The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.


I think Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan's work is incredibly important and groundbreaking, so I fully support their campaign for Verso and the London Review of Books to recognize their work was plagiarized.

Until recently, the purpose of the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq seemed hardly in doubt. Thinkers on both the right and the left tended to agree that these invasions were meant to stabilize the Middle East and ascertain the free flow of cheap oil. Events on the ground now suggest that this purpose has failed. The region appears to be growing more unstable by the day. The threat of unconventional weapons, instead of abating, seems to increase. And the price of oil is anything but cheap. It is very expensive and it keeps rising. Most experts explain these adverse developments by invoking the "mistake theory" of history. It is Barbara Tuchman's March of Folly all over again. The Bush administration, goes the argument, failed to understand the intricate realities of the Middle East and the broader ramifications of unilateral action. It overestimated its own military prowess and underestimated that of its opponents. It adopted the wrong strategy and used misguided tactics. No wonder it failed. But has it really failed? Over the past year, some observers have begun to question this conventional creed. Perhaps the invasions were not meant to stabilize the Middle East in the first place? Maybe the intention was exactly the opposite -- that is, to make the region less stable? Perhaps the goal was never to lower the price of oil -- but on the contrary, to make it go up? What groups benefit from a more unstable Middle East? Who stand to gain from a protracted "energy crisis"? To what extent have these groups been involved in instigating and propagating the recent regional bellicosity? These contrarian questions have been raised and answered with much fanfare by a group of radical writers and activists -- Iain Boal, T.J. Clark, Joseph Matthews and Michael Watts -- identified by the collective name "Retort."

In June 2005, Retort published a book titled Afflicted Powers with Verso. A shortened version of the main chapter -- titled "Blood for Oil?" -- was pre-published in the April 21 issue of The London Review of Books. In these works, the authors challenge the conventional wisdom and claim to advance a new explanation for the recent Middle East wars. Much of their explanation -- including both theory and fact -- is plagiarized. It is cut and pasted, almost "as is," from our work.
The primary source is "The Weapondollar-Petrodollar Coalition," a 71-page chapter in our book, The Global Political Economy of Israel (Pluto 2002). The Retort authors also seem inspired, incognito, by our more recent papers, including "It's All About Oil" (2003), "Clash of Civilization, or Capital Accumulation?" (2004), "Beyond Neoliberalism" (2004) and "Dominant Capital and the New Wars" (2004).

In their London Review of Books article, the authors credit us for having coined the term "Weapondollar-Petrodollar Coalition" -- but dismiss our "precise calibration of the oil/war nexus" as "perfunctory." This dismissal does not prevent them from freely appropriating, wholesale fashion, our concepts, ideas and theories -- including, among others, the "era of free flow," the "era of limited flow," "energy conflicts," the "commercialization of arms exports," the "politicization of oil" and the critique of the "scarcity thesis." Nowhere in their article do the authors mention the source of these concepts, ideas and theories; occasionally, they even introduce them with the prefix Our view is. . . . Their treatment of facts is not very different. They freely use (sometimes without understanding) research methods, statistics and data that took us years to conceive, estimate and measure -- again, never mentioning the source. The same dispossession, with some additions and deletions, appears in Afflicted Powers.
Read the rest.

Incidentally, Nitzan and Bichler are signatories to a recent letter to Kofi Annan by the Israeli Committee for a Middle East Free from Atomic, Biological & Chemical Weapons.

Update: More about Verso at the Angry Arab.