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The Bourse Conspiracy

02.23.2006 | POLITICS

For an administration that shrouds itself in the sophomoric secrecy of the Skull and Bones Club, its surprising how its plan to invade Iraq could be read like a book. With Iran though it's got the drapes closed and the shades drawn. In fact, guessing the administration's intentions has become a favorite parlor game the world over.

Is the US serious about making preemptive bombing strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities? Worse, is there any truth to Internet alarms that the US plans to attack sites like the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz with tactical "mini-" nukes?

On the other hand, burned by Iraq, will the US settle for sabotage and commando raids? Or is the administration's saber rattling just psy ops, as some suspect, designed to put the fear of Allah in Iran?

Most of all, why, if Iran is ten years away from a bomb, the urgency? Reaching into its grab bag of rationales -- [Your nation's name here] backed terror, stockpiled WMDs, and/or committed human rights abuses -- does the US seek to seize the reins of yet another state's oil industry?

Or, as was speculated before the Iraq invasion, perhaps the administration's desire to secure an uninterrupted oil supply for the US is secondary to that of securing profits for oil companies. In other words, it's not about the oil, it's about the oil business. As Krassimir Petrov, Ph.D. pointed out on before Iraq, US seizure of its oil fields was unnecessary because we "could simply print dollars for nothing and use them to get all the oil in the world [we need]."

The key word is "dollars." Recall Neocon contempt toward "Old" Europe. Perhaps it masks a fear that, however bedeviled by fanatical Islamists, Europe is beginning to rival us in strength. Though its accumulated military pales beside ours, Europe wields its power via the euro, now almost as almighty as the dollar.

First, however, consider the title of a recent piece of Dr. Petrov's: "The Proposed Iranian Oil Bourse." What in the name of God and Allah is a bourse?

It has a poetic ring: "Emerging from the wood, we burst upon a bluebell-strewn bourse." Though French and melodic, like arbitrage and tranche, it's a business term meaning stock exchange, as in France's Federation Internationale des Bourses de Valeurs. And, like the bomb, Iran wants one.

Dealing oil securities, an Iranian bourse, according to Dr. Petrov, would provide serious competition for New York's NYMEX and London's International Petroleum Exchange (IPE). Its currency of choice, of course, would be the euro.

Revisiting the recent past, prior to our invasion was Iraq too going euro? Indeed, Saddam Hussein had decided to use the euro for his Food for Oil program in November 2000. Lt. Col. (Retired) Karen Kwiatkowski, former Pentagon and NSA staffer maintained this was a prime reason for the US invasion. William Clark, the author of Petrodollar Warfare: Oil, Iraq and the Future of the Dollar, concurred.

In an article on, he wrote: "The Real Reason [sic] for this upcoming war is this administration's goal of preventing further OPEC momentum towards the euro as an oil transaction currency standard." In an "incredibly bold" move, it planned to use the war on terror, he maintained, as a pretext to halt the spread of the euro and undercut OPEC by flooding the market with Iraqi oil to reduce its price.

What difference does it make what currency a state transacts in?

Travel back to America's Depression, when Franklin Roosevelt's response to deficits was to print more money than there was gold to back it up. Stripped of true value, the dollar was condemned to depreciate and the economy left vulnerable to inflation.

According to Petrov, the world needed a reason to acquire the dollar and, in the early seventies, Saudi Arabia provided one, when in exchange for US military protection, it agreed to accept only dollars for oil. The dollar may no longer have been as good as gold, but it was now good as black gold.

"If someone demanded a different payment [for oil]," Dr. Petrov writes, "he had to be convinced, either by political or military pressure, to change his mind." That certain someone (Saddam) was convinced all right -- if not to deal in dollars, to steal all he could before high-tailing it out of his presidential palaces. It didn't take long for President Bush to sign an executive order switching Iraqi oil back to the dollar.

But, petro- or not, the dollar depreciated anyway, thanks to our debt. Nations like China and Japan can scarcely be faulted for seeking to unhitch their wagons from our falling star. Should they choose to switch to euros, their crash landing would be softened by the proposed Iranian bourse.

A former director of the IPE, Chris Cook, actually tried to help Iran set up a bourse, though due to internecine conflicts he was unsuccessful. In an article on Asia Times Online, he discounted US fear of the euro. "It is with wry amusement" that he regards the "genesis of this 'Iran bourse' project [as] a wish to subvert the US dollar by denominating oil pricing in euros."

In a post on, Cook writes that, instead, an Iranian bourse is intended to circumvent what he believes is actually driving up the price of oil: not OPEC, but investment banks and other intermediary parties. He maintains that "Oil markets are -- courtesy of hedge funds -- an accident waiting to happen."

He's echoed by Robert Looney, professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, in an article for the Center for Contemporary Conflict. The notion that the administration throws roadblocks in the way of the euro, Looney writes, is "little more than another web-based conspiracy theory."

He believes that 1. OPEC is unlikely to arrive at the consensus needed to switch currencies; 2. the consequences of devaluing the dollar would be too great for any country to try; and 3. the appreciation of the euro won't last forever.

Besides, according to Looney, if the dollar were dethroned as the world reserve currency, it wouldn't even be that damaging ("around 0.5%") to the US gross domestic product. But his analysis, Clark wrote in an email to this author, "exemplifies the same one-dimensional perspective [as Cook] re petrodollar [and] petroeuro issues."

Returning to his article, should OPEC go euro, Clark wrote, "There'd surely be a run on the banks much like the 1930s." If the world acted in unison and abandoned the dollar -- "America's preeminent, inescapable Achilles Heel," he calls it -- our economy would be devastated.

Cook, however, calls it "merely a transactional issue." What "matters is in what assets... these proceeds are then invested." But Clark writes that by using our own currency to buy oil, we've been immune to "fluctuations of the dollar's valuation relative to other currencies." In his post, he asks, "If oil pricing were merely a 'transactional' issue, why is it that the [EU has] begged Russia to switch to euro-based pricing [in their oil dealing]?"

In his post, Clark also quotes David Spiro, author of the Hidden Hand of American Hegemony: Petrodollar Recycling and International Markets, to the effect that we buy our oil from OPEC in dollars which we print anew while other nations pay for their oil in dollars they had to earn by trading goods and services.

Finally, Clark explains, we don't want the dollar to lose its status as world reserve currency, or sole guarantor of access to the world's most valuable commodity. The Iranian bourse has the potential to create a "de facto bi-polar world from an economic perspective," the last thing an administration hell-bent on hegemony wants.

Trying to prevent oil from being transacted in euros looks more and more like the act of an administration desperate to stall gathering worldwide momentum toward the euro. After all, Russia may be on the verge of pricing its oil in euros.

Meanwhile, in a speech before the House of Representatives on February 15, Texas Congressman Ron Paul gave a crash course on how printing money that's not backed by gold has put us on a collision course with the euro. "Using force," he said, "to compel people to accept money without real value can only work in the short run."

Whether or not it fought to keep the world safe from the euro, the administration is like a husband who can't remember what started his argument with his wife. Amidst all the pretexts for war it used, it may have lost sight of its original motive for intervention. At the end of the day, one can't help but wonder if the administration asserts its hegemony simply because it can.

This article appeared in another form on

About the Author
Russ Wellen is an editor at Freezerbox who specializes in foreign affairs and nuclear deproliferation.
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