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L. Neil Smith's
Number 578, July 11, 2010

"It's all about oil"

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Enquiring Minds and the Oil War
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Now and again, I receive e-mail asking me about libertarianism and libertarian views. Sometimes these questions seem so important that I feel a need to answer them in public, so others who wonder about the same things, but are too shy to ask, can get an answer, too. My policy has always been that the only stupid questions are the ones that go unasked,

It also affords me an opportunity to think through another chapter for the book, Where We Stand, I happen to be writing on libertarian policy.

A few days ago, my friend Adrian Hinton asked me the following question:

"I would like to know your opinion about the current U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

"I understand that libertarians tend to oppose foreign military intervention, but Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan, and the Taliban would not turn him over.

"What do you think should be done about Osama bin Laden?"

Here is my answer:

As I have written on many occasions, if the government story on the atrocities of September 11, 2001 is to be believed, it reveals severe departures from logic, common sense, and sanity we ought to be deeply concerned about—although it may already be too late for that.

The first is that, although the Pentagon and World Trade Center were attacked by a group of men of whom the overwhelming majority carried Saudi passports, the United States responded by invading Iraq and Afghanistan, employing a series of rationalizations that seemed to change—just as they did in daily briefings at Mount Carmel—every day.

Think about Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction" that never quite materialized. (It's important to recall in this context that United States policy created both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and installed them in place.) The latest party line is that the WMDs were moved to Syria, a pathetically transparent excuse to invade and destroy that country, too, should presidential whim ever demand it.

A similar array of justifications has been offered for the invasion of Afghanistan, among them, as my questioner indicates, that the arch villain Osama bin Laden was hiding out there—at the same time he was being seen by eyewitnesses in Pakistan, Chechnya, and the French Riviera.

If I were Osama, and the United States government were actually looking for me, I'd be clean-shaven by now, crewcutted, wearing jeans and a ZZ Top T-shirt, and living in a nice little house in Lincoln, Nebraska. But the government isn't looking for him, it needs him out there, somewhere, a Cheshire cat, evil eyes and fangs glowing in the darkness.

So here's a question: how do we know that Osama was the master fiend behind the fall of the twin towers? It struck me as more than suspicious that he was named as the badguy within just a few hours after the attack, by a police culture that still can't tell us who killed JonBenet Ramsey. It reminded me of the way the authorities ran a counterfeit Montag down and killed him on national television in Fahrenheit 451 [book] [movie]. Lee Harvey Oswald was identified the same way, out of thin air, immediately after the Kennedy assassination, and that story has more perverse twists and logical disconnects than Naked Lunch [book] [movie].

The fact is, Osama bin Laden has nothing at all to do with what the government is really up to in the middle east. He only serves as a focal point to prevent Americans from asking questions that are more dangerous and important. The establishment desperately needed somebody like him—if only for the Five Minute Hate—and the guy had every reason to accept the role that was assigned him because it reinvented him as a hero of legendary proportions to something like a billion and a half Muslims who (not entirely for no reason) see the United States as an oppressor and cheered the images of its collapsing towers on television.

He didn't have to die to get his 27 or 72 virgins, or whatever. He's the equivalent of a rock star, the Mick Jagger of international terrorism.

Scream about it as conservatives may—they can't make a reasoned argument against it—there is sufficient evidence to open inquiries as to whether the Bush regime destroyed the towers, hired someone to do it, or knew that it was going to happen and did nothing to prevent it. I know what buildings look like when they're destroyed from the inside.

And so do you.

Likewise, artificial controversies about what general, with which strategy and tactics, and against whom they ought to be applied, are irrelevant and distracting. It's exactly like what I've observed about the War Between the States: scholars and hobbyists concentrate on the smallest details of this battle or that battle, but fail to ask the really important questions about why the war was fought, and on whose behalf.

Clue: Grenville Dodge, in the parlor, with a money clip.

The reasons why this government has done what it's done—and has failed to do what it ought to do—are no great secret. It's all about oil. It doesn't matter that the majority of the 9/11 hijackers carried Saudi passports. This government and the corporations that own it don't dare antagonize Saudi Arabia, no matter what crimes they may commit, because the Saudis are the world's largest producers and exporters of oil, and we get a significant portion of our oil from them.

Iraq, on the other hand, sits atop what has been called the world's second largest pool of oil, which was controlled by a dictator who was increasingly hostile toward the west despite the fact (or possibly because of it) that we installed him as dictator in the first place.

Incidentally, the next time some war-mongering wise-ass tries to tell you that one reason we're in the middle east is to enhance the civil rights and social equality of women, remind them that we very enthusiastically destroyed the most secular country over there, where women could dress as they liked, have good jobs, be literate, and vote.

Purely by coincidence (of course) Afghanistan lies on the route of a central Asian pipeline western companies and their pet governments dreamed of building decades before the current unpleasantness. The decentralized, independent regime in that country—those who beat the Russians twice, the British, even Alexander the Great, wouldn't have been able to prevent tribesmen from damaging such a pipeline, to extract protection money or simply obtain oil for themselves. It had to be replaced with a government that was Big Oil's wholly-owned subsidiary.

There were other beneficiaries, of course, other birds that could be killed with one stone. Foremost among them is the Israeli police state. Some investigators even believe the towers were brought down by Mossad.

In any case September 11, 2001 provided the perfect excuse for anything.

Which is why, whenever you hear about the only rational, ethical, effective action people of a free country can take against crimes like 9/11, you hear conservatives and neocons scream hysterically against it.

The action?

You must understand that terrorists, although they may ultimately derive their financial resources or other assets from a government or governments, are theoretically stateless themselves—they're rather like international corporations, in their way—because they reject the idea of a state, they don't wish to be controlled by a state, they have had their state taken away from them or destroyed, they have been denied a chance to create a state of their own, or they were created to provide some government somewhere with what's called "credible deniability".

When individuals not affiliated with a national government commit violent acts, they are—and ought to be dealt with as—criminals, nothing more and certainly nothing less. Rather than indiscriminately destroy entire nations full of innocent people in retaliation for the criminal behavior of a few, guilty individuals should be pursued and either killed, or captured, tried, and on conviction, appropriately punished.

As reluctant as I am to rely on government for anything, I believe that, for now, a very small team of experts in both investigation and combat should be assembled under the aegis of the U.S. Marshal's office (established by George Washington himself, in 1789), to pursue individual criminals of this type when their violent acts involve more than one state (as 9/11 did) or the suspects have fled the United States. They could also act as consultants to local peace keeping authorities.

I have more detailed ideas on this proposal that might be discussed later.

At the same time, a reward should be offered for the apprehension of such criminals that is actually effective. If those around Osama won't betray him for a million dollars, then make it ten million or a hundred million or a billion. Or forget dollars and make the offer in gold.

Compared to what the United States and its allies have squandered so far, in declining dollars, human lives, and precious individual liberty, a system like this is so cheap that it defies adequate description. Yet, if you describe what happened on 9/11 as a criminal act, suggest that it should be dealt with as a police problem rather than an act of war, or suggest that we should offer bounties to get at the guilty parties, conservatives will scream and tear their faces off.

In reply, I can only ask, if a rational system like this had been in place on 9/11, if we had managed to avoid this Ninth or Tenth Crusade or whatever it is, how many lives, Iraqi, Afghani, American, British, others—how many hundreds of thousands—might have been saved?

And which of them might have discovered a star drive or a cure for cancer?

[See also: 1984 [book] [movie] —Editor]

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Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


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