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Oil: Too Valuable To Burn

By Stephen E. Fleischman

30 November, 2005

The Shah of Iran, America’s puppet monarch in the good old days before the Iranian revolution of 1979, is reputed to have said, “Oil is too valuable to burn”.

Iran sat on one of the largest pools of oil in the Middle East. It whet the appetites of all the imperial powers still functioning at the time. The nation that had a leg up, of course, was Great Britain. They had the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. After World War II they had converted their coal burning Naval fleet to oil, so they needed plenty of it.

Britain’s major source of oil was threatened after World War II when Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, the only truly democratic leader in Iranian history, was elected Premier in 1951. The first thing he did was to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. This outraged the British but they were too inept to do anything about it, themselves, so they called their ally, the USA, and begged them to get their oil company back for them.

America was eager to help. Serve an ally and maybe serve yourself a piece of the pie. They assigned the job to Kermit Roosevelt, son of Theodore, a big wheel in the newly formed CIA. He masterminded the CIA coupe that got rid of Mossadeq.

Kermit bought off Iranian officials with huge sums of money, organized demonstrations by rival groups provoking conflict and violence in the streets over Mossadeq policy. It took several attempts by Kermit, but he was eventually successful in forcing Mossadeq out. It was the CIA’s first big adventure in covert operations and set the pattern for its modus operandi for years to come.

Kermit re-privatized the oil company for the British and reinstalled the Shah on his Peacock Throne. It was 1953, and there he reigned until 1979 when he was booted again, this time by the Ayatollah Khumeini who also took 44 Americans hostage.

“Oil is too valuable to burn,” said the Shah from exile in Italy. What did he mean by that? When pushed, the Shah elaborated. “There are more important uses for oil than burning it to produce energy, for God’s sake!”

“There’s a limited amount of crude petroleum in the earth,” he said. “Oil is used for making plastics and thousands of other products made by petrochemicals which is oil.” He knew what he was talking about.

“Oil is too valuable to burn,” the Shah reiterated. “When we run out, what will we do? Fight each other for the last drop?”

He got it right again.

War is the greatest despoiler of the environment and depletor of petroleum products. Imagine how much hi-octane aviation gasoline it takes to fly one bomber to drop one bomb on Baghdad, say from a base in Diego Garcia in the Indian ocean; then multiply that by “shock and awe” and take the square root of the thousands of Humvees and Abrams and Sherman tanks and troop carriers that need to be supplied each day times 365 days times 3 years. Any wonder then that the price of gas is three dollars a gallon at the pump and the profits of the oil companies have gone through the roof!

And with China getting into the act, promising its people a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage, what is a little nation like the USA to do?

Where is Mossadeq now that we really need him?

Stephen E. Fleischman's ([email protected]) career as a writer-director-producer spans more than three decades, twenty years with ABC News, ten years with CBS News, starting in 1953. In 1959, he participated in the formation of the renowned Murrow-Friendly "CBS Reports" series. In 1983, Fleischman won the prestigious Columbia University-Dupont Television Journalism Award. In 2004, he wrote his memoir about his thirty years in Network News -









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