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Commentary Last Updated: Jun 18th, 2008 - 00:53:45

Power should flow from a barrel of oil
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jun 18, 2008, 00:09

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British Member of Parliament George Galloway speaking on an Arabic satellite channel recently blamed Arabs for failing to solve "this Palestine problem."

With 300 million Arabs and "oil at $136 per barrel," they could do so in six days, he said. Six days may be a slight exaggeration but Galloway isn't known for his use of great British understatement.

He's a black-and-white kind of guy and on this subject his basic premise seems to me to be spot on. Some Arab countries are floating on a sea of oil, a resource as precious as gold nowadays, but they shy away from using their not unsubstantial clout within the international arena. Why?

Oil shouldn't be used as a weapon, say their leaders. That's true but why shouldn't it be a bargaining chip with which to advance Arab causes, as Galloway seems to suggest?

Is there a higher moral imperative that rules this out? Leaders of Western nations would like their Arab counterparts to believe so.

Oil is a commodity that should be shared by the planet even if it does happen to be gurgling away underneath your sands and seas, they say.

But you could use the same argument relating to nuclear energy, which First World nuclear powers would like to ration according to a country's worthiness.

So if nuclear energy is something that nations have to earn by proving they are responsible and non-aggressive, by the same token countries seeking to buy hydrocarbons should be similarly judged by producing nations.

Western consumer countries also warn Arab producers that cutting supplies would tick off their customers to the extent they would pursue other sources of energy and new technologies as they did following OPEC's 1973 oil embargo.

This is a crock because oil importing nations are already scrambling to find alterative fuels, but no matter how many windmills they erect or electric cars fall off production lines, there is no substitute for oil in the foreseeable future.

What would happen if Arab oil producers, together with their Muslim allies, were to give Israel and its US backer a deadline to make visible progress in the Palestine-Israel peace process or else the tap is turned off?

Naturally, this would provoke an angry response and thrust world markets into turmoil. The price of oil would hit unprecedented heights, while currencies would plunge.

The oil-thirsty superpower and its sycophantic European satellites might even make military threats but, provided the entire Arab world supported by other major suppliers such as Indonesia and Venezuela stuck together, there would be little they could do.


Unfortunately, this strategy would require unity, which is far from being this region's strong point. Disunity is keeping this part of the world punching way below its weight on the global stage and it's being perpetuated by Washington, which never tires of warning about a supposed Iran threat or a contrived Sunni-Shiite divide.

Indeed, during his recent visit to Britain, US President George W. Bush again played up the Iran threat, even suggesting that "the dialogue has shifted dramatically from 'solve the Palestinian state and you've solved the problems in the Middle East' to, now, 'solve the Iranian issue and you solve the problems in the Middle East.'"

Never mind that Tehran isn't being aggressive towards its Arab neighbours and there is no proof that it is currently seeking nuclear weapons, as long as it is being touted as the main threat to regional security, the real threat that emanates from Israel is kept on the backburner, while the White House can argue it needs permanent bases in Iraq.

What the Middle East does not need is a nuclear arms race, says Bush. "It does not need the instability that comes from an innate fear that the West is not strong enough or willing enough to take on the problem."

But who appointed the West (read the US) to take on the problem even if one exists? Isn't it time that Arabs took responsibility for their own neck of the woods, instead of allowing foreign armies free rein to ride roughshod over their lands and peoples?

As Galloway reminds us, 300 million Arabs is not an inconsequential number. To put it in context it is slightly less than the population of the US (303 million) and four times that of the UK (70 million).

It's tragic, therefore, that they have such little say not only in world affairs but also their own. They should have a huge voice but as long as there is no Arab Ummah and no common purpose their voices are contradictory. They drown each other and eventually end up as background noise.

With prices at the pump in the US hovering around $4 a gallon and parts of Europe paralysed by protesting truck drivers and fishermen, Bush pressured the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to increase production "on the theory that if you harm your consumers with high prices, they will find other ways to power their economies."

If only there was someone with the courage to respond thus to the president: "If you continue harming our people with your wars and your slavish pro-Israel policy, you might have to do just that."

Oil is a diminishing resource. Arabs have it. If they're ever going to flaunt it, it's now or never.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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