Friday, 26 October 2007

It’s the oil, stupid

The received opinion is that, for America, Iraq is ‘unwinnable’, a ‘quagmire’, a ‘fiasco’. An article in the London Review of Books by Jim Holt (the New York Times writer, not the Arkansas politician) suggests that, on the contrary, it is none of these things, and that the US may be ‘stuck’ precisely where Bush and Cheney want it to be.

Holt argues this convincingly, though he tacitly admits that this is in a sense a conspiracy theory which, like all such theories, calls for a level of foresight, cunning and general brilliance which the conspirators are unlikely to possess. You can judge the validity of his theory by reading the article, but he does quote a number of incontrovertible facts which tend to support him. Among these are:

  • Iraq’s known oil reserves are five times the total in the United States.
  • If current estimates are correct, US forces are now sitting on one quarter of the world’s oil resources, with a value of $30 trillion at today’s prices.
  • The projected total cost of the US invasion/occupation is around $1 trillion.
  • The draft law that the US has written for the Iraqi Congress would cede nearly all the oil to Western countries.
  • The US can maintain hegemony over Iraqi oil by establishing permanent military bases in Iraq; five self-sufficient ‘super-bases’ are in various stages of completion; their main day-to-day function will be to protect the oil infrastructure.
  • The beneficiaries of the continued occupation of Iraq and the exploitation of its oil will be: oil-services companies like Halliburton; US voters, who will be guaranteed price stability at the gas pump; and Europe and Japan, which will both benefit from Western control of such a large part of the world’s oil reserves.
Holt ends: “The occupation may seem horribly botched on the face of it, but the Bush administration’s cavalier attitude towards ‘nation-building’ has all but ensured that Iraq will end up as an American protectorate for the next few decades – a necessary condition for the extraction of its oil wealth. If the US had managed to create a strong, democratic government in an Iraq effectively secured by its own army and police force, and had then departed, what would have stopped that government from taking control of its own oil, like every other regime in the Middle East? On the assumption that the Bush-Cheney strategy is oil-centred, the tactics – dissolving the army, de-Baathification, a final ‘surge’ that has hastened internal migration – could scarcely have been more effective. The costs – a few billion dollars a month plus a few dozen American fatalities (a figure which will probably diminish, and which is in any case comparable to the number of US motorcyclists killed because of repealed helmet laws) – are negligible compared to $30 trillion in oil wealth, assured American geopolitical supremacy and cheap gas for voters. In terms of realpolitik, the invasion of Iraq is not a fiasco; it is a resounding success.”

[These are depressing facts, but Bird and Fortune had a lot of fun with them in a sketch they did in Rory Bremner's programme on Channel 4 just after after I posted the above.]

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