Monday, December 11, 2006


In which we lament the woeful state of the Empire

Weapons of mass destruction, bringing to heel an evil dictator, "finishing the job" begun in 1991, the liberation of the "Iraqi people," the protection of the Kurds, building a peaceful, prosperous and stable democracy in the Middle East that would be a beacon to its neighbors, a bulwark against Chinese and maybe even Indian economic expansion, outflanking Iran… All of these and more have been cited as reasons for the invasion of Iraq. And they probably all had a little to do with the decision to go to war there. But in the background there is always that other dark matter… Black Gold, Bubbling Crude, Texas Tea, Saudi Soda, Kuwait Cool-Aid… Oil.

Osama bin Laden himself has complained that he thought the West wasn't paying enough for the stuff, the prime mover of our industrial economy; it is one of his cited reasons for waging war against us. "No Blood for Oil" has been the mantra of the anti-war left for more than a decade and a half. Christopher Hitchens once infamously asked, "Since when is oil not worth fighting over?"

In case you missed it, the recently released Iraq Study Group report says that Iraq contains the world's second largest known oil reserves, with some 80 known oil fields, only 17 of which have been developed. The report recommends (Recommendation 63) that the U.S. should "assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise" and to "encourage investment in Iraq's oil sector by the international community and by international energy companies." Recommendation 63 also calls on the U.S. to: "provide technical assistance to the Iraqi government to prepare a draft oil law"--requiring an change to Iraq's fledgling constitution. In short, the Iraq Study Group calls for the privatization and internationalization of Iraq's currently nationalized oil industry. Presumably this will lead to greater efficiencies in exploration, development and production for the benefit of all. At least that's the key selling point here. But given the way that foreign, and mostly American, companies have exploited what is already the most out-sourced war in history, it seems damned likely to this observer at least that the primary beneficiaries of privatization would not be the Iraqi people, but Exxon-Mobil, British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell et al.

What has largely been played by the media as a strategy for withdrawal is in fact a plan for staying in for the long haul. As Niall Ferguson pointed out in the L.A. Times today, "anyone who bothers to read the report carefully — as opposed to skimming the executive summary — can see that it neither proposes "quitting" Iraq nor pins serious hope on Iranian or Syrian assistance… Rather, the report's aim is to convince legislators that withdrawal from Iraq — no matter how much their constituents may yearn for it — is not an option." Ferguson goes on to outline five of the central-most points of the report's 79 recommendations:

  • The number of U.S. military personnel "embedded" in Iraqi army battalions and brigades should be increased from 3,000 or 4,000 to between 10,000 to 20,000.
  • The number of U.S. police trainers should be expanded.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice should lead the work of organizational transformation in the Interior Ministry.
  • A senior advisor for economic reconstruction in Iraq is required.
  • The U.S. State Department should train personnel to carry out civilian tasks associated with a complex stability operation; it should establish a Foreign Service Reserve Corps.
  • Federal Service Reserve Corps? Whoa! Sounds just a bit like a Colonial Office, no?
In essence, the report calls for maintaining just enough of an American footprint to safeguard and expand Iraq's oil production and keep civil/sectarian violence in check just enough to give the impression that the Iraqis are "stepping up and doing it themselves." It's a very "realist"— perhaps even realpolitik— strategy, the kind that we should have expected from uber-realist James Baker. It is last nail driven into the coffin of world-changing, neo-conservative idealism.

Hitchens was, of course, quite right. As long as energy is the fundamental engine of our economy, and as long as that energy comes almost exclusively from oil, then oil will remain worth fighting over. And this is exactly why we as a nation need a Manhattan Project for energy diversity—to make oil less worth fighting over, at least from our perspective.


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