Not Oil, But Dollars vs. Euros Part 1 By Geoffrey Heard March, 2003 Why is George Bush so hell bent on war with Iraq? Why does his administration reject every positive Iraqi move? It all makes sense when you consider the economic implications for the USA of not going to war with Iraq. The war in Iraq is actually the US and Europe going head to head on economic leadership of the world. America's Bush administration has been caught in outright lies, gross exaggerations and incredible inaccuracies as it trotted out its litany of paper thin excuses for making war on Iraq. Along with its two supporters, Britain and Australia, it has shifted its ground and reversed its position with a barefaced contempt for its audience. It has manipulated information, deceived by commission and omission and frantically "bought" UN votes with billion dollar bribes. Faced with the failure of gaining UN Security Council support for invading Iraq, the USA has threatened to invade without authorisation. It would act in breach of the UN's very constitution to allegedly enforced UN resolutions. It is plain bizarre. Where does this desperation for war come from? There are many things driving President Bush and his administration to invade Iraq, unseat Saddam Hussein and take over the country. But the biggest one is hidden and very, very simple. It is about the currency used to trade oil and consequently, who will dominate the world economically, in the foreseeable future -- the USA or the European Union. Iraq is a European Union beachhead in that confrontation. America had a monopoly on the oil trade, with the US dollar being the fiat currency, but Iraq broke ranks in 1999, started to trade oil in the EU's euros, and profited. If America invades Iraq and takes over, it will hurl the EU and its euro back into the sea and make America's position as the dominant economic power in the world all but impregnable. It is the biggest grab for world power in modern times. America's allies in the invasion, Britain and Australia, are betting America will win and that they will get some trickle-down benefits for jumping on to the US bandwagon. France and Germany are the spearhead of the European force -- Russia would like to go European but possibly can still be bought off. Presumably, China would like to see the Europeans build a share of international trade currency ownership at this point while it continues to grow its international trading presence to the point where it, too, can share the leadership rewards. DEBATE BUILDING ON THE INTERNET Oddly, little or nothing is appearing in the general media about this issue, although key people are becoming aware of it -- note the recent slide in the value of the US dollar. Are traders afraid of war? They are more likely to be afraid there will not be war. But despite the silence in the general media, a major world discussion is developing around this issue, particularly on the internet. Among the many articles: Henry Liu, in the 'Asia Times' last June, it has been a hot topic on the Feasta forum, an Irish-based group exploring sustainable economics, and W. Clark's "The Real Reasons for the Upcoming War with Iraq: A Macroeconomic and Geostrategic Analysis of the Unspoken Truth" has been published by the 'Sierra Times', 'Indymedia.org', and 'ratical.org'. This debate is not about whether America would suffer from losing the US dollar monopoly on oil trading -- that is a given -- rather it is about exactly how hard the USA would be hit. The smart money seems to be saying the impact would be in the range from severe to catastrophic. The USA could collapse economically. OIL DOLLARS The key to it all is the fiat currency for trading oil. Under an OPEC agreement, all oil has been traded in US dollars since 1971 (after the dropping of the gold standard) which makes the US dollar the de facto major international trading currency. If other nations have to hoard dollars to buy oil, then they want to use that hoard for other trading too. This fact gives America a huge trading advantage and helps make it the dominant economy in the world. As an economic bloc, the European Union is the only challenger to the USA's economic position, and it created the euro to challenge the dollar in international markets. However, the EU is not yet united behind the euro -- there is a lot of jingoistic national politics involved, not least in Britain -- and in any case, so long as nations throughout the world must hoard dollars to buy oil, the euro can make only very limited inroads into the dollar's dominance. In 1999, Iraq, with the world's second largest oil reserves, switched to trading its oil in euros. American analysts fell about laughing; Iraq had just made a mistake that was going to beggar the nation. But two years on, alarm bells were sounding; the euro was rising against the dollar, Iraq had given itself a huge economic free kick by switching. Iran started thinking about switching too; Venezuela, the 4th largest oil producer, began looking at it and has been cutting out the dollar by bartering oil with several nations including America's bete noir, Cuba. Russia is seeking to ramp up oil production with Europe (trading in euros) an obvious market. The greenback's grip on oil trading and consequently on world trade in general, was under serious threat. If America did not stamp on this immediately, this economic brushfire could rapidly be fanned into a wildfire capable of consuming the US's economy and its dominance of world trade. HOW DOES THE US GET ITS DOLLAR ADVANTAGE? Imagine this: you are deep in debt but every day you write cheques for millions of dollars you don't have -- another luxury car, a holiday home at the beach, the world trip of a lifetime. Your cheques should be worthless but they keep buying stuff because those cheques you write never reach the bank! You have an agreement with the owners of one thing everyone wants, call it petrol/gas, that they will accept only your cheques as payment. This means everyone must hoard your cheques so they can buy petrol/gas. Since they have to keep a stock of your cheques, they use them to buy other stuff too. You write a cheque to buy a TV, the TV shop owner swaps your cheque for petrol/gas, that seller buys some vegetables at the fruit shop, the fruiterer passes it on to buy bread, the baker buys some flour with it, and on it goes, round and round -- but never back to the bank. You have a debt on your books, but so long as your cheque never reaches the bank, you don't have to pay. In effect, you have received your TV free. This is the position the USA has enjoyed for 30 years -- it has been getting a free world trade ride for all that time. It has been receiving a huge subsidy from everyone else in the world. As it debt has been growing, it has printed more money (written more cheques) to keep trading. No wonder it is an economic powerhouse! Then one day, one petrol seller says he is going to accept another person's cheques, a couple of others think that might be a good idea. If this spreads, people are going to stop hoarding your cheques and they will come flying home to the bank. Since you don't have enough in the bank to cover all the cheques, very nasty stuff is going to hit the fan! But you are big, tough and very aggressive. You don't scare the other guy who can write cheques, he's pretty big too, but given a 'legitimate' excuse, you can beat the tripes out of the lone gas seller and scare him and his mates into submission. And that, in a nutshell, is what the USA is doing right now with Iraq. AMERICA'S PRECARIOUS ECONOMIC POSITION America is so eager to attack Iraq now because of the speed with which the euro fire could spread. If Iran, Venezuela and Russia join Iraq and sell large quantities of oil for euros, the euro would have the leverage it needs to become a powerful force in general international trade. Other nations would have to start swapping some of their dollars for euros. The dollars the USA has printed, the 'cheques' it has written, would start to fly home, stripping away the illusion of value behind them. The USA's real economic condition is about as bad as it could be; it is the most debt-ridden nation on earth, owing about US$12,000 for every single one of it's 280 million men, women and children. It is worse than the position of Indonesia when it imploded economically a few years ago, or more recently, that of Argentina. Even if OPEC did not switch to euros wholesale (and that would make a very nice non-oil profit for the OPEC countries, including minimising the various contrived debts America has forced on some of them), the US's difficulties would build. Even if only a small part of the oil trade went euro, that would do two things immediately: * Increase the attractiveness to EU members of joining the 'eurozone', which in turn would make the euro stronger and make it more attractive to oil nations as a trading currency and to other nations as a general trading currency. * Start the US dollars flying home demanding value when there isn't enough in the bank to cover them. * The markets would over-react as usual and in no time, the US dollar's value would be spiralling down. THE US SOLUTION America's response to the euro threat was predictable. It has come out fighting. It aims to achieve four primary things by going to war with Iraq: * Safeguard the American economy by returning Iraq to trading oil in US dollars, so the greenback is once again the exclusive oil currency. * Send a very clear message to any other oil producers just what will happen to them if they do not stay in the dollar circle. Iran has already received one message -- remember how puzzled you were that in the midst of moderation and secularization, Iran was named as a member of the axis of evil? * Place the second largest reserves of oil in the world under direct American control. * Provide a secular, subject state where the US can maintain a huge force (perhaps with nominal elements from allies such as Britain and Australia) to dominate the Middle East and its vital oil. This would enable the US to avoid using what it sees as the unreliable Turkey, the politically impossible Israel and surely the next state in its sights, Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of al Qaeda and a hotbed of anti-American sentiment. * Severe setback the European Union and its euro, the only trading bloc and currency strong enough to attack the USA's dominance of world trade through the dollar. * Provide cover for the US to run a covert operation to overturn the democratically elected government of Venezuela and replace it with an America-friendly military supported junta -- and put Venezuala's oil into American hands. Locking the world back into dollar oil trading would consolidate America's current position and make it all but impregnable as the dominant world power -- economically and militarily. A splintered Europe (the US is working hard to split Europe; Britain was easy, but other Europeans have offered support in terms of UN votes) and its euro would suffer a serious setback and might take decades to recover. It is the boldest grab for absolute power the world has seen in modern times. America is hardly likely to allow the possible slaughter of a few hundred thousand Iraqis stand between it and world domination. President Bush did promise to protect the American way of life. This is what he meant.