He is the Sam Spade of investigative journalism. His exposes of the dirty dealings going on inside America’s politics are covered around the world, and yet he can’t get his news stories into the American mainstream media.
Greg Palast is a California native who used to investigate corporate fraud for a living, got fed up with what he saw and decided to use his investigative skills to dig into stories that nobody else had the guts to cover. What he reveals in his talk with Common Sense Chief Editor Tim Brown is enough to make your blood boil. He lays out the secrets and names the culprits. The proof is in his new book, Armed Madhouse, available here.
For the past decade Palast has been covering stories for the BBC that the American press won’t touch and recently came back to his place of birth to lay the smack-down on the criminals who have infested our political system, corrupted our Constitution and are quietly pocketing billions of our tax dollars.
CSM: Welcome back to the States. So, they actually let you back into the country, eh?
Palast: Yeah, whether they like it or not. You know, Karl Rove’s team wrote an email complaining about ‘that British reporter’, but in their dreams they could keep me out. I’m an American and they’re well, un-American…
CSM: I just finished reading your new book Armed Madhouse and it was great, but disturbing-great, like a horror movie you go see and you wake up with nightmares.
Palast: Well, hopefully, you got a few laughs.
CSM: Oh, definitely. But some of the things you uncovered you don’t hear a peep about in the American media – two plans to invade Iraq, the White House knowing a day in advance that the levees were going to fail in New Orleans, but not telling anybody…
Palast: You expect them to tell you?
CSM: But, these are things that would have made headlines in our parent’s America.
Palast: Well, that’s when you had Walter Cronkite and others like Jack Anderson, but now media companies aren’t even just interested in ratings. Their interest is buying and selling media properties like bags of sugar. That’s what I get in the way of…
CSM: But, these stories that aren’t being told, is it just a matter of the media kowtowing to the powers-that-be?
Palast: No, it’s beyond that. If you look at that chapter on the lynching of Dan Rather you get that the CBS eyeball is not an all-seeing eye. It doesn’t see anything. It’s more like a pimple on the corporate rectum of Viacom. There’s no doubt that the hit on Dan Rather was ordered by Sumner Redstone (majority owner of Viacom and CBS), who actually said that Viacom needs a Republican Congress and White House… and that’s it, Rather was dead. They had to make an example of him. And that’s an important story because even today people say that Rather’s story was discredited. The hell it was.
CSM: Explain that.
Palast: I offered CBS $100,000 if they could produce the proof that, as Leslie Moonves (CEO of CBS) said, Rather ignored the evidence that the fix was not in to get Bush out of the war in Vietnam. He’s a liar. And when you have the head of network firing a newsman for telling the truth… If they’re willing to destroy a $100 million dollar asset like Dan Rather then you’ve got a problem. (Editor’s note: In the chapter “The Necklace-ing of Dan Rather”, Palast tells the real story about how then-Lt. Governor Ben Barnes leaned on the Texas Air National Guard to get W into flight school and then leaned on then-Governor Bush for a lucrative favor to keep his mouth shut about it during the 2000 Presidential campaign. It’s a textbook example of why they say ‘All politics is local’.)
CSM: Speaking of lies, Iraq is on everybody’s mind and the big fight seems to be over how the invasion and occupation was conducted, but nobody talks about why we went to war anymore.
Palast: Or why we’re still there. If you understood what it was about, it’s still Operation Iraqi Liberation. It’s still about the oil, and even members of the left forget that’s it about the damned oil.
CSM: So, why are we still there?
Palast: Well, they say it’s a quagmire and we’re still losing. Bullshit. The price of oil was $20 a barrel under Bill Clinton and last week it was $60 a barrel. That’s ‘Mission Accomplished’. If you look at the documents that I uncovered like ‘The Winning Plan’, which is to ‘enhance Iraq’s relationship with OPEC’, what that means is enhancing the power of OPEC. Which is, of course, completely disgusting given that it’s not the job of the United States government to help out an illegal cartel which is destroying this planet. You know, I’m happy to see my buddy Hugo (Chavez) cash in big time, but on the other hand this cartel is destroying this planet morally, politically and financially.
CSM: So, what you’ve documented in your book, let me see if I have this right: If Iraq stays as a member in good standing within OPEC the oil companies get to reap the profits every time Saudi Arabia squeezes the spigot tighter…
Palast: You got it.
CSM: What does this mean in actual dollars to regular Americans?
Palast: That’s a very good question. The simplest calculation is that before (the war) you were paying a buck fifty a gallon and now you’re paying three fifty. Roughly, your typical family is paying a $2,000 a year oil tax. It’s an Iraq war tax. I don’t understand why people can’t associate the higher price of gasoline with the war in Iraq. They are producing less than two million barrels a day and there is only about four million barrels a day of excess capacity on the market right now. If we were taking out another four million barrels a day from Iraq we could double the excess capacity if you had a stable, productive Iraq. But you realize what that would do to the price? We would be back down to Clinton prices. When Bush says ‘no more taxes’, what do you think you’re paying at the pump?
And this is playing right into the hands of the ‘peak oil’ people. (They say) we’re running out of oil and it’s really expensive to get. No. It’s very easy. That’s not the issue. I mean, I don’t know what the long term is – another century from now or another forty years, but I’m telling you the price on Tuesday has nothing to do with peak oil. The price on Tuesday has to do with the war in Iraq.
CSM: The majority of the nation thinks it’s time to get the heck out of there, so what do you think of this bill being put forth by the Democrats. Does this lion have any teeth?
Palast: Not if they haven’t gotten it approved by Saudi Arabia. That ain’t no joke. If Democrats actually thought it would succeed they wouldn’t vote for the bill.
CSM: Tell me what you mean.
Palast: Well, oil rules, Saudi Arabia called in Dick Cheney, called him on Thanksgiving, told him to drop his drum stick and he flew to Riyadh and he ‘kissed’ (King) Abdullah’s throne… I mean, Dick Cheney was called on like forty-eight hours notice and told ‘get your grim little ass over here.’ It’s amazing. Bush couldn’t get Cheney to do that.
CSM: He knows where his bread is buttered.
Palast: And Abdullah said ‘you are not removing your troops. If you remove your troops there are going to be big problems.’ And therefore we’re not removing our troops. The issue is not about a quagmire or surges. We’re forgetting what this is all about. It’s about the oil. [See The Big Asterisk below.]
CSM: So, we aren’t there for a ‘free and democratic’ Iraq?
Palast: It’s all nonsense. And the idea that Bush screwed up is nonsense. I mean, things were more costly in terms of lives but, of course, they don’t care. They’ll throw in more. It’s not his kids, right?
CSM: How does this play with the GOP leadership?
Palast: I don’t think they’re all shaken up, because they’ll have a candidate that’ll say he has nothing to do with Bush. I don’t think the Republicans are concerned.
CSM: And the Dems?
Palast: If you look at, like, when Hillary Clinton says ‘Well, I voted because I didn’t know’, that type of thing. You have to remember she had tried not to know because we were running the reports on BBC television. That’s the whole point… those reports you don’t get anywhere else in the US media and that’s why you get this email on February 7th of this year in which the Rovebots are gloating that nobody in the US media has picked up our stuff…
CSM: Well, they’re going to be getting it now.
The Big Asterisk*
(The Two Plans for Iraq, Why our Middle East Policy is Dictated by Foreign Oil Sheiks and Why American Troops Will Never Leave Iraq)
‘The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.’
– Flannery O’Connor
You probably need an explanation as to why some foreign ruler is calling the shots on whether our soldiers remain human targets in what has turned into a civil war. While scholars have written comprehensive books about the relationship between the US and the House of Saud, here it is in a nutshell:
Iraq borders Saudi Arabia. And it’s full of poor Shiites. King Abdullah and his clan are wealthy Sunnis. Wealth that was accumulated by working with Big Oil to cash in privately on national resources.
Abdullah watches CNN, too. He sees what a restless majority of Shiites can do to an occupying government and he can foresee an uncomfortable future where his own restless majority, supported by Iraqi (and Iranian) Shiites, decides it’s time for the House of Saud to go. When Bush said, ‘We have to fight them there or we’ll have to fight them over here’ he may just as well have been talking about Saudi Arabia’s view of their brethren in the Middle East. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.
But, oil is not the whole story of our occupation. Palast devotes a chapter of his book documenting how there were actually two plans for Iraq. Plan A, drawn up by the ‘old hands’ at the State Department, including Colin Powell, wanted a three day coup, pitched as a ‘popular uprising’ that would replace Saddam Hussein with another moustache, most probably a ‘war hero’ from their nine year slug-fest with Iran – a war in which US companies, blessed by those same ‘old hands’, supplied our then-best friend Saddam with weapons like saran, anthrax and botulism along with the usual high-tech weaponry to hold off the threat that an aggressive Shiite Iran posed to the oil sheiks. Same story, different war.
But these ‘old hands’ were beaten to the punch by the neo-conservatives who drew their own plans under the auspices of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Lewis Libby, Richard Perle and Zalmay Khalilzad saw Iraq as both the threat and the lynchpin to their plans for American hegemony in the 21st century. So, along with PNAC founder Bill Kristol and others in their cabal, they plotted Plan B – the complete privatization of all of Iraq’s resources, ‘especially the oil’, calling on Bill Clinton to impose their version of a ‘capitalist democracy’ in Iraq. Clinton demurred on unilaterally attacking Iraq in 1998, preferring instead to keep the No Fly Zones and sanctions in place.
But the PNACers knew that their window of opportunity to get Iraq within their grasp was closing. Especially since other countries were eager to drill Iraqi oil for their own consumption. Algeria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Tunisia, Turkey and Vietnam – all had deals in the works with Saddam since before the first Gulf War to drill on virgin oil fields in Iraq. The only thing holding them back from dropping the UN sanctions was a veto from the US. And the only claim that America could make was that Saddam had ‘weapons of mass destruction’. You know, like saran, anthrax and botulism.
But that window suddenly opened wider when Bush and Cheney occupied the White House after the 2000 Presidential campaign. Many of the PNACers took over positions of power within the new administration and immediately began plotting the overthrow of Hussein and the distribution of Iraq’s resources. That map you see of Iraqi oil fields, provided courtesy of a Freedom of Information Act request, was actually on the table during those secret energy meetings that Cheney conducted in early 2001. We added the lines to show the No Fly Zones so you can get an idea of what was off limits to Hussein and the rest of the world during the sanctions – all those blocks of virgin oil land that everybody wanted.
Meanwhile, in September 2000 Bill Kristol co-wrote a white paper that lamented the neo-cons’ quandary – how do you convince a nation of generally good-hearted Americans to invade another country to seize their national resources and build permanent military bases? Kristol, who was also the Chief Editor of the Weekly Standard (a magazine owned by Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Fox News Network that so fervently supported the war), had the answer: ‘The process of transformation is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event-like a new Pearl Harbor.’ In other words, you scare them. (see Rebuilding America’s Defenses, p.51, under the heading ‘Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force’).
On September 11, 2001 the neo-cons got their catalyzing event and while bodies were still buried in the rubble in New York City they began pointing the finger at Afghanistan – and Iraq. Over the next few months an ‘Office of Special Plans’ was formed to ‘coordinate’ the information gathered by the alphabet soup of US intelligence agencies and to determine who was really behind those attacks on our nation. The OSP was headed by Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith. How convenient. (See Office of Special Plans – SourceWatch for more on how OSP operated).
You know the rest – we invaded, Hussein and his henchmen were deposed, US soldiers got stuck in ‘the suck’ for years, thousands died, thousands more were mutilated, the war is costing us nearly a trillion dollars that could better be spent on jobs programs, education, national healthcare, rebuilding New Orleans and researching alternative energy sources – and there’s still no end in sight.
Still, it was good news for the PNACers. They pushed through an Iraqi Constitution that allowed their non-oil assets (water, electricity, agriculture, manufacturing) to be sold off to foreign (read: US and UK) companies and they have no tariffs to protect their trade (Iraqi unemployment now stands at about 60%). In fact, everything is for sale to private owners – except the oil, which is to remain a ‘national asset’ and therefore within the control of the few ‘old hands’ who will work with Saudi Arabia to control the flow and price of this most precious commodity.
Here’s the crux of it: Saudi Arabia runs OPEC. OPEC controls the flow of oil. Oil runs the world. American Big Oil shares in the profits, along with our ‘cousins’ across the pond. Saddam was jerking the oil prices around, so he had to go. Sanctions and No Fly Zones kept him away from the oil for a decade, but higher prices began to out-weigh the ‘justification’ for sanctions in the minds of all those countries who wanted Iraqi oil. The tragedy of September 11, 2001 was a new justification, one that allowed the administration to act on their earlier plan to take control of Iraq. The neo-cons got to privatize the Iraqi economy; the ‘old hands’ kept control of the oil. And since Iraq doesn’t have a ‘stable’ regime that the sheiks and our oil boys can rely on, our troops have to stay to protect their assets. Our president said it best, ‘Mission Accomplished’.