Mammoths, Mastodons and Tigers, Oh My!

by Charles Walker


If you are ever in downtown Los Angeles, you might want to check out the La Brea tar pits. But make no mistake; the tar pits have nothing in common with the sprawling “family entertainment and hospitality” amphitheaters and playgrounds provided by the likes of Walt Disney, Inc. The La Brea pits are sticky black pools of residue from oil that percolated up through the earth’s crust many millennia ago. For a while, oil drillers worked the area and then moved on. The oily pools might have been covered over and all but forgotten, if scientists, a hundred years ago, hadn’t discovered a fossil treasure of nearly 700 species of plant and animal life. They found that for thousands of years the inky “quicksand” had swallowed vultures and condors, mammoths and mastodons, and giant sabre-tooth tigers intent on stalking and finishing off their fleeing prey.

A nearby museum nicely exhibits the bony remains of both predator and prey. On display are the leftovers of some of the largest and most ferocious Pleistocene carnivores that blinkered by appetite and in hot pursuit lost everything in the pools of the cloying muck.

It would be good for the world’s peoples, if the world’s elites would reflect on the La Brea experience and conclude that the predator/prey social paradigm should immediately be consigned to history’s ashcan. But that ain’t gonna happen. Instead, the world’s peoples are more likely to continue to witness episodes not unlike today’s pursuit of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in the cities and caves of Afghanistan by several of the world’s ruling elites.

The world’s peoples are told that both simple justice and self-defense mandate that American and European war machines must blanket Afghanistan’s rocky landscape with bombs both small and large — and oh so deadly to the desperately impoverished Afghans. But not everyone’s convinced that justice and self-defense are all there is to it. Some historians, social analysts, and newspaper commentators detect a whiff of oil escaping from the Bush war rooms. Others detect a stench. Still others are convinced that the war on terrorism is no more than a cover to block from easy view a raw grab for Central Asian oil reserves.

Some observers’ views on the role of oil, its geopolitical importance, and oil profits are evolving. Today’s “extreme” views may seem moderate later on. But even now, viewpoints being expressed by some “moderates” should worry the Washington warriors lest they become well known, as a prelude to becoming widespread.

A case in point is the view of the academician Michael T. Klare who in the November 5 issue of The Nation magazine (“The Geopolitics of War”) asserts that the “roots of the current conflict” are to be found in President Roosevelt’s and the State Department’s plans for how the U.S. could dominate the postwar world. Out of that planning came the Bretton Woods program [which would give the U.S. dollar financial hegemony—CW], the United Nations [which would give the U.S. a cover for its military hegemony — CW], and “most significant in the current context, the procurement of adequate oil supplies.”

The State Department looked on the Middle East oil deposits as the likeliest source of “adequate oil supplies,” especially those in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It’s known that Roosevelt met with Saudi Arabia’s ruler on a U.S. warship following the 1945 Yalta Conference. Klare says that he and many others believe, “Roosevelt gave the king a promise of US protection in return for privileged American access to Saudi oil—an arrangement that remains in full effect today and constitutes the essential core of the US-Saudi relationship.” In exchange for the Saudi’s supplying about one-sixth of the U.S. crude oil imports, the U.S. protects the Saudi monarchy from its enemies abroad and at home. “[T]he vast and highly conspicuous accumulation of wealth by the royal family has alienated it from the larger Saudi population and led to charges of systematic corruption…[T]he Defense Department also played a central role in organizing, equipping, training and managing the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), the regime’s internal security force.”

Since 1979, the (Jimmy) “Carter Doctrine” has sharpened the U.S. strategy in the Persian Gulf. Klare says it means, “Any move by a hostile power to gain control of the Persian Gulf [from the U.S.—CW] would be regarded ‘as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America’ and would be resisted ‘by any means necessary, including military force’…Carter also deployed US warships in the gulf and arranged for the periodic utilization by American forces of military bases in…Saudi Arabia.”

Later, President Reagan added to the Carter Doctrine, declaring, “We will not permit [Saudi Arabia] to be an Iran.” That meant, says Klare, “The United States would not allow the Saudi regime to be overthrown by internal dissidents, as occurred in Iran…President Clinton further strengthened the US position in the gulf, expanding American basing facilities there and enhancing the ability to rapidly move US-based forces to the region.”

Klare agrees with those who say that Osama bin Laden’s concerns are to expel the U.S. from his Saudi homeland, and to overthrow the tyrannical monarchy. Klare says: “Both of these goals put bin Laden in direct conflict with the United States. It is this reality, more than any other, that explains the terrorist strikes on US military personnel in the Middle East, and key symbols of American power in New York and Washington.”

In its pursuit of Osama bin Laden, “Washington is also shoring up its strategic position in the Persian Gulf. With bin Laden out of the way, Iran suffering from internal political turmoil and Saddam Hussein immobilized by unrelenting airstrikes, the dominant US position in the gulf will be assured for some time to come.” Perhaps, provided that the oil imperialists’ campaign of war and destruction doesn’t touch off a Middle East uprising.

In any event, when Bush and Co. are next in Los Angeles, they could do worse than check out the La Brea tar pits. Who knows, it might occur to them that history sometimes, kind of, repeats itself. In other words, draw some cautionary lessons. No, you’re right.  That ain’t gonna happen.

November 2, 2001