Controlling Asia by installing and enforcing Middle East tyranny

From Tom Stevenson’s May 2019 LRB review of David Wearing’s Angloarabia (2018):

The Middle Eastern Tyrannies Serve to Allow Anglo-America to Control Europe and Asia

Starting in the late 18th century, Britain installed satraps in the Middle East. Installing and working primarily with the Saud family as its proxy, Britain developed these satraps into monarchical family dictatorships serving as a colonial, geographical flying buttress to the British Empire. What the Middle East primarily offers to empire is great supplies of particularly cheap and high-quality oil, which continental Europe and Asia are dependent upon. The Anglo-Americans that installed and enforce the ruling Middle East tyrannies are strategically independent of Middle Eastern oil. By installing and enforcing a proxy tyranny in Middle Eastern countries, the Anglo-America wing of the Atlantic ruling class quietly holds a knife over the  throats of continental Europe and Asia. Relations between Middle East tyrants and the US and UK are secondarily girded with the re-circulation of oil wealth through arms sales, finance, and urban real estate. Moreover, the Middle East ruling class is reproduced through the British military college Sandhurst.

The Costs of Middle Eastern Colonialism

The most terrible, primary cost of of the US and UK maintaining the Middle Eastern  tyrannies is to the 400 million nonelites in the Middle East, from Palestinians to the local population and imported Egyptian and South Asian workers all forbidden democracy, enslaved, surveilled, imprisoned, tortured, and finally, continuously disrupted, traumatized, and dislocated, as the massive US military and the Saudi tyrannies that purchase US, UK, and French arms bombard these populations to maintain absolute control of that region and the leverage it confers over Asia and continental Europe. The Middle Eastern dictatorships draw in fresh supplies of hapless labor from overpopulated Asia and North Africa, which workers are maltreated and soon bombed around the Middle East and North Africa, and onto Europe and the Anglo-American settler states. 11.4 million refugees circulated within the Middle East in 2017, as the global (internally-displaced and cross-regional) refugee population soared in recent years above WWII records to over 65 million disrupted, traumatized, and displaced people (UNHCR 2019).

It is important to understand that these migrant laborers are the wretched unprotected of the Earth. As a recent study by has shown, countries that rely on migrant remittances are more tyrannical rather than less (TBD).

A second cost with far-reaching antidemocratic implications is the reverse control, beyond support, that the Saudi dictators exert over their colonial patrons, as the huge profits of oil secured by the absolute control provided courtesy of the American military sloshes around within the colonial relationship. The Middle Eastern tyrants’ piling wealth is used to prop Anglo-America financially, with anti-democratic results: 1) Chicago darling Monica Prasad tells a sweet, mendacious story of financial innocence, starring Nixon defying the French, taking the dollar off gold, and finding to his “surprise” that the financiers of the world rushed in with cash to support the US as the global financial center. The truth is that financiers had been organizing to deregulate finance from the moment FDR regulated it (Fridell & Hudson 2010), and they accomplished deregulation quickly in Britain (Blyth 2002), which served as global finance’s power base. Defying France wasn’t completely a Nixonian feat of capitalist solidarity and faith, the dollar backed by aught but heroic, immaterial financial speculation. While Nixon was being cut out of power in 1974, US treasury secretary William Simon arranged with the Sauds for the Middle Eastern tyrannies to back the US dollar with their all-too-materially-based oil revenues (Spiro, David. 1999).

Saudi support accomplished a lot, a lot on behalf of finance and military. It enabled the US to continue military expansion, and provided the additional independence to Wall Street-City of London finance it needed to maintain inflation as capital strike and liquidate and privatize the working-class accountable state in the US and UK. Backing the US dollar with Middle East oil permitted the reversal of democratic gains in the US and UK, enabling neoliberalization as the conservatization of liberalism as well as the public-private Nightwatchman State militarization of the US and UK. Swiftly deprived of state institutions supporting working class organization and democratic citizenship, the US and UK working classes were converted from an indirect brake on finance and war into a militarized police force topped by a management class, all with no capacity for independent organization. 2) The Middle Eastern tyrants ostentatiously finance the City of London as a global elite real estate holding, an ever-more gilded hole in which to hoard rents far away from the excluded 99% of humanity. This has become a decadent urban model throughout the world, proliferating not just inequality and inegalitarianism, but housing and transportation poverty as well. 3) When the unregulated Anglo banks were self-aggrandizing, self-deluding, and profligate in the 21st century, it was the Middle Eastern tyrants that bailed them out and allowed them (including Barclays) to avoid economists’ beloved moral hazard reckoning. The Middle Eastern tyrants make Too Big to Fail work. The Middle Eastern tyrants maintain the lack of regulation over Anglo-American finance. The significant secondary costs of Middle East colonialism accrue to core capitalism’s vast smallholding class and to democracy.

Is the Middle Eastern Tyranny Indispensable?

The one flaw of Stevenson’s account is the notion that the primary, humanitarian cost (with its immigration impacts) could be reversed if only the US encouraged Britain’s satraps to behave more kindly. Stevenson lays the blame for this great, rolling imperial disaster squarely on the shoulders of the US, on account of the US’s general barbarism and ignorance. Would that the British could manage everything absolutely, surely they would restore a kinder, gentler colonialism. Though the Anglo ruling class didn’t maintain a kinder, gentler colonialism from the late 18th century up to 1943, when the US joined Britain in bankrolling the Saud’s war on the Gulf, nor up to 1971 when Britain was no longer able to cover the costs of the Gulf military protection racket and transferred the military economy over to the US. Invoking the beloved liberal political-science phantasm of socially-rational state bureaucrats (This may be the sensitive Anglo elite v. US barbarian contrast that liberals and Anglos are imagining as the norm.), perhaps Stevenson has in mind that the UK could finally volunteer to be the benevolent dictator today that it formerly failed to be, and the US fails to be, and that it’s the US that forces the UK to continue to maintain the enabling military support the Gulf States rely on to crush democracy at home and abroad. It seems the British terror of US barbarism is real and not just performative, and yet surveying history as well as contemporary imperial relations (For example, to forestall an Iran-style revolution, “Britain equips and trains the Saudi police force, has military advisors permanently attached to the internal Saudi security forces, and operates a strategic communicaions programme for the Saudi National Guard.”), it is difficult to see how the British offer a positive alternative protection racket, any more than capitalist Russia offers “multipolarity” (distinct from patronage for a handful of political scientists).

Maybe the problem is that the Anglo-American ruling class is too tight. Maybe the recursive jackboot could be eased by splitting the US and UK’s territory in the Middle East, creating a sort of Anglo-American multipolarity. Maybe that’s what a powerful state would do, if it actually valued and pursued humanitarian goals. Both the Obama and Trump administrations suggested publicly that the US has the strategic latitude to cut out the middle man. Presumably if the UK and the Middle Eastern tyrannies attempt to exert too much control over the unholy imperial alliance, the US could roll up its military and, following Nixon, treat directly with the East Asian states, what Stevenson refers to in alarm as “the Asian plot.” Curiously on the affronted Saudis behalf, Stevenson warns US strategists that with climate change, Middle Eastern tyranny affords more precious control over East Asia than ever.

So many questions open up. Does the US need the UK and its colonial satraps as much as they need the US? With this perhaps small or merely-symbolic divergence in UK and US interests in mind, it would be interesting to assess the indispensability of the Middle East tyrannies, within them distinguishing alignments with the US and UK, versus the relative strength of the US’s v. UK’s coercive ties and alliances with China. Certainly, within the British Commonwealth, Canada and Australia have been integrating with China. Why are UK partisans so keen to keep space between the US and China? How do the US and UK interests align with or diverge from China’s interests?

How do US and UK interests diverge from each other, not just in arms sales (The Middle East tyrants are the world’s largest buyer of military equipment, and the US, UK, and France compete with each other to bribe them.), but particularly in finance, as its independence is propped and wagged by the Middle East tyrants? Yes, Saudi oil wealth maintains the US’s war economy, and absolute libertine finance in both Wall Street and the City of London. It helpfully dismantles democracy in both the US and UK. Yet are the Saudi dictators necessary to controlling East Asia, putatively their primary role? The British assure us they are. But can the US exert sufficient control over East Asia in its alliance with the Israeli and Egyptian tyrannies, and by colonial dominance over Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and perhaps Yemen and Iran? (Note: Check out Sunni v. Shi’a alignments.)

A League of Innocent Tyrants

I do not think that the British Empire fell quite as gracefully, in the early 20th century, as is commonly told. The story goes that the expense of WWII was the end of the British Empire, and the transfer of Atlantic ruling class leadership to the US as well as the granting of Indian independence. And it’s true that the locus of power shifted within the Atlantic ruling class family coalition, but did not completely retract from the UK. The Atlantic ruling class is a robust, inbred alliance, and it commands enough of world wealth to grease its internal conflicts. However, together with 20th century financial history, UK-US relations in the Middle East reveal fissures within that robust league of imperialists.

See my brief account UK v. US states and finance from the 1950s – the early 1970s, in “6 Pivotal Class Collective Actions in the US in the Second Half of the 20th Century.” To preserve its power, Britain deregulated finance in the 1950s. This deregulation provided US and global finance extra degrees of tactical freedom and leverage over the US state, including the power to enforce inflation as a form of capital strike. Indicative of solidarity within the UK ruling class and a lack of solidarity between the UK’s rulers and a then-fractured US ruling class, US political leaders did not grasp that the US state had been subordinated to international finance until Nixon was brought down in 1974, a couple years after he inadvertently demonstrated, with state-coordinated price control boards, that (finance-coordinated) capital was manipulating inflation to end US state accountability to the working class (See Blyth 2002: 135-6).

Contrary to much-circulated conservative theorization, inflation was not simply caused by the working class, or even the US’s imperial wars against SE Asians and the OPEC oil embargo (from which the UK was secretly exempted, see Stevenson p. 11). The results of the price-control boards clearly showed that capital was intensifying domestic US inflation, which indicates that capital had heightened coordination and strategic capacity, a capacity typically provided by deregulated finance. With Nixon serving as the publicly-flayed goat of American provincial political miscalculation, the US political class was deeply embarrassed, cowed, and fully chastened for decades, bound to faithfully serve finance and military in exchange for top-manager income and financially-advantageous marriages for their daughters, until the rise of socialists over the last couple of years.

Not only running the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and adding to US inflation panic, the Saudis were right there throughout the 1970s, supporting US imperialism, US and UK de-democratization, and a financial hegemony that turned the City of London and New York City into powerbrokers and international elite real estate enclaves populated inter alia by Middle Eastern tyrants and Russian oligarchs. The Saudis switched from the British currency, pounds sterling, to the US dollar in 1971, when Nixon took the US dollar off the gold standard to defy anti-imperial runs on US gold reserves. Three years later, in 1974, while Nixon was being removed (arguably more for his presumption of state capacity than for his connivance with petty political party crimes revealed by plucky newsmen), in an agreement with the US Treasury Secretary William Simon, the Saudis infused US finance with oil revenues to again back up with material wealth the speculation-backed US dollar (Spiro 1999).




Blyth, Mark. 2002. Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge.

Fridell, Mara and Mark Hudson. 2010. “Financialization, Enabling Policy, and Elite Policy Networks.”

Schenk, Catherine R. 1998. “The Origins of the Eurodollar Market in London: 1955-1963.” Explorations in Economic History 35: 221-238.

Spiro, David. 1999. The Hidden Hand of American Hegemony.

Stevenson, Tom. 2019. “What are we there for?” LRB 11, 9 May.

Wallich, Henry C. 1971. “One chance in a generation: Guideposts for the Commission on
Financial Structure and Regulation.” Journal of Money, Credit and Banking 3(1): 21-30.

Wearing, David. 2018. Angloarabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain. Polity.






Extrapolation from Gordon 2016

Gordon, Robert J. 2016. The Rise and Fall of American Growth. Princeton.

Note: GPT, General Purpose Technology, is the fundamental technology upon which a society is built. For example, Gordon cites both electricity and oil extraction and processing as the GPTs of the 20th century US. GPTs pave paths of technological and social-organizational dependency in which specific trajectories of subsidiary technologies are developed.

1) Kalecki thesis: capitalists fundamentally seek control, in order to secure capital, fungible social power.

a) When they have managed to constrain workers’ human-capacity development, particularly their organizing capacity, capitalist control means deploying workers as expendable, dehumanized machines. In aggregate, this takes away from developing the forces of production.

i) Conservative ideology helps reproduce the capitalist Human Waste economy, as per the slavery, servitude model.

b) Upon a Depression separating capitalist exploitation from labour, social-liberal (pro-worker) policy and institutions and war nationalism combined to promote the collective infrastructure required for rigorous subsidiary tech improvements in the US. This extremely-heightened activity, based on the war-social democracy convergence, formed the basis of the exceptional US Trente Glorieuses growth (Gordon 2016).

Social democracy sustains the worker capacitation required to maintain this tech innovation pressure. But without war nationalism, economic growth from tech innovation is moderated; affronted by worker capacitation, elites petulantly go on strike (See 1970s inflation). Conservatized liberalism dismantles social democratic developmentalist infrastructure in favor of control-prioritizing war nationalism only. Without social democracy, subsidiary tech innovation is constrained and the GPT is petrified; economic growth declines.

c) Because it does not mute working-class feedback, a philosophical-materialist, socialist-backbone society has superior capacity to collectively decide on the GPT (General Purpose Technology) governing subsidiary innovations in tech and organization. Examples of superior GPT intervention capacity: Scandinavian social democracies, Germany, China.

i) Societies that delegate GPT decisions strictly to the market, the global capitalist class, relinquish and have no capacity to guide GPT change. They serve as stupid, senseless global bulwarks against GPT shift, prioritizing predictability, ROI, and rentier capitalism (producing increasingly-absolute ownership rights). Anglo-American capitalism is an island aristocracy-designed machine for constraining and muting (torturing into a ventriloquist’s dummy, per Scarry 1985) a domestic working class in favor of maintaining a global-elite-coordinating GPT regime. Imperialism, colonialism, and the military necessarily grow out of and support this primary solution to exclusionary value accumulation (which is why capitalist marketeers once claimed that capitalism would dispense with this violent outgrowth–They misrepresented the successive outgrowth as an optional tactic in poor taste). In order to secure global elite cooperation with their leadership while disrupting societies globally, these Anglo-American model societies prioritize control over, and effective criminalization of their domestic working class, capacitating them and offering them to global elites strictly as consumers and working-class-targeting police/managers and imperial soldiers. Management, militarization, and finance are the governing economic institutions of these capitalist “core” or “metropole” societies.

Prioritizing control over, and effective criminalization of the domestic pool of workers and their families and communities (smallholders), such a global capitalist-subordinated, militarized nationalist society cannot sustain worker capacitation and does not have the capacity to collectively decide on or intervene in the GPT orientation.

Hence, the Anglo-American societies, for example, are bound to contribute increasingly to climate crisis, surveillance and carceralism, and disruptive imperialism, and dismantle or forgo public infrastructure and assets, policy and technology supporting environmental repair, and public education, libraries, and substantive democratic capacity building.

Maintaining a GPT in defiance of broad, shared human development and welfare ratchets up pressure. The belligerence sustains the aging GPT, by shifting around the mounting structural pressure building against GPT-maintenance, which further requires capitalist hoarding and militarization. Anti-social democratic regional economies most tied to the aging GPT, such as the oil states of Texas, Alberta, and Saudi Arabia, will produce the most militant, and methodically inhumane and destructive opposition to GPT shift.

See also: Erica Benner (Actually-existing Nationalisms) for informed identification of Marx’s arguments around human development, sovereignty, including in relation to economic catch-up, and idealist philosophy and nationalist ideology traditions (as these are embedded in liberal-conservative approaches to uneven development), particularly in The German Ideology, also The Jewish Question, and the Grundrisse.

Arabia & the West: Painful Lessons from Media History

In the solid “The Arab Spring and the West: Seven Lessons from History,” The Guardian‘s Seamus Milne reaches into the British Pathe News Video Archive to recall the oil-dependent fundamentals of West-Middle East Relations.

1) The West never gives up its drive to control the Middle East, whatever the setbacks.

2) Imperial powers can usually be relied on to delude themselves about what Arabs actually think.

3) The Big Powers are old hands at prettifying client regimes to keep the oil flowing.

4) People in the Middle East don’t forget their history – even when the US and Europe (conveniently) does.

5) The West has always presented Arabs who insist on running their own affairs as fanatics.

6) Foreign military intervention in the Middle East brings death, destruction, and divide and rule.

7) Western sponsorship of Palestine’s colonisation is a permanent block on normal relations with the Arab world.

Nuclear USA

Nuclear facilities in the US, courtesy Mother Jones.

Otsuka Norikazu, a Japanese TV newscaster, devoted himself to the national public campaign, “Let’s support North Japan by eating their food,” often eating radioactive food from the north in television broadcasts.

Norikazu was committed to a hospital for acute lymphatic leukemia on November 7, 2011.

Grimly proving once again: Matter over marketing.

Capital Likes It Dirty

In Big Wind Farms Cost More than Small Ones we learn why US capital opposes renewable energy: Green technologies can’t feed monopoly capital like polluting technologies can. And baby, capitalism’s all about capital accumulation; and not so much about happiness after all. Good try, though, Smith et al.


 This good article swiftly explains the US’s premier agro-conservation program. Where the US farm bills once either paid farmers to blanket chemo-monocrop their land from property boundary to property boundary or–as “conservation,” leave their land untended, now the program pays farmers to use ecological approaches to farming.

 Paying for stewardship isn’t cheap — the government spends about $600 million on the conservation program yearly

What this means is that to farm food sustainably is not compatible with the profit model.

Be very clear: Now we spend even more massive public money on subsidizing toxic agroindustry in North America (including direct subsidies, R&D, tax incentives, environmental remediation, addressing the health costs arising from consumption of industrial chemo sub-food, and the bureaucratic and military costs of forcing other countries’ markets open to subsidized North American industrial sub-food), in large part to promote the ideological capitalist illusion that food can and should be subsumed by the profit motive.

If we can understand that ecologically-sound food production is not compatible with the profit model, we can see the path to fighting the huge, expensive public subsidies for toxic agroindustry that corrupt and reduce food–a human need and right–to 1) a source of profit and power-hoarding for toxic agrobusiness like Monsanto, and 2) a commodity weapon for destroying other countries’ peoples’ food production systems.

Since healthy food production isn’t compatible with the profit system, we need to be and should be spending public money on subsidizing food production–for healthy food for us and for clean environments, not for Monsanto executives’ power, environmental destruction, and warfare on other peoples’ capacity to feed themselves.

Looking at public subsidies to ag, the USDA does not promote healthy diets.

Lo-till/no-till is a farming practice that only makes sense with organic agriculture, not with industrial agriculture. According to Rodale’s research, the average net return for organic systems, which rely on no- or low-till practices as an important part of an overall system of pest and soil management, was $558 per acre per year. Conventional no-till corn, which by definition means planting genetically engineered crops and growing them with the assistance of chemicals, brought in just $28 per acre per year (not counting conservation subsidies, of course).

Nuclear Power

I used to research nuclear waste siting. Now I’ve gotten interested in Monbiot’s carbon-based nuclear proliferation.

The BBC’s “Nuclear Power Mapped” feature.

The “Energy Superhighway” conundrum in Germany. Germany tries to convert from nuke to wind power, but the wind is in the north and the power-sucking cities are in the south.

In Kolya Abramsky’s edited volume “Sparking A Worldwide Energy Revolution: Social Struggles in the Transition to a Post-petrol World” (2010, AK Press), a number of the contributors address nuclear energy’s history, impact and prospects for expansion, including chapters on nuclear-fossil industry collusion in the UK & EU, a chapter called “Japan as a Plutonium Superpower” (ouch.), the 2005 US-India nuclear deal, & peak uranium,
and a chapter by Peer Rijk that discusses the extent and whys of the US and global decline of nuclear energy:

Hints you already knew:
1) The $5 billion construction pricetag per reactor (There were 439 units across the world in 2008) is worsened by an automatic tendency for construction costs to balloon a la the defense industry;
2) The long length of time it takes to build reactors (10 – 20+ years) isn’t an advantage over developing clean renewable energy technology;
3) Like defense industry, nuclear reactors require billions of dollars of state subsidy over the whole lifetime of the reactor;
4) The reactors only last 40 years–then it’s another $400 million per reactor for upgrades;
5) Nuclear energy is a “lock-in” technology–because of the massive and continuing sunk costs of nuclear technology, building nuclear reactors has been shown to prevent investment in clean renewable energy and conservation;
6) Nuclear reactors spew really unhealthful radiation when under stress from climate change and other natural disasters endemic to living on a planet;
7) For all human intents and purposes, such radiation doesn’t go away;
8) Because nuclear energy has always been tied up with nuclear weapons proliferation, nuclear reactor proliferation encourages imperial nations to prosecute war on their nuclear-using enemies. Et cetera.

Since 3 Mile Island, 110 orders for nuclear reactors were cancelled in the US alone. At the end of 2008, there were 5 fewer units than at the 2002 peak of 444 nuclear reactors around the world. The current average age for nuclear reactors is 23 years. 117 reactors have been permanently shut down.

The World Information Service on Energy (WISE) will probably have a count of the countries that have abandoned nukes or put a halt to reactors. They have PDFs of their “Nuclear Monitor” newsletter.

European technocrats reject wind power.

defense industry in the Middle East

Modified from:

Sidestepping Sanctions
While the Bush administration looks the other way, U.S. companies are dodging laws that bar them from doing business with nations accused of sponsoring terrorism.
By Michael Scherer
July/August 2003 Issue
Mother Jones

In April 2003, as American tanks approached the outskirts of Baghdad, Pentagon officials suggested that only U.S. companies would be allowed to take part in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq’s oil fields. In strategic leaks to the press, the Defense Department offered a rationale for an American-only policy: European firms, they declared, should be excluded because they do business with Iran and other countries that sponsor terrorist organizations and harbor weapons of mass destruction.

What defense officials failed to note, however, is that many U.S. companies routinely find ways to bypass economic sanctions and export regulations that bar American citizens and companies from trading with Iran, North Korea, Libya, and Sudan. Taking advantage of legal loopholes, these corporations simply conduct their business through offshore subsidiaries that employ only foreign citizens. With no Americans on the payroll, the subsidiaries are free to ignore U.S. sanctions against the “axis of evil” and other countries identified by the Bush administration as the primary sponsors of terrorism. Other U.S. firms — including Hewlett-Packard, Kodak, and Procter & Gamble — ship their products to Dubai, where third parties are known to “re-export” goods to Iran.

Says Michael Beck, an expert on sanctions at the University of Georgia, “American companies bypass U.S. export controls by using entities based in other countries.”

In Iran — “the most active state sponsor of terrorism,” according to the State Department — General Electric is providing four hydroelectric generators to expand a dam on the Kurun River through a Canadian subsidiary called GE Hydro and is also supplying pipeline compressors and gas turbines for Iran’s burgeoning oil sector through an Italian unit called Nuovo Pignone. Not far from the Iraqi border, a subsidiary of Halliburton is helping to build a $228 million fertilizer plant, one of the world’s largest. Another Halliburton division based in Sweden is providing the Iranian National Oil Co. with a $226 million semi-submersible drilling rig, while other subsidiaries operate in Libya. A British subsidiary of ConocoPhillips helped Iran survey its Azadegan oil field, and ExxonMobil only recently sold its Sudanese gas subsidiary based in Khartoum.

U.S. companies acknowledge that they routinely use overseas subsidiaries to trade with sanctioned countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. “We have used foreign subsidiaries to sell oil equipment in those regions,” says Scott Amann, a vice president at the oil-service firm Cooper Cameron. “We’re not allowed to have an American company or American operation.”

But while President Bush has drawn a line in the sand with foreign governments, warning them “you are with us or you’re with the terrorists,” he has done little to crack down on U.S. corporations that skirt trade embargoes designed to undercut terrorist organizations.

Previous administrations have been less friendly to sanction dodgers. The Reagan administration pressured subsidiaries of Conoco and Marathon to leave Libya in the 1980s, and in 1995 the Clinton administration persuaded Conoco to abandon an Iranian oil contract arranged through a Dutch subsidiary. “If a government is strongly committed to stopping these kinds of transactions, it can do so,” says Kenneth Rodman, a sanctions expert at Colby College. “There is power that the U.S. is choosing not to use for some reason.”

Instead, the Bush administration has used its power behind the scenes to make it easier for American companies to do business with the very countries it has targeted in the war on terrorism. As CEO of Halliburton, Dick Cheney lobbied to lift U.S. sanctions against Iran and Libya, saying they hurt business and failed to stop terrorism. As vice president, Cheney has initiated a “comprehensive review of sanctions” as part of the National Energy Review, suggesting that sanctions against oil-producing nations should be relaxed to improve “energy security.” Last year the administration supported a bill that would have weakened trade restrictions on high-speed computers and other technology that can be used to develop nuclear weapons, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has delayed issuing rules that would require foreign companies to disclose their business deals in sanctioned countries.

Political capitalists and their lobbyists, such as William Reinsch of the National Foreign Trade Council, which spent $280,000 lobbying against sanctions in 2001, have been lobbying fiercely to further loosen trade barriers. While they obviously would like to make profits off of businesses in the sanctioned countries, their rhetoric is (1) that sanctions against Iran, Libya, Sudan, and other countries limit cultural and economic exchanges that could promote reform; and (2) they say sanctions give unfair advantage to foreign companies not beholden to U.S. law.

Critics ask why major corporations are being allowed to sidestep the law. Sanctions enjoy broad, bipartisan support — the most recent version of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act passed Congress by a vote of 409-6 — and conservative Republicans have been among the most vocal champions of cutting off trade to countries that sponsor terrorist organizations. “By doing business in these countries, you are basically selling the rope that will be used to harm U.S. citizens,” says Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.). “It’s fundamentally immoral to me.”

In April, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called on the Pentagon to investigate Halliburton’s business dealings with Iran and Libya, noting that the company also provides support for American military operations. “I think many people will be surprised to learn that a company receiving millions of taxpayer dollars to support the war on terrorism has had business deals with some of the leading state sponsors of terrorism,” Waxman says. “Congress should determine whether companies are complying with the spirit and the letter of U.S. law.”

At the state level, lawmakers and investors have decided to take action themselves. In January, a bill requiring public pension funds to disclose their dealings with sanctioned countries was introduced in Arizona. A month later, officials who manage pensions for public employees in New York City urged shareholders of General Electric, Halliburton, and ConocoPhillips to pass resolutions requiring the companies to disclose their contracts with Iran and Syria, another “state sponsor of terrorism,” saying such trade deals “violate the spirit of the law.”