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books:: OCTOBER 13, 2004

Pulitzer-nominated author investigates ‘Banking on Baghdad’

Edwin Black Appearance Schedule
11 a.m. Discussion and book signing at Way Station Books, 223 S. Washington Ave.
12 p.m. Discussion and Q and A on international law and Iraqi Oil in the 20th Century at Thomas M Cooley Law School.
1:30 p.m. Book discussion with a youth panel for city TV broadcast at the 10th floor of city hall.
4:30 p.m. Can we succeed in Iraq?: book presentation and Q and A session at Peoples Church, East Lansing.
7:00 p.m. Book discussion at the Capitol Area District Library, downtown branch.
By BILL CASTANIER

History repeats itself, repeats itself; especially on the road to Baghdad.

If he could take a 15-second elevator ride with this year’s presidential candidates, New York Times best selling author Edwin Black might give them that message.

In his new book, “Banking on Baghdad,” Black presents a carefully detailed look at the 7000-year history of the region encompassing modern Iraq, tracing its path from cradle of civilization to crucible of conflict.

“The area is a land of endless victims and victimizations, where genocide is a way of life,” Black said in a recent interview before his 40-city book tour, which began this week in New York City. “No amount of tragedy or heartache in 7000 years has stopped Iraq from victimizing others.”

The author will be in Lansing on Thursday, Oct. 21, starting with a discussion of his book and a signing at 11 a. m. at Way Station Books, 223 S. Washington Ave.

According to Black, is the first history of Iraq on a global scale. It primarily covers the past 90 years of the country’s history, in his words “from the boardroom to war room.”

Black has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize five times and is a prolific writer who most recently wrote a book on the export of eugenics from the U.S. to Nazi Germany.

With “Banking on Baghdad,” he is clearly on a mission. He and his researchers dug the saga from more than 50,000 documents in public and private archives on several continents, detailed in nearly 100 pages of footnotes and an index. Only IBM and Halliburton refused access to company archives.

Although the 471-page book was somewhat rushed to print, resulting in some unevenness among its segments, Black’s thesis comes through loud and clear: Baghdad is once again the center of conflict in a war based almost exclusively on commerce, this time petropolitics. “Outsiders have come into the neighborhood and it is a very bad one,” he said.

He also expresses a low opinion of our leaders’ sense of history. He reminds readers that BP (British Petroleum), the French (Chevron) and a litany of others (including Standard Oil, Exxon, Shell, Unocal and Sinclair) were in Iraq for one reason: oil. “We don’t crave the sand,” he said. “We crave the oil.”

In one particularly telling record, he found a quote from Richard Cheney, then CEO of Halliburton: “Occasionally we have to operate in places, where, all things considered, one would not normally choose to go but we go where the business is.”

He said the solution to the dilemma is not a war we can not win, but rather a Manhattan style project that will end our reliance on oil.

He added that during the writing of the book it was always apparent that the history of Iraq could’ve been written “last Thursday,” and he is not off the mark. Any future updates of the book will probably include a mention of last week’s 918-page report by the chief arms inspector of the CIA. The report revealed that top US oil companies and investors, including a man from Birmingham, Mich., made millions of dollars from the Oil for Food relief program.

Black is not an optimist and expects this “Groundhog Day”-style rerun to continue as long as there are industrialists, oil and Iraq. He also knows that Iraqis know more about history than the current “infidel invaders.” In his first chapter, he describes a Dan Brown/Tom Clancy-style confrontation this past year between the soldiers of the legendary Second Battalion led by Lt. Col. Chris Hughes and a mob of zealots protecting a mosque. That segment alone is worth reading and carries the heart and soul of the rest of the book.

It’s still not too late for the candidates to read “Banking on Baghdad.” Black said he will carry the “get out while you can” message to 40 cities in the next seveveral weeks.

Black’s Lansing visit is sponsored by Global Hope Makers, a local group dedicated to a more peaceful democratic global culture.


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