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January 9, 2007

Striking Oil


Yes, yes…. everybody is awaiting Bush’s “Forward Ho” speech on Iraq today.  But the recent retooling of the Administration, both at the State Department and in the military, hints at a strategy that is even more wrenching to consider.

Averse to temperance, consider this image — fronting the latest cover of BIDOUN, a hybrid visual arts/politics/culture magazine about the Middle and Near East — as the contents of a collective Administration thought bubble.  (The fact the tool, with its slightly more refined nature, is being wielded more like a blunt force instrument, seems dead-on.)


And while we’re pinning up graphics, what about this one from yesterday’s newswire, buried in all the hubbub of the Bush speech (as well as, yes, something about cruise missile strikes in Somalia).

Are the two visuals actually representations of the same thing as Uncle Sam (in spite of a reinvigorated Congress) launches himself into still hotter water?  …And then, what I’m wondering is, why is it so difficult to keep nuke submarines and foreign oil tankers separate from each other — especially when, according to the U.S. Central Command, the sub was engaged in operations for maritime security.”

(image 1:  Cover. image 2: AFP Graphic.  1/9/07. Via YahooNews)

  • acm

    where’d the second image go??

  • Mad_nVT

    What happened to that image of the sub collision? I saw a space for it on the page here for about 1/10 of a second and then it disappeared.
    Perhaps Uncle Sam removed it from your computer (and my computer) because of security concerns.
    Do you think Uncle Sam is looking at what you see and reading what you write?

  • Darryl Pearce

    …like a drunk who’s already been beat up and tossed out of the bar, the United States stands up and waves a broken bottle shouting, “Who’s next?”
    More heroically, maybe the United States is like the character Dragline in Cool Hand Luke. Dragline is a big, strong lunk with a short-sighted perspective on life and little compunction to assess his philosophy.
    It could be funny, if it all wasn’t so …tragic.

  • KingElvis

    It’s almost amazing that they would again, bite off such a big piece of meat. Attacking Iran could actually get them in hot water with both China and Russia.
    Apparently this attack on Iran wouldn’t have the fig leaf of congressional approval. The chances of the Dem congress approving another ‘pre-emptive’ war is about one in a zillion.
    Oh and the strategy of divide and conquer seems lost on Bush’s megalomaniac vision. Currently the Shia see the US action as empowering them – when they attack Persians, I don’t think you have to think too hard to imagine that they will cast aside their differences.
    These people absolutely worship warships. Consider that many arguing for the Iraq war weren’t so much against Hussein as just for war in general – it’s a cure all for whatever ails ya. Generic beligerence – malice towards all – seems to be their solution to just about everything.

  • zatopa

    Do we know anything about the origins of the Uncle Sam image? It looks like something from a WW2 era poster (and we’ve seen plenty of those repurposed throughout the Iraq war). I can’t get BIDOUN here except by mail, and I can’t make out the inscription at the bottom right of the painting. It would be interesting to see the painting in its original context. It is hard for me to imagine any poster text that would plausibly frame this Uncle Sam as rolling up his sleeves to go work on a tank, for example, or an assembly line. He’s pretty darned menacing for a guy with white hair.
    Wasn’t there a time when people looked back at WW2 propaganda posters with something like irony? With at least a little laughter that our government could ever have wanted it citizens to see themselves, as a nation, in this light? And maybe a little relief that those days seemed so far behind?

  • gasho

    Instead of congress taking a “symbolic vote” on this escalation of Bush’s, I think they need to pass a resolution clarifying what it meant when they gave the green light for war in the first place.
    Congress immediately needs to:
    A) State that the country was duped, systematically, into supporting “the war”. Investigate pre-war intelligence and it’s manipulation. The Office of Special Plans, etc.
    B) Re-framing it as the “war on terror” made the mission and the ‘enemy’ ambiguous and the fight perpetual. We’ve seen through this cloudy word game by now – It needs to be specifically revoked.
    C) Clarifying that the war powers were given as a response to 9/11 [even though it was an inside job - but that's going to take a long time to become exposed] in order to bring Osama Bin Laden and his organization to Justice – not to start a war with every country on PNAC’s wishlist.
    D) Make very clear that commiting combat troops or firing missles or dropping bombs on any additional countries will REQUIRE a new, specific resolution from Congress. Come on – the blank check has been cashed – don’t let him keep cashing photocopies of it !!!

  • gasho

    Oh, and
    D ) IMPEACH Bush for starting an Illegal war in the first place. Dropping chemical weapons on a population he says he is “liberating” is a war crime. Torture is a war crime. etc. etc.

  • tina

    With that nose and those black bushy eyebrows and that little wispy beard, Uncle Sam looks just exactly like an old maulana I met who runs a madrassah in Pakistan. He looked at the world with that same expression on his face, too. That poster could be his portrait. Funny.
    Change Uncle Sam’s clothes and you’d have an Islamic radical. Hmmmmm.
    What could that mean? Think, think, think……

  • Megan

    Oh! When the top picture came up I saw a stroke victim, with the strong side curled protectively around the weak, dragging arm and leg.

  • Dr. William Dyer

    You know there is a very small but significant part of this picture that I locked onto quickly. The weapon is firmly in the right hand and being cocked for use, while the left hand is freeing the right for action by rolling back the sleeve and getting things out of the way. In terms of how U.S policy has gone, this is pretty accurate.
    The Right of the US government has great difficulty envisioning a problem that the proper application of violence is the not the best solution. All the while the Left in the US government has not do much more lately then clear the path to such actions. For sure, the situation is getting to the point were many identified as the Left within the US government are re-assessing Iraq as well as the possibility of future violence directed at Iran.
    But as much as it looks like opening up hostilities on Iran seems unlikely, such things really can’t be ruled out given past actions. In reality there has been no one who has come forward and proposed something like re-establishing formal diplomatic ties between the two countries as part of as way forward. This image of Uncle Sam is timeless for a reason, there are not too many hostilities the government has been unable to rally Americans to take part in for at least some short time.

  • Guy

    Compare are contrast with this beauty from a few years back:
    Bidoun’s version is… suspiciously derivative, no?

  • ummabdulla

    I can’t see the bottom picture either, but at first glance, the top picture reminded me of Saddam. Is it the eyes and eyebrows, or the hair (like his when they captured him)? Or is it just that I’ve seen so many pictures of him recently?
    After all, Saddam did run a long, bloody war against Iran. And Uncle Sam (in the person of Donald Rumsfeld, for one) and the Arabs were right behind him, happy that he was keeping the Iranians at bay.
    I’ve never heard of Bidoun magazine before. It’s all in English? So who’s the audience? It says it cooperates with the ARTA Foundation, but I can’t find any real information about that foundation in a Google search.

  • tina

    Ummabdulla, I am also very curious about the magazine and I have never heard of it either. What is ARTA, a conservative think tank?
    And the second picture appears to be down.

  • zatopa

    Bidoun is magazine of contemporary art and culture from the Middle East; their editors are based in Cairo, Dubai, Beirut, and New York. It’s hard to find in print, but well worth the ten bucks per issue to order via mail. Great writing, well-designed, not without its irritating moments … but what outstanding publication, or, say, blog, is without such moments? Despite the much-blathered-about globalization of the biennialled-out art world, it is not easy to find documentation of what’s going on in that part of the world, art-wise. I haven’t seen anything else like it (and if anyone else has, do please enlighten us!)

  • Rafael

    Let see if I can answer theBag question:
    “The strait at its narrowest is 21 miles wide [1], having two 1-mile-wide channels for marine traffic separated by a 2-mile-wide buffer zone [2], and is the only sea passage to the open ocean for large areas of the petroleum exporting Persian Gulf States. Some 20 percent of the world’s oil supply passes through the strait every day.[3]. This is roughly 25 percent of the world’s daily oil production. [4]”
    Which makes it a vary narrow point. In military parlance it is called a Choke Point:
    “In military strategy, a choke point is a geographical feature (such as a valley or defile) which forces an army to go into a narrower formation (greatly decreasing combat power) in order to pass through it. A choke point would allow a numerically inferior army to successfully fend off a larger army since the attacker would not be able to bring his superior numbers to bear.”

  • gmoke

    The history of the Uncle Sam image is interesting. James Montgomery Flagg is probably the most famous illustrator of the image. His WWI recruiting poster featuring Uncle Sam is a classic and he himself used to dress up as Uncle Sam from time to time. The illustration shown is a Flagg drawing repurposed.
    Uncle Sam even became a comic book character and there is currently a DC comic book featuring him and the team he fought with during WWII. In 2000, the great comic book artist Alex Ross illustrated a graphic novel about Uncle Sam which was quite startling and prophetic in its depiction of the character. Written by Steve Darnell, it was a meditation on the meaning of patriotism. Very dark and disturbing.
    PS: I did a series of diaries on dailykos on my favorite WWII posters. The honesty and forthrightness of many of these striking images contrasts strongly with the images and messages today. The last, with links to all the previous entries, is at

  • margaret

    Rapahel, you bring p a very important point, about the definition of a Choke Point in reference to the Straits:
    “In military strategy, a choke point is a geographical feature (such as a valley or defile) which forces an army to go into a narrower formation (greatly decreasing combat power) in order to pass through it. A choke point would allow a numerically inferior army to successfully fend off a larger army since the attacker would not be able to bring his superior numbers to bear.”
    With all the water traffic going through that region, it is not unusual that accidents would happen, especially with submerged submarines and extremely large tankers which dwarf subs. The sad fact aside from all that is that any naval commander who has such an accident can kiss his career goodbye. It’s a real no-no.
    It means, also that we are vulnerable to Iran which has ships in the area, as well. Not reading any article in the magazine, but looking at the image of Uncle Sam, I think we are treading dangerous waters, pun intended, by provoking Iran.

  • PTate in FR

    It seems to me that we have discussed Uncle Sam on these threads before. According to wikipedia, the name, Uncle Sam, can be traced back to the War of 1812, and, while the familiar poster of “uncle Sam wants you” dates to 1917, images of Uncle Sam appeared as early as 1852. An interesting variant is the clean-shaven Brother Jonathan, of whom I had never heard before. Here is brother Jonathan in 1862.
    I find both of these interesting because of the “family” relationships suggested by the name. I doubt that “uncle” or “brother” would emerge as “personification” of modern multicultural America’s relationship to the world. Perhaps a modern image would be corporate: “McAmerica” or Bushco.
    What struck me about this image from the middle East, however, was that that Uncle Sam, though brawny & muscular, was drawn using classic anti-semitic imagery: the hooked nose, the eyebrows, the twisted body. For example, check out this anti-semitic poster from Germany, c1938–the caricature in the upper right corner in particular. Or consider portrayals of Shylock dating from before WW2. So, to this artist, Uncle Sam is a Jew.
    This image seems to me to be further evidence that the Arab world regards the US as not just thugs, but pawns of Israel. That lens will view all attempts in the US to “stablize and protect US interests” in the region–for example, in Somalia–as assaults on Islam. It also suggests that the approach to the mid-east threat is to reduce our dependence on the ME for oil AND deal with Israel.
    gmoke–thanks for the excellent collection of WW2 posters. It was fascinating to see the level of federal commitment to conserving resources (food, oil) at that time. Such a contrast to today.

  • PTate in FR

    oaky, cleaning up and explaining links: Here is the wikipedia link to brother jonathan.
    The link to the image of Brother Jonathan from 1862 is at the very right and labeled Brother Jonathan.
    To illustrate my point about Shylock, I wanted to show you the closeup of Beerbohm Tree as Shylock, about four rows down.

  • ummabdulla

    PTate, that’s an interesting point about Uncle Sam looking Semitic, and this being “further evidence that the Arab world regards the US as not just thugs, but pawns of Israel”.
    I think that the Arab world (and much of the rest of the world, too) does regard the US as acting like a pawn of Israel. But I’m not so sure about this Uncle Sam being portrayed as Jewish. Semitic maybe, because Semitic refers to Arabs as well as Middle Eastern Jews. (Tina thought he looked like a Pakistani she’d known, and I thought he looked like Saddam – so that’s covering a lot of ground!)
    I was looking for images of Uncle Sam to see how different his face usually is from this one, and it’s hard to tell, because he’s always shown from the front, but his nose does seem long and sharp. But the nose and eyebrows could just as easily be non-Jewish Middle Eastern, so if the artist is Middle Eastern, that might not mean much.
    The other thing PTate mentioned was the twisted body. I don’t know about that… I’d have to see more evidence that this represents Jews.
    When I was looking for other Uncle Sam images, I came across this image of Uncle Sam rolling his sleeves up to fight the Communists, which is VERY similar to the one posted here. The Bidoun image leaves out the trademark hat, though.

  • Nell

    The graphic might have disappeared, but the story has not. Here’s a link to the Navy blaming the tanker, saying that its speed pulled the sub to the surface. Hmmmm.
    Japan wants an investigation. So do I.

  • lowly grunt

    Maybe I’m just too steeped in my own culture to see Uncle Sam beholden to Israel but if Israel holds the reins of Halliburton, then maybe that is true.
    I see the Bush Administration as totally in bed with MONEY and whether that comes from Saudi Arabia or Texas oilfields, that is where their bed lies.
    Unfortunately, citizens of the United States are foreced to lie there, too, even if we told Mr. Bush on November 7th that we are tired of the mess and want to get out of bed.

  • lowly grunt

    Forgot to add:
    Uncle Sam looks like a good ol’ boy to me. Sorta like a crazed Jim Brown (of Harper’s Ferry, WV infamy) or a none too genteel Confederate.

  • KansasKowboy

    Since the new year started I have been very busy. Too busy to delve into the news as deeply as I would like to. I have however noticed, I think, at least two instances of US Submarines running into ships. I know I read the one about the Sub running into the Japanesse vessel. I did not know however that it was an oil tanker and that it was near the Iranian coastline. My guess is that the U.S. submarines in the Persian Gulf are traveling close underneath oil tankers and other large ships to “hide” their presence in those waters. Occassionally coming close enough to bump into the ship they are hiding under. I thought we had better sub drivers than that.

  • PTate in FR

    ummabdulla–thanks for the image find of uncle Sam rolling up his sleeves to fight the Commies, so very similiar! Thanks also for critically considering my assertion: Perhaps I am perceiving anti-semitic elements so ambiguous as to be questionable.
    “Anti-semitism” refers to prejudice against Jews. However, like any racist imagery, “anti-semitic” elements have little to do with actual “semitic” physical features or peoples. Prompted by these discussions on BagnewsNotes, I have been trying to learn more about the techniques of propaganda. One common technique is to distort physical features–body, nose, skin, lips, eyes, hair–and facial expression to the Ugly: bodies are portrayed as twisted, fat or feeble bodies instead of strong, healthy; noses as big, hooked or bulbous; skin has facial warts, wrinkles, and blotches; lips & mouths are thick or misshapen. Basically anything that conveys beauty, youth, suppleness, integrity, strength is twisted into its opposite. And this seems to be regardless of what group is being dehumanized through caricature: women, Jews, Africans, the aged, Asians, Europeans, liberals/conservatives or whatever. Those we hate we represent as ugly.
    In racist imagery, anti-semitic elements are hooked noses, arched eyebrows, thick lips, leering expressions, unkempt hair or baldness, & hunched bodies specifically.
    This image of Thug Uncle Sam is unusual because the body is strong and muscular.

  • PTate in FR

    lowly grunt: “Maybe I’m just too steeped in my own culture to see Uncle Sam beholden to Israel but if Israel holds the reins of Halliburton, then maybe that is true.”
    Your culture is Muslim? The image is drawn from the point of view of the Middle Eastern/Muslim culture. It is how they view America, not how Americans view themselves.
    If Americans did perceive how the establishment of Israel has festered in the ME and the influence that has had on Islamic terrorism, perhaps we would not be losing the WOT. Today it is hard to imagine the arrogance and Euro-centrism that influenced international policy in 1948 when Israel was established. Based on the authority of Judeo-Christian scripture (and the horror of the Holocaust), an existing nation and its people were eliminated.

  • zatopa

    PTate, thanks for the historical briefing. Once I followed the links and looked over some of Flagg’s Uncle Sam work (prolific guy!), that signature sure started to look like Flagg’s to me.
    And, guess what, like everything else, Corbis has the original.
    The Japs were originally next.

  • tina

    Zatopa–thanks for that link. Very nice.
    Ummabdulla is right–about the most we can say about Uncle Sam’s face is that it is not very WASP. So we naturally ask, why isn’t it (Think of other images from this era, to see the contrast)?
    Personally, I think the artist was striving for an eagle-eyed or hawk-eyed image, a strong forceful glare under thunderous brows, deeply tanned and very muscular. A wrench clutched in the fist.
    In short, the picture is meant to be deeply threatening and disturbing. So are anti-semitic images, caricatures of Arabs, and other negative portraits of the Other. That’s what they have in common: a threat (fear is supposed to drive our hatred). Only this time we are not being threatened, rather we are doing it, so we are supposed to see this ferocious looking man in a positive light.
    That’s why I pointed out that all you would have to do is change the clothes and Uncle Sam would be transformed and would easily pass as a person from another group, including the very one he is threatening. This is why propaganda is vile, manipulative and dishonest no matter whose it is or what it espouses.
    Bear in mind this picture was not designed to threaten people from the region in which we are now fighting, but rather the Japanese. I wonder how different Uncle Sam would look if he were drawn getting ready to bash “the ragheads”? Would a change of appearance be called for? Just wondering.

  • ummabdulla

    Thanks, zatopa. That’s very interesting… Here’s another version.
    Apparently, J.M. Flagg used himself as the model for Uncle Sam. Here’s a photo of him, and here’s the way he drew himself.

  • PTate in FR

    Well, I’m speechless. This is an amazing thread, and I tip my hat to all of you!
    So the image is plagarized from US WW2 propaganda!!! And it was drawn by J. M. Flagg himself! And JM Flagg used himself as the model. And we can see how JM Flagg, with his WASP face, drew himself and caricatured himself.
    Perhaps we don’t see these faces as WASP because our modern image of the WASP is so corrupted by the pretty people in Ralph Lauren ads?
    All I have left to contribute is the interesting factoid that Civil War General, WASP William T Sherman, was regarded by the Europeans as having the quintessential American face–conveying the simplicity and rustic authority of a democratic government.
    So, now that we have figured all of this out, what do we make of the Bidoun cover? WW3 propaganda?

  • PTate in FR

    Jeeze, me and links today. Apologies for the Dutch link! I thought I had changed that link to THIS.

  • ummabdulla

    gmoke, thanks for those WWII posters. It’s fascinating to see the difference between then and now. After 9/11, Americans were asked to show their patriotism by going shopping, weren’t they?

  • tina

    Ummabdulla, Americans were asked to show their patriotism by going shopping just before Christmas of this last year, 2006, as well. Bush has said this more than once.
    The American economic engine is being almost wholly driven by the suburban lifestyle and its accessories and furnishings. Take that away and there is nothing. They are desperate to keep consumer spending high, it is the only economic indicator that matters any more. The trouble is, where are people supposed to work any more to get a lot of money to spend?
    I don’t expect this to last forever, and I feel the change will be wrenching. We are squandering our chance to prepare a softer landing through diversifying our economy and protecting mining, farming, and manufacturing.

  • John Callender

    Yeah, that’s one of my favorite WWII propaganda posters. My buddy Matt did a mashup of that very one a few years ago, Photoshopping Rumsfeld’s head onto Uncle Sam’s body. Turned out pretty nice. See: Syria, you’re next!

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