically connected the U.S. invasion of Iraq to the CIA’s overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mossadeq and his government in 1953 and the placing of the Shah in power and to Britain and France’s invasion (along with Israel) of Egypt in 1956—after which the United States took over the role of the leading imperialist power in the region. Greenspan’s explanation for the war, which sees it as part of the Western search for “oil security”—not on behalf of the “world economy” as a whole, as his statement might suggest, but on behalf of the dominant interests in a hierarchical world economy—is thus not far removed from the account that first appeared in these pages in December 2002 before the Iraq War began. There we said “Military, political, and economic aspects are intertwined in all stages of imperialism, as well as capitalism in general. However, oil is the single most important strategic factor governing U.S. ambitions in the Middle East….The U.S. Department of Energy projects that global oil demand could grow from the current 77 million barrels a day to as much as 120 million barrels a day in the next twenty years….For this reason the security and availability of oil supplies has become a growing issue for U.S. corporations and U.S. strategic interests” (pp. 9–11; see also John Bellamy Foster, Naked Imperialism, pp. 92–93).

After the release of his book Greenspan was pressed by the Bush administration to say that it had not gone to war over oil. Greenspan cagily responded with a Hegelian ruse of history (wherein the real logic operates behind the backs of the actors): “I’m not saying that they believed it was about oil. I’m saying it is about oil and that I believe it was necessary to get Saddam out of there.” For Greenspan it was all about oil and the capitalist world economy, and the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was therefore justified, in his eyes, in order for the United States to gain control of the world oil supply on behalf of the “developed world”—in line with a long history of economic empire. There could hardly be a better statement on economic imperialism by a person better positioned to know. As Robert Ebel, senior adviser in the Energy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has worked with the CIA and the State Department’s “Future of Iraq Project,” explained: “When we went into Iraq, I said it’s about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Once we got rid of Saddam Hussein, then the day after it would be about oil” (UPI, “Analysis: Iraq, Oil, and Greenspan’s Gospel,” September 19, 2007, This whole dynamic might be given a name “The Greenspan Oil Doctrine.”

This issue of Monthly Review includes a very important article by Richard York and Brett Clark on gender and mathematics ability, questioning recent claims that there are significant sex-based differences in math performance that favor men at the higher levels of education, and that justify the gender bias of the sciences in the hiring of university professors. We are pleased to note that Clark and York were joint recipients of the Outstanding Publication Award from the Environment and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association in 2007, given out at the ASA’s annual meeting this summer in New York. They received this award for a set of pathbreaking articles that they coauthored on global climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and dialectical methods in science. The present essay, we believe, is of equal significance, and should be regarded as a crucial supplement to Stephen Jay Gould’s great work, The Mismeasure of Man.

This year is the forty-fifth anniversary of the death of C. Wright Mills, the great radical critic of the U.S. power elite. Mills was a good friend of Monthly Review and MR coeditors Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy, who published Mills’s article, “Psychology and Social Science,” in the October 1958 issue of this magazine. In 1959 it appeared as a chapter in his book, The Sociological Imagination. Last year MR author Michael Dawson interviewed Mills’s two daughters, Kathryn Mills and Pamela Mills, who coedited C. Wright Mills, Letters and Autobiographical Writings (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). This interview (hitherto unavailable) together with an introduction by Dawson was recently posted on the Monthly Review Commentary page, We urge all those who have an interest in C. Wright Mills or the development of the New Left in the United States in the 1960s to read this interview.

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