New Book Spells out Links between Oil, Global Politics

By Walker, Tom | THE JOURNAL RECORD, January 5, 1991 | Go to article overview

New Book Spells out Links between Oil, Global Politics


Walker, Tom, THE JOURNAL RECORD


By Tom Walker Cox News Service ATLANTA - President Bush may protest that Saddam Hussein's naked aggression, not oil, is responsible for the Persian Gulf crisis, but energy expert and author Daniel Yergin disagrees.

``People don't go to war over computer chips and shopping centers,'' he said.

For Iraq, the prize of successfully annexing oil-rich Kuwait was simply too great to ignore: Iraq would become the world's leading oil power. But the stakes of letting Iraq get away with it were also too great for the rest of the world to accept, as Saddam had expected, Yergin said.

That's why the United States and other countries banded together to do, through the United Nations, what the West failed to do in the 1930s when Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland and Mussolini assaulted Ethiopia, Yergin says in ``The Prize,'' his new history of the oil industry (Simon & Schuster, $24.95).

The book's theme is summarized in its subtitle: ``The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power.'' Adds the author: ``At the end of the 20th century, oil was still central to security, prosperity and the very nature of civilization.''

Social revolution - How oil got that way is the book's comprehensive (almost 800 pages) story. Oil started mainly as a source of light, with gasoline an unwanted byproduct. Its future seemed threatened by the electric light. Then, at the end of the 19th century, along came the automobile and the birth of a fundamental shift in global culture based on petroleum energy.

The book documents the intimate links between oil and politics that have existed almost from the start of petroleum's relatively short history - barely 130 years have passed since ``Colonel'' Drake drilled the first oil well in Titusville, Pa.

In that context, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait is just the latest in a long series of ``surprises and ironies'' - the sixth post-World War II crisis - writes Yergin, 43, who left Harvard University's hallowed halls almost 10 years ago to found Cambridge Energy Research Associates, an energy consulting firm.

The timely book, seven years in the making, was completed just two months before Saddam's Iraqi trkops flooded into neighboring Kuwait on Aug. 2, Yergin explained in an interview from his Cambridge, Mass., office.

While the manuscript was completed prior to the Iraqi invasion, his research pointed toward an eventual crisis of some kind in the Middle East. …

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