Greg Palast: “Did the Jews do it?”

Greg Palast risks jeopardizing his wild popularity among the leftoid legions by raining on their increasingly beloved “Jewish Conspiracy” theory. Bashing this bosh is long overdue, but we sure wish Palast had done a better job of it. His arguments here are so weak and garbled that they can be easily shot down by the Judeophobes. They constitute a strawman which actually renders a disservice to the cause of opposing Jewish scapegoating.

Palast correctly cites agendas to privatize Iraq’s oil and weaken Saudi Arabia as underlying motives of the Iraq adventure—but confuses these two aims as part of a single, exclusively “neocon” program, undermining his thesis of a rivarly between “Big Oil” and neocon wonks. Yes, the imperative to humble (or actually destabilize) Saudi Arabia emerged from the neocons, with their notorious Jewish surnames and distrust even of Washington’s Arab allies, as is made abundantly clear in their own documents. The US and Saudi oil barons are, in contrast, completely oleaginous, and both stood to gain from the inflated prices that resulted from the Iraq war. But (notwithstanding Philip Carroll’s after-the-fact denials) the privatization agenda was more likely a point of convergence for the neocons and Big Oil, which would prefer to have direct control over Middle East oil fields, rather than having to operate through state oil companies, as they now do in Saudi Arabia since the nationalization of Aramco.

Misreading the privatization of Iraq’s oil strictly as a neocon program, Palast assumes it is dead in the water. In fact, Iraq’s new constitution equivocates on state control of the country’s oil—and the fact that it provides for any degree of state control of the oil is a sop to the Iraqi people, not to Big Oil! It is a necessary compromise, to allow the client regime to stay in power. And it has been the courageous and heroic efforts of Iraqi trade unionists which have beaten back actual attempts to establish corporate control of the country’s oil industry, in defiance of threats, abductions and assassinations. Perversely (and illogically), Palast would attribute this victory to the oil interests themselves!

Palast uses his condescending favorite line—”And there you have it”—as if he has cleared up everything, even as he muddies the water like this. His basic thesis that Big Oil and the neocons have been uneasy allies in this war, and have contradictory agendas, is a sound one. But not only does he mis-identify those purposes—he commits the greater error still of assuming that either power bloc has exercized fundamental or determinant influence in the decision to go to war in Iraq. Palast is correct that the neocons themselves have been humbled and largely dethroned since Iraq has turned into a debacle, but he writes as if Exxon and its ilk are making a mint from Iraq’s oil. They aren’t. They are making a mint from war-inflated prices, but there is too much chaos in Iraq for the oil to be effectively exploited—and Bush is fine with that. Because, as we have repeatedly argued, the war is not fundamentally about either protecting Israel or a windfall for Exxon, but about preserving and extending US global dominance. It is less about “getting” Iraq’s oil for Exxon or US consumers, than keeping it off the global market, so that it won’t be used by an imperial rival such as Russia or China, or even an upstart Islamic state, to beef up military and industrial power. It is a means to prevent (as one Pentagon document put it) “advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” As we have noted, even the neocons’ own documents have been quite explicit about this goal.

Meanwhile, alas, the anti-war left chases after shadows like the supposed Zionist conspiracy—and Palast, perhaps unwittingly, abets this error by posing an equally garbled and specious alternative. If you want to wade through this exercise, here it is—from the summer issue of Tikkun magazine, online at the modestly-named

Was the Invasion of Iraq A Jewish Conspiracy

by Greg Palast

Did the Jews do it?

The US Congress will open hearings this week on the War in Iraq — a wee bit late one might think. But one question at the forefront of the minds of many on both the Left and the Right is sure not to be asked: Did the Jews do it? I mean, after killing Jesus, did the Elders of Zion manipulate the government of the United States into invading Babylon as part of a scheme to abet the expansion of Greater Israel?

The question was first posed to me in 2004 when I was speaking at a meeting of Mobilization for Peace in San Jose. A member of the audience asked, “Put it together — Who’s behind this war? Paul Wolfowitz and Elliott Abrams and the Project for a “Jew” American Century and, and, why don’t you talk about that, huh? And…” [Sic: note that Greg Palast does not know how to use quotation marks—WW4R]

But the questioner never had the full opportunity to complete his query because, flushed and red, he began to charge the stage. The peace activists attempted to detain the gentleman — whose confederates then grabbed some chairs to swing. As the Peace Center was taking on a somewhat warlike character, I chose to call in the authorities and slip out the back.

Still, his question intrigued me. As an investigative reporter, “Who’s behind this war?” seemed like a reasonable challenge — and if it were a plot of Christ-killers and Illuminati, so be it. I just report the facts, ma’am.

And frankly, at first, it seemed like the gent had a point, twisted though his spin might be. There was Paul Wolfowitz, before Congress in March 2003, offering Americans the bargain of the century: a free Iraq — not “free” as in “freedom and democracy” but free in the sense of this won’t cost us a penny. Wolfowitz testified: “There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money.”

A “Free” Iraq

And where would these billions come from? Wolfowitz told us: “It starts with the assets of the Iraqi people… The oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the next two or three years.”

This was no small matter. The vulpine Deputy Defense Secretary knew that the number one question on the minds of Americans was not, “Does Saddam really have the bomb?” but “What’s this little war going to cost us?”

However, Wolfowitz left something out of his testimony: the truth. I hunted for weeks for the source of the Pentagon’s oil revenue projections — and found them. They were wildly different from the Wolfowitz testimony. But this was not perjury. Ever since the conviction of Elliott Abrams for perjury before Congress during the Iran-Contra hearings, neither Wolfowitz nor the other Bush factotums swear an oath before testifying. If you don’t raise your hand and promise to tell the truth, “so help me, God,” you’re off the hook with federal prosecutors.

How the Lord will judge that little ploy, we cannot say.

But Wolfowitz’s little numbers game can hardly count as a Great Zionist conspiracy. That seemed to come, at first glance, in the form of a confidential 101-page document slipped to our team at BBC’s Newsnight. It detailed the economic “recovery” of Iraq’s post-conquest economy. This blueprint for occupation, we learned, was first devised in secret in late 2001.

Notably, this program for Iraq’s recovery wasn’t written by Iraqis; rather, it was promoted by the neo-conservatives of the Defense Department, home of Abrams, Wolfowitz, Harold Rhode and other desktop Napoleons unafraid of moving toy tanks around the Pentagon war room.

Nose-Twist’s Hidden Hand

The neo-cons’ 101-page confidential document, which came to me in a brown envelope in February 2003, just before the tanks rolled, goes boldly where no U.S. invasion plan had gone before: the complete rewrite of the conquered state’s “policies, law and regulations.” A cap on the income taxes of Iraq’s wealthiest was included as a matter of course. And this was undoubtedly history’s first military assault plan appended to a program for toughening the target nation’s copyright laws. Once the 82nd Airborne liberated Iraq, never again would the Ba’athist dictatorship threaten America with bootleg dubs of Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time.”

It was more like a corporate takeover, except with Abrams tanks instead of junk bonds. It didn’t strike me as the work of a Kosher Cabal for an Imperial Israel. In fact, it smelled of pork — Pig Heaven for corporate America looking for a slice of Iraq, and I suspected its porcine source. I gave it a big sniff and, sure enough, I smelled Grover Norquist.

Norquist is the capo di capi of right-wing, big-money influence peddlers in Washington. Those jealous of his inside track to the White House call him “Gopher Nose-Twist.”

A devout Christian, Norquist channeled a million dollars to the Christian Coalition to fight the devil’s tool, legalized gambling. He didn’t tell the Coalition that the loot came from an Indian tribe represented by Norquist’s associate, Jack Abramoff. (The tribe didn’t want competition for its own casino operations.)

I took a chance and dropped in on Norquist’s L Street office, and under a poster of his idol (“NIXON — NOW MORE THAN EVER”), Norquist took a look at the “recovery” plan for Iraq and practically jumped over my desk to sign it, filled with pride at seeing his baby. Yes, he promoted the privatizations, the tax limit for the rich, and the change in copyright law, all concerns close to the hearts and wallets of his clients.

“The Oil” on Page 73

The very un-Jewish Norquist may have framed much of the U.S. occupation grabfest, but there was, without doubt, one notable item in the 101-page plan for Iraq which clearly had the mark of Zion on it. On page seventy-three the plan called for the “privatization… [of] the oil and supporting industries,” the sell-off of every ounce of Iraq’s oil fields and reserves. Its mastermind, I learned, was Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation.

For the neo-cons, this was The Big One. Behind it, no less a goal than to bring down the lynchpin of Arab power, Saudi Arabia.

It would work like this: the Saudi’s power rests on control of OPEC, the oil cartel which, as any good monopoly, withholds oil from the market, kicking up prices. Sell-off Iraq’s oil fields and private companies will pump oil in their little Iraqi patches to the max. Iraq, the neo-cons hoped, would crank out six million barrels of oil a day, bust its OPEC quota, flood the world market, demolish OPEC and, as the price of oil fell off a cliff, Saudi Arabia would fall to its knees.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Cohen told me, at his office at Heritage. It was a dim little cubby, in which, in our hour or two together, the phone rang only once. For a guy who was supposed to be The Godfather of a globe-spanning Zionist scheme to destroy the Arab oil monopoly, he seemed kind of, well… pathetic.

And he failed. While the Norquist-promoted sell-offs, flat taxes and copyright laws were dictated into Iraqi law by occupation chief Paul Bremer, the Cohen neo-con oil privatization died an unhappy death. What happened, Ari?

“Arab economists,” he hissed, “hired by the State Department… the witches brew of the Saudi Royal family and Soviet Ostblock.”

Well, the Soviet Ostblock does not exist, but the Arab economists do. I spoke with them in Riyadh, in London, in California, in wry accents mixing desert and Oxford drawls. They speak with confidence, knowing Saudi Arabia’s political authority is protected by the royal families — of Houston petroleum.

“Enhance OPEC”

After two mad years of hunting, I discovered the real plan for Iraq’s oil, the one that keeps our troops in Fallujah. Some 323 pages long and deeply confidential, it was drafted at the James A. Baker III Institute in Houston, Texas, under the strict guidance of Big Oil’s minions. It was the culmination of a series of planning groups that began in December 2000 with key players from the Baker Institute and Council on Foreign Relations (including one Ken Lay of Enron). This was followed by a State Department invasion-planning session in Walnut Creek, California, in February 2001, only weeks after Bush and Cheney took office. Its concepts received official blessing after a March 2001 gathering of oil chiefs (and Lay) with Dick Cheney where the group reviewed with the Vice-President the map of Iraq’s oil fields.

Once I discovered the Big Oil plan, several of the players agreed to speak with me (not, to the chagrin of some, realizing that I rarely hold such conversions without secretly recording them). Most forthright was Philip Carroll, former CEO of Shell Oil USA, who was flown into Baghdad on a C-17 to make sure there would be no neo-con monkey business in America’s newest oil fields.

It had been a very good war for Big Oil, with tripled oil prices meaning tripled profits. In Houston, I asked Carroll, a commanding, steel-straight chief executive, about Ari Cohen’s oil privatization plan, the anti-Saudi “no-brainer.”

“I would agree with that statement” Caroll told me, “privatization is a no-brainer. It would only be thought about by someone with no brain.”

Bush world is divided in two: neo-cons on one side, and the Establishment (which includes the oil companies and the Saudis) on the other. The plan the Establishment created, crafted by Houston oil men, called for locking up Iraq’s oil with agreements between a new state oil company under “profit-sharing agreements” with “IOCs” (International Oil Companies). The combine could “enhance the [Iraq’s] government’s relationship with OPEC,” it read, by holding the line on quotas and thereby upholding high prices.

Wolfowitz Dammerung: Twilight Of The Neo-Con Gods

So there you have it. Wolfowitz and his neo-con clique — bookish, foolish, vainglorious — had their asses kicked utterly, finally, and convincingly by the powers of petroleum, the Houston-Riyadh Big Oil axis.

Between the neo-cons and Big Oil, it wasn’t much of a contest. The end-game was crushing, final. The Israelites had lost again in the land of Babylon. And to make certain the arriviste neo-cons got the point, public punishment was exacted, from exile to demotion to banishment. In January 2005, neo-con pointman Douglas Feith resigned from the Defense Department; his assistant Larry Franklin later was busted for passing documents to pro-Israel lobbyists. The State Department’s knuckle-dragging enforcer of neo-con orthodoxies, John Bolton, was booted from Washington to New York to the powerless post of U.N. Ambassador.

Finally, on March 16, 2005, second anniversary of the invasion, neo-con leader of the pack Wolfowitz was cast out of the Pentagon war room and tossed into the World Bank, moving from the testosterone-powered, war-making decision center to the lending office for Bangladeshi chicken farmers. “The realists,” crowed the triumphant editor of the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, “have defeated the fantasists!”

So much for the Big Zionist Conspiracy that supposedly directed this war. A half- dozen confused Jews, wandering in the policy desert a long distance from mainstream Jewish views, armed only with Leo Strauss’ silly aphorisms, were no match for Texas oil majors and OPEC potentates with a combined throw weight of half a trillion barrels of oil.

Also note that while supposedly defending the Jews from calumnies, Palast refers to the Heritage Foundation’s resident Evil Jew, Ari Cohen, as “hissing” (like a snake, no doubt) about supposed Arab control of the State Department! Amazing that Tikkun let him get away with that one.

See our last posts on Iraq, the struggle for control of oil, the perennial “Jewish influence” bugaboo, and why Greg Palast is a pain in the ass.

  1. Palast responds
    From Greg, via e-mail:

    Bill has some credible criticisms … if you mis-read the plain words of my article. It’s probably my own fault: the Tikkun article is an adaptation of a 100-page chapter of my book, Armed Madhouse. It’s entirely conceivable that in boiling down 100 pages to 3, subtleties fell off my desk.

    I’m an investigative reporter. This report is not about my “thesis” or my theories, it’s about the documents I pried from the cold oily hands of Big Oil functionaries in Houston and at the US State Department after two years of secret tape recordings, threats of legal action by BBC and counter-threats of suits by oil company executives against Harper’s Magazine (where I first revealed the government’s confidential program for Iraq).

    Of course, the book does not bother with the “Jewish Question”: the nut-case claims that a Jewish-Masonic-Illuminati conspiracy planned the war in Iraq. I just chucked that in for the Tikkun audience. (However, it did get me a negative review from my neo-Nazi fans who accused me, along with Noam Chomsky, of being “Judaic.” I’ll ask Noam if that’s good or bad.

    1. Weinberg counter-responds
      Greg, we share your frustration with the contemporary breed of brevity-obsessed editors. But your challenge as a writer is to make the most of the space you are given to deliver information and analysis. When you squander that space with empty fluff like “And there you have it”, you are in a poor position to complain about word-count restraints. It is also disingenuous to beg off that you are only an investigative journalist. Your writing is packed with opinion and attitude. Investigative journalists let the facts speak for themselves, they don’t condescend to the reader with phrases like “And there you have it.” Finally, we wish the Jew-haters were as marginal as you say. It seems to us the blame-Israel line has become hegemonic on the anti-war left. Have you looked at Counterpunch lately?

      (It is also perferable to close parenthetical phrases, once having opened them…)

      1. Except…
        Greg Palast is more of an opinion columnist than a journalist. What defines “journalism” (not to mention “truth”) has got awful dumbed-down these days…