Mar 2006

Blood for oil

Thanks in large part to Oliver Kamm (see previous post) I’ve spent the last few hours thinking about the Iraq war and the various justifications put forward by those in favour of it. My ex-flatmate, Gyrus, and I used to play a game whenever we watched the news… each time a politician or authority figure (police chief, army general, etc.) made a statement; we would imagine that they meant the exact opposite of what they said. The number of times this little thought-experiment would result in the news bulletin making far more sense became really quite frightening.

Anyways, I have no doubt that there are many people out there (for example Jarndyce… see his comment on my last post) who are not “pro-War” per se, but who feel there were valid reasons for us to invade Iraq. Jarndyce’s position (and correct me if I’m wrong on this) is essentially the “humanitarian interventionist” one. In the case of Iraq, the ongoing humanitarian crisis could be attributed to the historical actions of Western imperialist policies (starting with our division of the region into administrative zones / nations that suited us, rather than the people living there; all the way up to our installation and support of undemocratic royal families and dictators). It was our meddling in the region that brought the situation in Iraq to a crisis-point. Therefore we had a moral obligation to set things right. This could never be achieved with Saddam Hussein or his sons in power, and we were the only ones who could remove them.

I fundamentally agree with the assessment that our historical involvement in the region is in no small part to blame for the hardships faced by the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein (even ignoring the issue of economic sanctions). I also agree that this fact does indeed place upon us an “obligation going back decades at least” (to quote Jarndyce). Where I disagree is in the belief that this obligation would best be served by an invasion of the country.

I am also convinced that those who planned and executed the invasion did not have our obligation to the Iraqi people fixed foremost in their mind. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that their only interest in the Iraqi people was ensuring that they didn’t kill so many of them that it became a Public Relations disaster as well as a humanitarian one. To those who call me cynical, I have just two words to say… “cluster bombs”.

No invasion of a country which involves the use of cluster munitions has got the interests of the general populace at heart. And that’s not being simplistic. No matter what the benefits of cluster bombs may be from a military standpoint, if you are planning an operation aimed primarily at the liberation of a people; i.e. one with a large humanitarian component; then the very first thing that gets said at the very first meeting must be “Well, put your heads together folks, we need to find a way of doing this without cluster bombs.” If that isn’t the first decision, then please don’t stink up my air with bullshit about humanitarian intervention. Er, not you Jarndyce… the people who decided that cluster bombs (or even that wonderful neo-napalm they’ve got that’s absolutely not napalm) were OK.

Y’know there was talk – in the interests of accuracy – of renaming “cluster munitions” as “child killers”. Apparently someone in the marketing department of Bombs Inc. vetoed the idea though.

War against change

This war, like so much of what gets done by those in power, happened for exactly the opposite reason than was claimed. It was not carried out to rid Saddam Hussein of WMD. It was not carried out to free the Iraqi people from tyranny and deliver them unto democracy. It was not carried out for any reason that had anything to do with Iraqi people or the Iraqi leadership at all. It was carried out entirely because of Iraqi geology.

In other words, the war that was billed as “bringing change to Iraq” was neither about “bringing change” nor “Iraq”. It was actually about “preventing change in America”. It was a war to ensure free-market (read: US) access to Iraqi oil reserves. A war to keep Americans in their SUVs for an extra half decade or so. A war to maintain the status quo in the last major oil basin on the planet.

Shifting US bases out of Saudi Arabia and into Iraq and Afghanistan is precisely what I would do if I believed the world’s oil reserves needed to be secured by military force. Afghanistan though not itself oil rich, presents a convenient buffer between China (the great military competitor when it comes to oil) and the Gulf States. Also, US bases in Afghanistan have a tactical sphere of influence that includes much of the Central Asian gas fields.

Saudi Arabia will remain pro-American so long as the House of Saud is in power. And pulling US troops out of Saudi was a necessary step towards ensuring that occurs. Pouring them into Iraq on the pretence of self-defence / spreading democracy (hang on a second, weren’t we spreading democracy from bases in non-democratic regimes? How does that work?) was an obvious move. It removes an antagonist from the area, places the troops on top of the second largest oil reserves (but remaining next-door to the largest), while also putting the squeeze on Iran… another antagonist and oil-rich nation.

Is it just me, or is it wildly coincidental that the precise strategic moves that are required to bring Gulf oil almost totally under US military dominance happen to be the same moves that we need to take in order to spread democracy to those poor downtrodden Arabs?

We Western oil consumers are just lucky that way I guess.

And yes, I’m aware that the market economists will jump in and insist that these ideas are fanciful… after all, why seize the oil when we can just buy it? To them, let me point out that this essay is written – as is everything here – based upon my belief that the theory of an imminent or recent peak in global oil production is correct. But perhaps more importantly, I’m not the only one who believes it.

In September 2005, the US Army produced a report entitled Energy Trends and Their Implications for U.S. Army Installations (PDF – 1.2mb). One of their conclusions was “The days of inexpensive, convenient, abundant energy sources are quickly drawing to a close.”

In summary, the outlook for petroleum is not good. This especially applies to conventional oil, which has been the lowest cost resource. Production peaks for non-OPEC conventional oil are at hand; many nations have already past their peak, or are now producing at peak capacity.

The same report points out that “there is no viable substitute for petroleum” on the horizon.

So can it really be a coincidence that the US military (the single largest consumer of global crude oil products) which believes that a time is imminent when energy supplies will need to be secured by means other than economic, just happens to be implementing a policy in the Gulf which appears designed to secure those very reserves by force of occupation; yet is really all about improving the lives of the locals?

All this despite singularly failing to improve the lives of the locals, yet oddly spending a huge amount of time securing the oil infrastructure.

Posted in: Opinion