tag: Iraq

Apr 2017

Slayer Fest ’17

Am I the only one who experiences an involuntary shudder when I try to picture the activities of a wealthy hunting-party in modern Iraq?

Perhaps I’m being cynical, but a hunting expedition in a country in the grip of an active armed insurrection — arguably in a state of civil war — seems like precisely the sort of trip you might take if you were looking to stray way beyond the normal bounds of acceptable behaviour.

It won’t be featured in the public-facing marketing bumpf, but I would expect these trips to kick off with a few days of massacring local and imported exotic animals with increasingly powerful ordnance before culminating in a two day hunt where the prey is the most cunning animal of them all…

… man!

Part of you knows it’s true.

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Nov 2014

Oil at 80 dollars

Those who keep an eye on such things will know that something very strange has been happening with the oil price over the past few months. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the Emirates have been aggressively driving down the price of oil (and have just signalled their intent to continue doing so). This fall has not coincided with an equally precipitous drop in demand, and it is not – except tangentially, in a manner I’ll discuss in the fifth paragraph – related to the “unconventional oil” coming out of America thanks to the fracking boom. That whole fracking thing is smoke and mirrors of the first order by the way.

No, what’s happening with the oil price right now is geopolitical. What’s more, it heralds an era of increased geopolitical tension.. something that’s only starting to filter through into the mainstream. There’s a big wake-up call coming folks.

What do I mean when I say the price drop is geopolitical? Well, it’s important to understand that when it comes to oil, the Saudis (and the other Gulf Kingdoms) are very astute. Right now they possess a large enough share of the oil export market to effectively drag the global price any direction they choose. And this has a massive effect on the global economy. However, it is extremely unlikely they will still possess this influence in 20 years (even 10 years from now there’s no guarantee). Based on depletion profiles that they take very seriously (even if the western media does not), they will never possess as great a global influence as they do today.

Saudi Arabia is taking the lead on this, and is being backed by Kuwait and Qatar (with the United Arab Emirates a more reluctant fellow-traveller… this hurts their economy more than it hurts the others for a bunch of reasons). It’s important to realise that it is not an OPEC thing. In fact… OPEC is bloody furious. And with good reason; a number of OPEC nations are going to end up as collateral damage in all this (Venezuela and Nigeria are both being crucified).

Russia is also feeling the pinch. And the fracking boom in America is being hit very hard. That entire industry is a pipe-dream. It can only exist thanks to massive government subsidy in tandem with a very high oil price. Both of which can be arranged, it’s true, but more importantly… there just isn’t as much of it as has been suggested. Nowhere near as much. And ramping up production to cover the drop in conventional crude production simply isn’t going to happen.

Now, it’s unlikely the Saudis are willing to take such a large economic hit themselves simply to undermine the US fracking industry. That Financial Times article suggests that the low price could put a strain on US / Saudi relations, but as an overall economy the United States benefits from a low oil price. So I don’t see that being the case. Besides which, the US and Saudi Arabia are firm allies and they share a common enemy… Iran.

The real reason the global oil price is low* right now is because Saudi Arabia is waging economic warfare on Iran.

When a country gains a large proportion of its income from oil exports, it is possible to calculate a “breakeven oil price” for that country. That is, the price at which they must sell oil to cover government spending. Different economists tend to come up with different numbers (no surprise there) but if you see them as a guideline rather than an absolute value then they can be illuminating. CitiGroup say Saudi Arabia’s breakeven number is $89. The IMF says it’s $80. Deutsche Bank say $78. So you can see that having oil down below $80 per barrel is going to hurt the Saudis, but it’s something they can live with – this is not a nation that finds credit hard to come by. Qatar’s down in the mid-70s. While Kuwait’s breakeven is between $54 and $75 depending on who you listen to.

Not so Iran. According to CitiGroup they have a breakeven price of $130. The IMF suggests it could be as high as $140. And if you hear an analyst on the news try to explain the current fall in oil prices in terms other than an outright economic assault by Saudi Arabia against Iran, they simply do not know what they’re talking about. Because this is shattering the Iranian economy. It’s also giving a proper kicking to a bunch of other oil exporters. Nigeria and Russia both have notional breakevens above $110 and Venezuela is right up there with Iran when it comes to exposure to low oil prices. As for Iraq… if the country is to have any chance of surviving as a united entity it needs a reliable income stream, and with a breakeven price around the $100 mark, it doesn’t have that right now.

The effect on Russia is particularly concerning, especially if you’re a European like me who has just witnessed Putin sign a contract to sell a whole bunch of gas to the Chinese and can see the spectre of European gas shortages should this looming Cold War escalate (when the normally taciturn Finns start complaining about something, it’s a good idea to listen). The notion that “they need our money as much as we need their gas” has simply never been true (the Russian capacity for belt-tightening far surpasses the capacity of European governments to survive power-cuts and cold winters… so European governments will always cave first). And it’s especially not true now when the Asian economies can provide an alternate source of income. Falling oil prices puts additional pressure on Russia and is likely to drive Putin towards a more aggressive foreign policy (in my view).

But Iran is the target, and while nobody outside Gulf aristocracy knows how long they plan to keep up this assault, it is likely to only be the first in a series of oil price manipulations over the next few years. And as a result, we’re likely to see the kind of geopolitical brinkmanship that has the potential to end very very badly indeed.

* Incidentally, describing $80 as a “low” price for oil would have been dystopian madness just a decade ago.

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Dec 2011

Speaking ill of the dead

A couple of days ago I awoke to discover that Christopher Hitchens had died. The news was initially conveyed to me by my twitter stream which was knee deep in tributes and impassioned insistences that we had lost “a great thinker”. There were other opinions scattered amongst the hagiography, but by and large they were in the minority. He was described as “the beau ideal of the public intellectual” by Vanity Fair magazine. And even those from whom one might expect a little balance seemed determined to speak no ill of the dead… a convention, incidentally, that Hitchens himself was unwilling to follow. Some of those who dared question the posthumous near-canonisation of the man have been accused of being “spiteful” or “insensitive”, apparently unaware of the insensitivity and spitefulness of the man they are defending. Read, for example, the views of Hitchens on Jerry Falwell – expressed live on CNN the day following Falwell’s death. I have no time for the loathsome Falwell, but the double-standards of some of those defending Hitchens is breath-taking to witness.

Christopher HitchensEven the normally fearless Billy Bragg sought to “add [his] voice to those who mourn the loss of Christopher Hitchens”. Bragg then went on to compare Hitchens favourably to George Orwell and express his admiration for the writer’s “compulsion to speak his mind”. About the worst thing he could find to say about him was that he “didn’t always agree with him”. I wonder if I were to spend the last decade of my life writing exultant articles in defence of cluster bombs and endless wars (in which young men are sent to kill and die overseas while I eat and drink myself slowly to death in luxury)… if I were to write a series of borderline racist articles about the followers of Islam and loudly champion the “clash of civilisations” like the most boorish of George Bush’s neoconservative cheerleaders… I wonder if I were to resort to calling women who dared to criticise the Bush administration’s foreign policy “sluts” and “fucking fat slags”… I wonder if the worst I would get from stalwarts of The Left would be “well, I didn’t always agree with him”?

I certainly hope not.

The fact of the matter is, Christopher Hitchens may have been a half-decent writer (and that’s as far as I’d go incidentally… “half-decent”) and he may well have been an engaging and witty conversationalist (I don’t know as I never met the man). He certainly didn’t pull any punches, and was willing to express his opinion even when it might land him in hot water. But you know what… attend any meeting of a neo-fascist organisation (the BNP, the KKK, or your local equivalent) and you’ll find plenty of people willing to express opinions that might land them in hot water. I’m obviously not suggesting Hitchens was a member or sympathiser of such groups; but if it’s just the willingness to express unpleasant opinions in public that earns you respect, why isn’t the press filled with columns lauding the greatness of “Racist Tram Woman”?

Incidentally, I should also make it clear that I do not wish cancer or death on anyone (well, there may be the occasional dictator or mass-murderer who I’d be happy to see die in a bizarre gardening accident). I feel no happiness or satisfaction at the death of Hitchens and I wish those who knew him comfort in their grief. I’m not saying “Yay! Hitchens is dead”, I’m saying “Hang on a second, now that he is dead, why are we forgetting about all the horrible things he said and supported?”

And I’m aware that many seem willing to give Hitchens a pass because of his position on religion. A position which I personally find simple-minded and as far from “the beau ideal of the public intellectual” as it is possible to get. Humanity does indeed need to re-evaluate our relationship with religion, but that the discussion appears to be happening between religious extremists and the narrow atheist fundamentalism of Hitchens, Dawkins and the rest is just depressing. I always thought the mark of a true intellectual was that they could appreciate the nuances in complex issues and could navigate controversial and difficult discussions without resorting to pathetic insults and nonsense generalisations. No?

Perhaps my view of intellectualism needs to be revised given the recent celebration of Hitchens. Perhaps modern intellectualism is to be found in the championing of repellent military tactics such as cluster munitions while denouncing your critics as fucking fat slags. Perhaps it is to be found in taking delight in war, mayhem and violent death (from a distance of course… if Orwell really was Hitchens’ hero, then why did he never take up a rifle and face down the Taliban in Helmand province himself?) Perhaps we get the intellectuals we deserve… and judging by our violent, crass and deeply narcissistic society, perhaps we don’t deserve much better than Hitchens.

Photo courtesy of The Independent

I had just about finished writing this piece when I encountered Glenn Greenwald’s article over at Salon.com which makes pretty much exactly the same points, uses many of the same examples and goes into rather more depth than my own piece. As a result I almost scrapped this piece and tweeted a link to Salon instead. But in the end I figured that it’s an opinion that’s worthy of repeating.

6 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Nov 2011

More news from Greece

A few months after the United States invaded Iraq, Dubya Bush sent Condoleeza Rice on a whistle-stop tour of US allies. Presumably her job was to gauge how much support was out there and to shore up whatever there was. I was living in the UK at the time and I recall the protests that greeted Rice’s arrival in London. A few days later she touched down in Athens and the news reported a huge demonstration that ended with petrol bombs being thrown at the US Embassy. It occurred to me that there was an important cultural difference on display there. It’s not about which response was right… whether Rice’s visit merited placards or petrol bombs. It’s that it takes far less provocation to get the Greeks to reach for the petrol bombs than it does to get the British.

Greek protestsThis is something that I’ve constantly borne in mind during the Greek protests. The austerity measures being forced upon the Greek citizenry aren’t that much worse than those being forced upon us here in Ireland. But Occupy Dame Street notwithstanding, the Irish citizenry is a long long way from general strikes and petrol bombs. Which isn’t to say that we can’t be pushed to it. Our history of armed uprisings is quite emphatic about that. But we appear to be slower to be roused to such action.

Why that should be, and whether it’s for the better or the worse is beyond the brief of this short post, but it’s worthwhile to place the Greek protests in that context. Which is to say… if relatively limited austerity measures will provoke the protests we’ve seen, then the potential for a populist movement toppling the government is very real indeed when you consider the far more draconian measures coming down the line as a result of the “bail out”. Something akin to revolution has been brewing in South-eastern Europe over the past few days. And lest you think I’m guilty of hyperbole, I present two pieces of evidence. One you already know about. Another that’s just been announced and which may or may not catch the attention of the global press.

The one you know about is, obviously, the referendum announcement. I was incredulous when I first heard it on the news yesterday. Papandreou couldn’t have created more chaos if he’d started chucking live grenades around the Head of State meeting. First he agrees to the terms of the “bail-out”, then – after every other EU leader holds a press-conference in which they speak of their relief at the deal being finalised and how it would have been disaster for Europe if they’d failed – he goes on TV and retracts his pledge and instead tells Europe he’s going to consult the Greek people. The same people whose response to the current deal includes general strikes and rioting.

It seems pretty clear to me that Papandreou arrived back in Athens, fresh from agreeing to the European “bail-out”, only to be met by grim faces. And he was told… “If you do this, your government will fall. And whatever replaces it will not implement that deal anyway”. He was backed into a corner and did the only thing he could; he bought some time for Europe to come up with a way of easing Greece out of the euro as gracefully as possible.

How do we know he was backed into a corner? Well, that’ll be the other piece of evidence. A few hours ago the Greek government surprised a lot of people (including those in the military) by announcing a wholesale change of the entire military top brass. The Heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Defence Force were all replaced earlier today. On a day where the Prime Minister is clinging to power by his fingertips, where his government’s majority has been whittled down even further by defections and prominent members of his own party are calling on him to resign. On a day where global markets are plunging as a result of Papandreou’s referendum announcement and European politicians are – not to put too fine a point on it – completely freaking out, does anyone think the Greek government has anything at all on its agenda that isn’t extremely urgent? And there’s not a lot of reasons why the replacement of the military high command becomes urgent.

Papandreou has played his final cards. The referendum might turn out to be a slice of political genius (opposition to the “bail out” is running at 62% according to the latest poll I saw… that’s not insurmountable) and the current government may somehow survive within the Eurozone by gaining a public mandate. But in my view, the odds of that happening are significantly worse than those poll figures suggest. With internal pressures beginning to fracture the government and something very strange going on with the military, it seems unlikely that Papandreou will be in power long enough to hold the referendum. And there’s no guarantee that his successor will feel the need to honour Papandreou’s commitment to a public vote.

One thing I am looking forward to though, is just what Vincent Browne will have to say about this all on his show tonight. I can almost hear his apoplectic spluttering as he confronts whatever lamb the government have sent to the slaughter… “But wha… wha… why are the Greeks getting a vote on this vital issue but the Irish are not? Does the government believe Irish citizens are not to be trusted? Or maybe that we’re all too stupid to understand what’s going on?”

Photo courtesy of The Guardian.

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Mar 2011

On This Deity: 19th March 2003

New article at On This Deity

19th March 2003: The Beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

On March 19th 2003 US President George W. Bush announced that US and UK armed forces had launched strikes against “targets of military opportunity” in Iraq. It marked the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom; a disastrous conflict that would drag on for the rest of the decade resulting in massive casualties, a huge economic cost and the further destabilisation of a region already beset by conflict and strife.

read the rest…

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Jun 2007

Lord Goldsmith: The biggest balls in Britain?

Usually when those in power do something contemptible, my reaction is to feel contempt. I suspect I’m like most people in that regard. I’m the first to admit that it’s not a particularly nice emotion to be feeling. All the same, so long as the Irish government turns a blind eye to extraordinary rendition or Dubya Bush announces that his plan for Iraq is to (via PDF) ‘make it more like Israel’ (that’s like “bring it on” times a thousand, right? It can only be a deliberate attempt to piss off the insurgents) then it’s not like we’ve got much of a choice about how to feel.

That said, occasionally you’ll hear or read something so incredibly contemptible, so off-the-scale ludicrous, that you’re forced to just step back and admire the blatant arrogance and cheek of it. And like Bill Hicks discussing the police officers who — under oath — insisted they used the minimum force required to restrain Rodney King, today I am forced to wonder at the sheer size of Lord Goldsmith’s balls.

Seriously. They must be bloody massive.

Lord Goldsmith, for those who don’t know (or have already repressed the memory) was Tony Blair’s Attorney General. He was the chief legal advisor to the UK government for the best part of six years; appointed in 2001 and serving for the entire duration of the Iraq War to date. He’s just been replaced in Gordon Brown’s cabinet reshuffle by Baroness Scotland about whom I know sod-all except that — as with Goldsmith — her willingness to use an aristocratic title makes her an anachronism more suited to a museum than a government office.

Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that Lord Goldsmith’s role during the past few years has essentially been to try and convince anyone who’ll listen that New Labour’s participation in the outright destruction of a sovereign nation — I’m talking about Iraq here, not the UK — and murder of between 2 and 3 percent of the population, is completely legal and above-board. Whenever Tony Blair did something that should rightly land him in a cell in The Hague, Lord Goldsmith popped up and said it was completely legal and above-board. There’s a P.R. agent in the novel I’m writing. His name is Henry Stone and it’s his job to spin the actions of a rich psychopath so that they appear completely legal and above-board. He’s a bit part, not a significant character, but the consequences of his actions have serious ramifications and permit said psychopath to continue his nastiness. In the language of psychology we would describe Henry Stone as “an enabler”.

Anyways, Lord Goldsmith is no longer in a position to enable New Labour to run amok (though I suspect Baroness Scotland has been chosen for her ability to do the same). So, on the day he left office, he clearly decided it was time to let us all know what a massive pair of balls he’s got on him. He called…

for an investigation into how illegal torture techniques came to be used by British soldiers in Iraq. He said it was a matter of grave concern that techniques such as sleep deprivation, hooding and stress positions were deployed against suspects held by UK forces.

Hang on a second; hasn’t he been in a position to order an inquiry into this for the past few years? He’s been the chief legal advisor to the government since 2001 and he waits until he no longer holds that position before mentioning this concern of his? Seriously, is this a joke? And if not, why hasn’t this man been lynched yet, big balls or no big balls?

Ah, but wait a second. Lord Goldsmith goes on to say:

“These techniques were outlawed on a cross-party basis in 1972. We have to seek why anyone thought these were permissible techniques. I think there needs to be an inquiry…
[But] Lord Goldsmith told the parliamentary committee that he was only aware such interrogation techniques were being used after Baha Musa, an Iraqi hotel receptionist, died in British custody.

Well, fair enough then. I’m hardly going to criticise the guy for not launching an inquiry into something he was unaware was happening. Arguably someone in his position should have been informed about the activity of British troops, but if he wasn’t then he can hardly be blamed for failing to act on information he didn’t have. So yeah, fair enough.

Except no! Not “fair enough”. Not even a little bit “fair enough”! You see, The Guardian article reminds anyone who didn’t know that:

Mr Musa, 26, had been detained under suspicion of being an insurgent. He died in Basra in September 2003. Seven members of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, which is now the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, faced the most expensive court martial in British history, but all were eventually acquitted. One soldier, Corporal Donald Payne, 35, became the first British serviceman to admit a war crime, that of treating Iraqi prisoners inhumanely, and was jailed for a year.

September 2003? That’s almost four years ago. Lord Goldsmith’s mitigation for not calling for an inquiry sooner is that he only found out about the situation four years ago.

As I say… what balls!

7 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Mar 2007

Thogger and Way Back

No, not a new buddy-cop movie starring Jim Belushi and Chevy Chase. Instead it’s two blog memes. Well, not quite. Well, kind of. They both arrive from Justin over at Chicken Yoghurt who — despite his protestations — appears to enjoy blog memes as much as any 14-year-old Livejournalist. The fact that I’m running with these memes does not, of course, make any similar comment about me.

Thogger badge
First up, nice chap that he is, Justin has bestowed a ‘thogger‘ upon me. This means — apparently — that I write a “thought-provoking” blog. Which is about as much as any blogger can ask for. I don’t make any such claims about myself (at least not in public), but Justin’s is a consistently excellent political blog that has certainly got me thinking on plenty of occasions. So, given the source, I shall gracefully accept the award. Apparently it now falls upon me to pass on the award, and nominate five blogs that I consider thought-provoking in some way. Chicken Yoghurt’s already got one, so I’ll omit him from my official list.

If you can’t find something to provoke thought via each of those links, then I humbly suggest that you may well be incapable of it in the first place. Perhaps you’d be better off watching TV.

It was four years ago today…

Justin follows up that list with another (originally kicked off over at Bloggerheads). It is — almost unbelievably — the fourth anniversary of the US/UK invasion of Iraq. Actually it’s the fourth anniversary of the eve of war (Jeff Wayne, where are you now?) and Justin was wondering: “what did you post on 20 March, 2003? (Or on as near to the day as possible)… Doesn’t have to be a blog entry; it could easily be in usenet or in a forum.”

Using the Way Back Machine, I discovered that the first entry on my old blog wasn’t until early May 2003, and I can’t seem to get the site to drag up the blog from norlonto.net, where I posted prior to that. But I did discover — on the U-Know! web foruma post discussing the run up to the Iraq war and why I felt that the Peace Movement in the west was wrong-headed in its approach, though right in its aims.

And I still feel the same. My essential point was that rather than expending time and energy protesting against the war, it would be far more effective to focus that same effort on eliminating the demand for those resources over which wars are fought. I know there are many who believe that the Iraq war was about WMD or humanitarian intervention to bring about regime-change. I believe it was about oil. And it seems clear to me that reducing our demand for oil would consequently reduce the likelihood of us invading oil-rich nations. This would have a greater practical effect than demanding our politicians stop supplying us with the oil we also demand.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s a vivid image and worth repeating… I recall attending the big anti-war demonstration in London during the run up to the invasion. From hundreds of coaches at Hyde Park, I saw many thousands of protesters disembark carrying “No Blood For Oil” banners. As the samba band struggled to be heard over the idling of so many diesel engines I realised that there was a very serious disconnect at work. People clearly believed — as did I — that the war was about oil. Yet they didn’t seem to grasp the fact that Tony Blair and Dubya Bush weren’t going to personally burn all that oil themselves… that our representatives were responding very directly to the demands of their oil-consuming constituents.

Around the same time, myself and Merrick co-wrote an article to express this.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

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.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Mar 2006

We were wrong to invade Iraq

Todays Guardian sees the publication of a column by Oliver Kamm entitled “We were right to invade Iraq”. Regular readers of my writing may be aware that some years back I had a bit of an online altercation with Mr. Kamm. He became abusive and nasty, and I decided that the man and his views were entirely loathsome. Once in a blue moon I encounter something of his linked to from somewhere I regularly read. To date he’s written nothing to counter that “loathsome” judgment. He’s Stephen Fry without the wit, the looks or the charisma.

Anyways, there I was perusing the columnists in today’s Guardian (Tuesday is George Monbiot day, incidentally, so you should check out his piece when you get a chance). To my disappointment there was nothing by Zoe Williams – another Tuesday regular – but there, listed in her place, was the name “Oliver Kamm”.

A travesty.

Kamm’s essays always have a slightly surreal note to them. They’re so close to being clever parodies, that in the past I’ve suspected he’s actually a deep-cover Discordian. The column in the Guardian is no different… it’s so witless and filled with gaping intellectual holes that it’s almost difficult to believe that it’s meant to be taken seriously.

Recall also the alacrity with which some commentators attributed the 7/7 bombings to the provocation of the Iraq war. Disgracefully, the New Statesman carried a cover picture of a rucksack with the caption “Blair’s bombs”. But containment would have meant persisting with what most outraged Osama bin Laden: western troops in Saudi Arabia – and Bin Laden urges “Muslims to prepare as much force as possible to terrorise the enemies of God”.

Kamm appears to be suggesting that the London bombers were pawns of Osama bin Laden. That they were merely tools of his desires. That what “most outraged” bin Laden would also be the motivating factor for the bombers. But that’s just ridiculous. Certainly these men will have heard bin Laden’s broadcasts and watched his tapes. But their outrage was clearly aimed at the British government. These young British men did not kill themselves and murder dozens of Londoners as a protest at American troops in Saudi Arabia.

They did so as a protest at British support of – what they saw as – US imperialism in Iraq. To suggest that they would have committed the same outrage had UK policy been the same as France or Germany is to ignore both the evidence (the tape left behind by the bombers) and common sense. Certainly it requires a little more proof than a blasé assertion by someone desperately trying to justify an obviously disastrous war.

Those pesky WMD

But quite aside from his mentalism with regards to the July 7th bombings, Kamm’s main reason why “we were right to invade Iraq” is – astonishingly – that to have done otherwise was to invite Saddam Hussein to strike at the West with his Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Yes, you heard it right. Three years on, Kamm is still peddling the line that even the Dubya Bush administration abandoned as being too bloody embarrassing. He’s still waving non-existent nukes at us and telling us to be scared of The Bad Man.

See what I mean when I say it’s difficult to believe we’re supposed to be taking this at face value? I’m assuming the Guardian published it as satire. For example, can anyone tell me what this line is all about… “The absence of WMD was a huge intelligence failure; so it is fortunate that we are no longer reliant on Saddam’s word.”

To the best of my knowledge we were never reliant on Saddam’s word. Seriously, wasn’t that the reason we went to war in the first place; because we didn’t take his word on it, and our intelligence was wrong despite his word being – in this case – perfectly right? We never ever relied on Saddam’s word. To suggest otherwise is to engage in shameless historical revisionism. We invaded his country precisely because we refused to rely upon it.

Kamm also namechecks George Galloway. It’s a cheap and easy shot. Try to put a discredited “celebrity” face to the anti-war movement in the hope of making it look a bit silly. Galloway is – in my view – a fool. I don’t know of any intelligent anti-war writer who takes him seriously. To paint him as the figurehead of the peace movement is cynical and, ultimately, fruitless.

But as for his “crime” of shaking Saddam Hussein’s hand and saying nice things about him…? Even Kamm must admit that his only real crime was doing it after it was fashionable. We’ve all seen the video footage of Donald Rumsfeld warmly greeting the “psychopathic despot”, so I hardly need to track down a still to illustrate the point.

It is intellectually dishonest – yet it is something the pro-War crowd determinedly stick at – to criticise Galloway for cosying up to Hussein just a few years after the hawks in the US administration were doing the same. Did we think he was a Nice Man then? Did we think he was going to treat his people well and offer them the democratic reforms that are so very important to us now? We did not. We knew, just as Rumsfeld knew, that he was shaking the hand of a psychotic despot, but it was politically expedient for him to do so. So he did.

But when a left-wing loon shakes the same hand, just a few years later, for exactly the same reason (political expediency), then it’s knives out. And call The Senate to session. I guess Galloway’s real crime – ironically enough – is that he didn’t bring home lots of oil money upon his return. He didn’t sell any guns or poison gas or fighter jets to the psychotic despot. Clearly he should be lambasted for that failure.

Oliver Kamm is ultimately suggesting that it is “right” to wage war on a country based upon what we suspect they might do at some future date. It is an abandonment of hundreds of years of European rationalism. Embracing feudalism and mindless savagery, it hints at a Divine Right of leadership… that the dangerous suspicions, foolish whims and outright lies of our leaders, when acted upon, are nonetheless moral and just.

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