Politics & Policy

The Axis of Oil

The good and bad in the oil club.

North Korea. Iraq. Al Qaeda. As if all these headaches weren’t enough, Americans are facing oil prices approximately 50 percent higher than they were a year ago. On January 12, OPEC (the Organization for Petroleum Exporter Countries), the oil cartel, raised production by 1 to 1.5 million barrels a day at its emergency meeting in Vienna. This production hike will be insufficient, however, to stop, let alone reverse, the steady increases of energy prices driven by the deteriorating security situation in the major oil-producing areas — first and foremost, in Iraq and Venezuela. OPEC just does not care if the U.S. economy stagnates or even slides into a recession. And, politically, the major oil producers are suffering from escalating anti-Americanism.

It’s no wonder oil prices are rising: Saddam Hussein has a pyromaniac bug. He torched oil fields in 1991 — in imitation of Emperor Nero, who fiddled while Rome burnt — while Bush I kicked his behind out of Kuwait.

Saddam may do it again, Götterdamerung-style, but this time to his own country’s oil fields. And he may also try to launch a radiological dispersal device (a.k.a., an RDD or “dirty nuke”) against his good friends and neighbors, the Saudis. Thus, oil prices are up. Not a nice man, Saddam.

Currently, Iraq is producing around 2.5 million barrels a day — about what it pumped 20 years ago. Oil-industry nationalization by the national-socialist Baath party, Saddam’s wars with Iran and Kuwait, and the U.N. sanctions, have not allowed his oil industry to grow. But not to worry: The kingdom of Saudi Arabia will step in and fill Iraq’s oil quota.

Not that the Saudis are always that helpful. As the American economy sputtered after 9/11 — an event that involved more than a few citizens of the Wahhabi kingdom — they pushed OPEC to ratchet down production and hike prices. As a result, economic growth slowed even further.

Then the fact began to emerge that hundreds of millions of Saudi petro-dollars were being funneled to Islamic radicals around the world. Before the attack on the Twin Towers, bin Laden’s al Qaeda enjoyed up to one third of the Saudis’ international “charitable assistance” budget of about $1 billion. This included hundreds of millions for Islamic academies from the Balkans to Baluchistan.

Under the Wahhabi-inspired Taliban regime, children as young as seven learned about killing infidels along with their basic Pashtu grammar: “Ahmed has a sword. He performs jihad with his sword.” To teach the word weapon, the first-grade reader elaborated: “My uncle has a weapon. He performs jihad with his weapon.” The text further instructed, “Jihad is an obligation for everyone. Growing a beard is mandatory. My father has a beard… Anyone who wants to do the will of God should start jihad under the flag of Islam against the infidels.” Children as young as eight were taught about Kalashinkov rifles and about how many people can be killed with a hand grenade.

As the war on terrorism began, the Saudis came under pressure to freeze some of the funds their charities had been transferring to jihadis. And they did — a whopping $4 million. What about the rest? Could your own gasoline dollars be at work buying ricin to attack the London Underground?

Sheikh Saad Al-Buraik is a Wahhabi cleric closely tied to Prince AbdulAziz Ben Fahd, the king’s youngest son, who participated in the Saudi delegation that visited the United States with the Crown Prince Abdullah after 9/11. Al Buraik went home to engage in a true act of mercy: a telethon, Jerry Lewis style, that raised close to $109 million for the families of homicide bombers who had killed and wounded civilians in Israel. Each family received $12,000 per suicide bomber. Not as much as the $22,000 Saddam pays, true, but still about eleven times the average annual per-capita income since the war against Israel’s civilian population decimated the local economy. Demand creates supply; this is Economics 101, Gaza style.

Hamas, a radical Islamist organization on the U.S. State Department terrorism watch list, receives millions of dollars from Saudi charities. Hamas does not recognize the right of Israel to exist. By implication, it should be opposed to Prince Abdullah’s Middle East peace plan, which purports to allow Israel to live in peace with her Muslim cousins. The question arises: Why Hamas is getting all the largesse? Don’t the Saudis put their petro-dollars where their mouth is? Apparently, they do.

In October 2001, NATO authorities raided a Saudi aid agency in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and found computer files containing photographs of terrorist targets and street maps of Washington with government buildings marked, a senior U.S. official told the Associated Press. According to the same official, the October raid of the Sarajevo office of the Saudi High Commissioner for Aid to Bosnia also brought to light a computer program elaborating on the use of crop dusters to spread pesticides. It also offered tips on the materials needed to make fake U.S. State Department identification badges and credit cards.

A high-ranking Bosnian government official disclosed that the impounded material included photos of targets of past terror attacks — on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the USS Cole, and the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the official said. The pictures showed the targets both before and after the attacks. U.S. officials refused to say which buildings were marked on the Washington maps. I hope we never find out.

A U.S. official also said there were signs that millions of dollars from the Saudi agency were missing and unaccounted for. The agency had been founded by Saudi Prince Selman bin Abdul-Aziz, purportedly to help children orphaned during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, and claimed it had spent more than $600 million doing so.

Another “charitable” oil power is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Today it produces about 3 million barrels of oil a day — about half what it pumped under the shah. The story is similar to Iraq’s: privatization, the ayatollahs’ political control, an ambitious program to develop weapons of mass destruction (complete with ballistic-missile technology from North Korea, China, and Russia), and a deluxe nuclear-weapons program, courtesy of Pyongyang and Moscow. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards — Pasdaran — have used hundreds of millions of petro-dollars to finance the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah, the Party of God, which today is armed with thousands of rockets aimed at Israel and has also gained a foothold in Latin America, thanks to the largesse of its benefactor.

According to Robert Baer — former CIA operations officer in the Middle East and the author of See No Evil, a fascinating memoir of agents’ daring and government incompetence — Iran and Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were behind twin attacks against the U.S. embassy in Beirut in 1983. The mastermind of the attacks, a former Arafat bodyguard and Iranian agent named Imad Mugnieh, also organized the murderous blast of the U.S. Marines barracks there. Together, the blasts took over 300 American lives and caused U.S. forces to evacuated Lebanon.

Iran also ordered the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Colonel William F. Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut. Also in 1994, Hezbollah terrorists and Iranian operatives organized two bombings in Buenos Aires, targeting the Israeli embassy and a local Jewish community center. Over 100 people were killed.

Iran’s fellow OPEC member, Venezuela, is now in the throes of a political struggle pitting its professional classes and many of its military officers against President Hugo Chavez. As a result, Venezuela’s oil production is down from 3 million barrels a day to about 250,000 barrels. U.S. gasoline prices are about to rise. Chavez, Fidel Castro’s best friend, is gutting his cash cow — the Venezuelan national oil company. He also supports Marxist narco-guerillas in neighboring Colombia, and at the same time is heavily into the Latino version of Führerprinzip — the notion that the leader (Caudillo) epitomizes the nation. Sure sounds like fascism to me.

After failing to take power in a coup in 1992, Chavez was elected by the country’s poor, and took a grand tour of America’s “Fan Club” — Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. The Axis of Evil became the “Axis of Oil.”

Eighty-two billion dollars, the combined 2002 revenue of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq — the OPEC’s Top Three — can buy lots of terrorism, and lots of weapons of mass destruction. At least Saudi Arabia and Russia are willing to step in when Chavez’s Venezuela is losing its market share. At its January 12 meeting, OPEC oil ministers recommended hiking the cartel’s production by 1.5 million barrels a day. We won’t have to push our SUVs this winter — and we won’t be sending our troops to Iraq on bikes. I guess it’s time to send those thank-you notes to King Fahd.

— Ariel Cohen is a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation. The views expressed here are his own.


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