I want to offer some thoughts about the BP oil spill and also look at some historical events, and then ask some questions that are important for us to consider as we look at the continuing crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.
We know that there are natural causes behind the blow out of BPs Deepwater Horizon well. But apart from human error, mechanical failure and the complexity of trying to cap a well locate done mile beneath the surface of the ocean, could there be other causative factors that don’t have their origin in drilling rigs or oil company policy? More succinctly, could there be spiritual causes, or, as Hosea said about Israel, could BP have sown to the wind and now be reaping a whirlwind? (Hosea 8:7)
The idea of sowing and reaping is very familiar to us as believers. Throughout the Word of God we are admonished and instructed that the quality of the seed will determine what kind of harvest is produced. The seed is the core act or the key philosophy and motivation of actions, while the harvest is the intended (or unintended) consequences of what is produced in the long run. The sacrifice of Christ was so extensive and the seed – the life of Christ – so pure, that He has reaped and is yet reaping many sons who are coming unto glory. Likewise, if we sow to please our sinful nature, then from that nature we will reap destruction (Galatians 6:8).
The principle functions in both a productive / investment context and also as inevitable payback for wrong. So in order to see what “the seed” of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico might be, we have to look back in history and examine events in light of Kingdom ethics and principles.
Anglo Iranian Oil Company
Iran has massive oil reserves and is located directly south of what used to be the Soviet Union, making it strategic to United States interests on both an economic and political level throughout the 20th century. The British had a dominant presence in the region through their colonial expansion, and they had forged a relationship with Iran which allowed them to extract oil under the auspices of the AIOC – the Anglo Iranian Oil Company. In 1901, William Knox D'Arcy, a millionaire London socialite, negotiated an oil concession with the Shah Mozzafar al-Din Shah Qajar of Persia, who was short of cash. The Shah lived well beyond his means and he had extravagant personal expenses that the national treasury could not pay, so he financed his lifestyle with loans to Iran from the UK and Russia – two powerful nations who wanted his nation’s resources.
The Shah didn’t negotiate very well; he gave D’Arcy exclusive rights to prospect for oil for 60 years in a vast tract of territory including most of Iran. In exchange, the Shah received the mere pittance (even for that time) of £20,000. He also received some shares of D'Arcy's company, and a promise of 16% of future profits. The English company found oil in Iran, a nation that has since proven to possess the 3rd largest oil reserves in the world.
By 1950 the AIOC had built the largest oil refinery in the world at Abadan, just upriver from the Persian Gulf. The company controlled all of the oil in Iran despite repeated attempts by Iran’s leaders to renegotiate the original terms. The Iranians suspected that the profits were highly understated to reduce AIOC’s obligation to Iran, and they had been unable to negotiate new accounting practices that ensured they would receive their full share of the profits. The British government made more in taxes from AIOC profits than Iran did in royalties from the oil drilled from their own reserves, a position the Iranians found more and more difficult to accept. Wages for the laborers at the oil wells and the refinery were very low at .50 cents per day. Refinery workers lived in a shantytown without running water or electricity.
Mohammed Mossadegh & Nationalization
Mohammed Mossadegh was elected Prime Minister by the parliament of Iran in 1951; he was a secularist who argued vigorously for Iranian nationalism. He was educated in Switzerland and France as a lawyer, and his graduate thesis argued in favor of fully secularizing the legal system in Iran and that is the platform he was most aggressively in support of. He opposed military alliances with the Great Powers, and he had previously led the 1944-45 opposition to the granting of an oil concession to the Soviet Union. His position concerning the nationalization of the oil industry was clearly stated in a speech in June of 1951:
"Our long years of negotiations with foreign countries…have yielded no results thus far. With the oil revenues we could meet our entire budget and combat poverty, disease, and backwardness among our people. Another important consideration is that by the elimination of the power of the British company, we would also eliminate corruption and intrigue, by means of which the internal affairs of our country have been influenced. Once this tutelage has ceased, Iran will have achieved its economic and political independence. It has been asserted abroad that Iran intends to expel the foreign oil experts from the country and then shut down oil installations. Not only is this allegation absurd; it is utter invention.”
Mossadegh nationalized British owned AIOC, and in response England shutdown the refinery and pulled out their engineers. Production was cut drastically for two years and economic sanctions against Iran nearly starved out the government position, but Mossadegh was resolute even when England formed a military blockade to stop oil tankers from entering or leaving the Persian Gulf. Mossadegh also shut down the British embassy in Tehran and ejected the ambassador. (Pictured left: Mohammed Mossadegh - Prime Minister of Iran. Time’s Man of the Year 1951.)
There were lengthy negotiations between Iran, UK and the US over the nationalization of oil in Iran, but the Iranian Prime Minister stuck to his guns. It was decided to overthrow Mossadegh in a coup and return the country to a pro-Western business / oil point of view by implanting a regime friendly to the West. The coup was a cooperative action by the UK & US governments utilizing MI6 and the CIA, respectively. The Anglo-American alliance was a long standing one and it applied particularly in the area of oil.
In 1944 FDR sat down with Lord Halifax, the British Ambassador to the U.S., and showed him a hand drawn map of the Middle East he had prepared in which he carved up the oil reserves in the region between the Americans and the Brits. FDR figured that America would take the Saudi Arabian oil, Britain could have Iran, and the two countries would share the oil of Iraq and Kuwait (those positions sounds quite familiar in terms of troop deployments in recent wars).
The decision to oust Mossadegh came primarily at the instigation of Winston Churchill, and the U.S. went along for several reasons: a) they were seeking British support of the U.S. action in Korea b) the shutting down of the refinery of Abadan upon Mossadegh’s ejection of the British had cut Iranian oil production; at a time when 40% of the oil in the Middle East was coming from the Iranian refinery, production fell from 666,000 barrels per day in 1950 down to 22,000 in 1957 c) Iran’s geographic location on the Soviet Union’s southern flank made it strategic for the U.S. to have a foothold in the country.
The successful coup was named Operation Ajax by the CIA, and it was planned by Kermit (“Kim”) Roosevelt Jr., grandson of Theodore and chief of the CIA’s Near East and Africa Division. According to Roosevelt, he slipped across the border under his CIA cover as "James Lockridge" on June 19, 1953. He was put up in the capital, Tehran, in a place rented by British intelligence (after leaving the CIA, Roosevelt worked as a Gulf Oil executive and later was a Washington lobbyist for foreign governments). (Pictured left: Kermit (Kim) Roosevelt - CIA Chief of Station.)
The coup involved a multi-faceted undermining of Mossadegh, including: a) launching a propaganda campaign through the press, with handbills distributed by local Islamic clergy who were wary of Mossadegh’s secular tendencies b) U.S. officials made diplomatic statements in the press that ensured Iran was aware that American economic aid would not be forthcoming and generally U.S. support for his regime was non-existent c) $5 million in American cash was delivered within two days of the new administration assuming power so they could make immediate payrolls before the U.S. could provide large scale grant aid, which would have to be pushed through the U.S. Congress.
This substantial influx of CIA money into the Tehran bazaar on the eve of the 1953 coup became known as "Behbehani dollars” after Ayatollah Behbehani, the senior cleric in Tehran. Once Mossadegh realized what was happening he didn’t resist since he didn’t want bloodshed and he believed that the coup was inevitable. The new regime imprisoned him for three years and then put him under house arrest until his death in 1967. The coup placed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi back in power, and U.S. military forces trained the Shah’s oppressive police, the SAVAK. In Foreign Policy magazine, former CIA agent Richard Cottam wrote that “The shah’s defense program, his industrial and economic transactions and his oil policy were all considered by most Iranians to be faithful executions of American instructions.”
The Anglo Iran Oil Company resumed operations at the Abadan refinery; the company was renamed British Petroleumand, in 1998 became BP.
This operation has been documented in a CIA after action report which can be viewed on-line, and the report is interesting to read on several levels. It contains the first use of the word “blowback” in a CIA document, a word which means reaping the unintended consequences of covert action or policy. This part of the report proved to be prophetic, as intense blowback occurred when the Shah of Iran was overthrown and the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was stormed in 1979. U.S. personnel were held hostage for nearly two years and the mullah’s declared Iran to be an Islamic Republic, the ramifications of which are still impacting regional and global developments.
Sowing and Reaping
Beyond the political and natural elements, blowback is simply another word for reaping what has been sown. In this regard there are a number of striking parallels and similarities between Operation Ajax and the BP oil spill, among them:
The fact that it is BP which is spewing oil all over the U.S. I suppose the history of many multi-national corporations could be reviewed to see what type of seeds have been sown in their development – this is just one. There are many oil companies with drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and on the North Shore of Alaska, but it just so happens that it was a BP wellhead which broke and which cannot be capped to date – and it was BP, acting in accord with the Anglo-American alliance, that removed a president and destabilized a country socially, politically and economically.
Both occurrences were in a body of water known as the Gulf. In Iran the Abadan refinery is located near the Persian Gulf, on the delta of the Shatt al Arab (a river that forms the border between Iran and Iraq). It is the terminus of major oil pipelines and is an important oil refining and shipping center. Change the name to Gulf of Mexico and the river to Mississippi and these salient facts describe the location of the BP oil spill nearly perfectly.
Sowing was filled with intrigue and covert action by government agencies, reaping is occurring on an international stage with the eyes of the world on the gulf oil spill. Few knew what happened in Iran in 1953, the report was classified for decades. As an American I had no idea until a few years ago (although many Iranians would have known – it is a historical offense in the nation, where it is known as the 28 Mordad coup de etat based on the Iranian calendar). But now the oil in the Gulf of Mexico is being played out by the international media on the world stage, to the point that video can be accessed that shows the blown out well gushing oil one mile beneath the sea – even the hidden things are open to anyone who wishes to look:
For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. 3 Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops (Luke12:2-3).
The sowing in Iran focused on the use of any means to extract oil for massive profit; reaping in the Gulf of Mexico is using every means but still being unable to stop the oil while money is being hemorrhaged. Calculating the spill to date varies based on estimates, but it is probably between 1.9 million to 3.5 million barrels, or about 80 million to 150 million gallons since the rig exploded on April 20 (by contrast, the Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska in 1989 released an estimated 10.8 million gallons of oil). The oil is spilling out at the rate of one Exxon Valdez every 4 days…for the last 2+ months. Is the glut of oil fouling the Gulf of Mexico the moral equivalent of Israel’s quest for meat in the wilderness, and God granting it to them until it ran out their nostrils and killed them? (Numbers 11:18-20, 33)
The alliance of political will between the U.S. and the U.K. has turned to adversarial views about the oil spill. In 1953 Winston Churchill then prime minister and his foreign affairs minister conspired with Dwight Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers about how to reassert BPs extraction of oil from Iran. The two governments agreed to pool their resources on a joint strategy to get access to the oil in Iran. However, the two governments are now having adversarial discussions; David Cameron expressed concern to Barack Obama at the recent G-20 meeting about the negative views of Americans towards BP because of the oil spill. It is yet to be seen if the political destabilization sown in Iran via the coup of Mossadegh will produce a reaping in the same realm in the political systems of the U.S. & the U.K.
The greatest reaping of the Gulf oil spill is the devastating economic impact in a time when the nation is trying to emerge from recession.
✦ In Louisiana, seafood and tourism generate $2.4 billion a year and $8.3 billion, respectively – both of which are nearly eliminated in the immediate.
✦ In May, Nathaniel Karp, chief economist for the Alabama bank BBVA Compass, projected eventual losses for the four gulf states at $4.3 billion, including $191 million in losses to Alabama. In June he raised that projection to $11.5 billion.
✦ If the oil continues to wash up on more of Florida’s beaches it will drastically impact tourism, the state’s largest industry which generates about $60 billion a year; the Gulf Coast counties alone stand to lose $11 billion and 200,000 jobs if visitor numbers decline 50 percent.
The economic impact extends far beyond the immediate gulf states however. Just as BP and the oil companies (and their shareholders and respective governments) were enriched through the exploitation of Iranian oil, the same parties are now paying dearly for the spill. The price of BP stock has plummeted by more than 50 percent since the April 20 blowout, from just over $60 a share to below $30.
The proportion of ownership of BP stock in 2010 – those taking the primary financial hit – is the same as those enriched by Iranian oil in 1953. A consortium of companies was put together to divide up AIOC so that 5 U.S. oil companies each got 8% of the oil extracted from Iran for a total of 40%American ownership. AIOC was allowed to keep 40% also, and the rest was spread over a few other companies in other nations. That is almost exactly the percentages of stock ownership of BP in 2010, so that stockholders and pension funds in both the UK and US are being negatively impacted in almost the precise proportion of how they were enriched 60 years ago. There are mutual funds and pension funds that will be affected on both sides of the Atlantic. The erasure of about $100 billion in BP stock value has translated into big losses for several funds that directly affect the U.S.: a) the California Public Employees’ Retirement system has lost more than $284 million in value b) Nebraska’s retirement fund, for instance, reportedly will lose $1.3 million each quarter that BP suspends its dividend.
Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
The admonition from the Word of God is not to be deceived concerning sowing and reaping. The danger is to disconnect one set of events from the other, or to think that actions have no consequences; that is a state the Bible calls deception. God is not mocked; He does not let avarice and rapaciousness go unpunished. What a man sows, that he will also reap. Understanding this aspect of God’s nature causes us to ask: Are we living in a time of reaping in the earth, a time when “the teeth of the great lions” are being broken by God?
Job 4:8 As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it. 9 At the breath of God they are destroyed; at the blast of his anger they perish. 10 The lions may roar and growl, yet the teeth of the great lions are broken.
If in fact it is a time of reaping that produces crisis and destabilization, what is the response that the Lord requires from us?
Resource List for Further Study
The following can be accessed to learn more about the history and events contained in this article.
1. All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, Stephen Kinzer, (John Wiley & Sons, 2004)
2. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, Daniel Yergin (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1991)
3. Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic, Ervand Abrahamian, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)
4. U.S. Foreign Policy and the Shah: Building a Client State in Iran, Mark J. Gasiorowski (Cornell University Press: 1991).
5.The CIAs after action report on Operation Ajax can be found online @:http://web.payk.net/politics/cia-docs/published/ one-main/main.html