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Saturday, June 17, 2006

It's a quagmire, a tar pit

The Left makes a big mistake if Iraq becomes a litmus test for who is a progressive. The invasion was a blunder, a crime, a turning point, a tragedy, but what to do now is not so obvious as the radio ranters pretend.

  • In 2005, the US imported just over 55 percent of its oil, about 11.5 million barrels per day. In 2015 we will need 5 million barrels a day more. Ten years after that, in 2025, another 4 or 5 million barrels a day. At the same time the domestic contribution will decline, even with optimistic projections for ethanol and other substitutes.
  • Over the next 20 years we will increase our dependence from 55 percent to 70 percent. Sources aside from the Persian Gulf will grow in production capacity, but also in consumption. The only potential for the volume we will require is the Persian Gulf. Where we are hated, and all the more now that we have deserved it so well.
  • Other industrial states, China in particular, will be competing for new production.
  • Saudi Arabia is the key source, not Iraq. The population of Saudi Arabia is predominantly young, poor and un- or under-employed. Thirty percent of college educated men have no jobs. Per capita incomes have shrunk from $22,000 to $7,000 over the past 20 years. Iran has a similar demographic. It makes for an unstable situation where the repressive regime in power cannot afford to be seen in public with the Americans. (The first thing the US did after invading Iraq was to close its bases in Saudi Arabia, left open only because we reneged on promises to close them after the Gulf War. If our soldiers leave Iraq, they are not going back to Saudi Arabia.)
  • The Persian Gulf and the other oil-rich countries are unstable politically and are more often than not rotten with corruption. The increases in oil production from these countries will require immense investment and technology not available within those countries. That technology and investment will not be forthcoming from private vendors absent significant reduction in the risk.
  • Let me repeat that point. The oil production we will need from these countries is not now in the cards. To get to the level needed, immense new investment is needed. This is investment and technology only the Oil Giants possess. These countries do not care to have Oil Giants dictating to them, nor really anything other than a nationalized oil industry. (Immense. Three quarters of a trillion dollars worth of investment.)
  • The Neocon scheme was to occupy Iraq, liberate it from Saddam, in the warmth of victory establish bases there to protect a fledgling (or Quisling) democracy, and thus establish the security Big Oil demands for its investment and secure the energy future of the Homeland. It was the Stratego scheme.
Best is a partition along the lines of a loose federation of strong Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite states, with the US redeploying its troops to those semi-permanent bases and guaranteeing the borders for a weak central government. There is no stable political situation that does not involve partition. As we've written, the country does not have a history, being cobbled together by the British. It does not have a leadership except that identified with one of the major factions. It was kept together by the iron fist of Saddam Hussein, and there is no amount of diplomacy or statesmanship that is enough to do what he did with brutality. To tap the legitimate leadership, we will need to cede power to the factional leaders.

Obviously a loose federation, having weak members, may offer a bigger fig leaf for US presence as protection from neighbors, but it will not enough. The unfortunate final answer is that there is no answer. By invading, we have deserved to be hated and have been undone by our own incompetence, belligerence and corruption.

Redeployment along the lines of the Murtha plan and following John Kerry is as sound as any responsible approach. I believe this is what Cantwell and Hillary are angling for. The worst thing we on the Left can do is pretend there is one simple solution. The more we get into a wrangle about it and, in fact, insofar as Iraq dominates the conversation at election time, the less well served will be the progressive cause.

Health Care .... Social Security .... Global Warming .... Environmentally Friendly Energy .... Medicare Drug Benefits .... Eliminating the Culture of Corruption .... Salvaging the Financial House .... Returning Competence to Government Offices .... Restoring the Bill of Rights .... Curbing the Power of the Corporate Predators .... The Emerging Desperation of the Working Class. There is too much to be done to get into a fight with a tar baby.

The economic answer to Iraq does exist, however. Just as oil is the reason for being there, it begins with oil. First and foremost, we need to eliminate our dependence. Second we need to let the market deal with the extraction problem. Having American soldiers as basically rent-a-cops for oil investment is bogus and will never come to any good.

The rest of that answer for another time.

A good source: Blood and Oil, Michael T. Klare, 2004.