Exit Strategies

It's Not About Oil

The common themes of Mark Hackard’s informative articles are that the US elites oppose the spirit of the East due to liberal ideology and old school national interests. The former argument I agree with; the latter, on the other hand, seems to imply that those ruling America actually care about its citizens, or at least those which happen to be corporate shareholders. One will search in vain for a “rational”-that is, economic-reason for the Iraq War, which couldn’t be paid for if you stole all the country’s oil for a hundred years.  As for the petroleum companies, The Israel Lobby revealed that they have actually traditionally opposed a bellicose foreign policy in the Middle East, preferring to peacefully conduct business with whoever happens to be in power

Now the website thinkprogress.org puts forth evidence that Big Oil has been lobbying against sanctions on Iran.

The recent revelations about BP’s alleged rolein pressing for the release of convicted Pan Am Flight 103 bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi in order to secure valuable oil concessions in Libya provides a potent reminder of the influence oil companies and other major corporations exert over foreign policy.  New evidence uncovered by ThinkProgress shows that America’s own oil giants are also trying to shape U.S. foreign policy to protect or enhance their own profits, even if it puts American security at risk.

Lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Senate this week show that the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and Halliburton lobbied the House, Senate, and various executive branch agencies on the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act during the first half of the year as the bill was being debated in the Senate.

Big Oil’s interest in weakening the law is obvious.  Among other things, the new law, signed by President Obama on July 1, imposes significant new sanctions on individuals and corporations “that directly and significantly contribute to Iran’s ability to develop petroleum resources” and that sell more than $200,000 in fuel or other refined petroleum products to Iran.  The new sanctions are important because “although Iran is the second-largest oil producer in the world, it lacks refining capacity and relies on foreign suppliers for nearly 5 million gallons of gasoline a day.”  In addition, the country’s energy industry is “a huge source of revenue for the Iranian government and a stronghold of the increasingly powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps,” which “oversees Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.”…

  • ExxonMobil, which spent $2.5 million on lobbying last quarter, currently enjoys $4.9 billion in revenues from federal oil and gas leases and sold fuel additives to Iran until 2006.
  • Shell, which spent $4 million on lobbying last quarter, has $11.9 billion in revenues and benefits from the U.S. government, a wide variety of business relationships with Iran, and is alleged to be in violation of the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act—the very law amended by the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Act.
  • ConocoPhillips, which spent $5.5 million lobbying last quarter, accrues $1.7 billion in revenue from federal grants and oil and gas leases and still actively profits from selling gasoline to Iranvia Lukoil, in which it holds a minority stake.
  • Halliburton has a whopping $27.1 billion in government contracts and, until 2007, provided oil and gas drilling services to Iran through a foreign subsidiary…

The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Act passed the House 412-12 and the Senate 99-0, so it’s not surprising that Big Oil’s activities in Iran are not very popular. 

Think about that for a moment. The bill passed the Senate 99-0, despite only opposition from big business. There goes the myth of plutocracy.

Not that oil companies are angels; as the article reveals they lobby for subsidies just as hard as they fight for the opening up of foreign markets. In both cases they’re looking out for their interests, as is to be expected. Sometimes this is a good thing (trying to remove sanctions) and sometimes bad (looking for taxpayer funding).

Think Progress wants us to believe that we’re just lucky to have such an altruistic government. A full 100% of the Senate and 97% of the House was able to resist oil company lobbying to instead look out for the national interests and protect us from the menace of Iran. How fortunate we are to have such selfless public servants in office! 

Those of us of a more cynical bent may be forgiven for suspecting that it’s far more likely that there’s actually another lobby out there having a countervailing effect, one that in the minds of Congressmen relegates the wishes of Big Oil and their paltry tens of millions spent a year  to a mere afterthought. If our representatives only cared about the wishes of BP and Exxon Mobile it would actually be an improvement-the interests of these corporations at least sometimes accidentally converge with those of the nation as a whole.

I suspect the same factors are behind policy towards Russia, which opposed the Iraq War and is trying to put the breaks on any kind of similar strike on Iran. To the extent that the US government cares about controlling oil and gas reserves it’s only to be in a better position to spread liberalism and defend Israel