Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Iraq: Failure to Plan or Plan for Failure?

This occurred to me yesterday, though I'm sure there are others in the lonely depths of cyberspace who have contemplated the possibility. What if the failure of the U.S. occupation of Iraq is intentional? Noam Chomsky (my idol) has described it as the worst military catastrophe in history. I tend to buy into the common perception of Dubya as a bumbling idiot, but I, like most smart political observers, believe his handlers are extremely canny. But if they're so smart, how could they have screwed up Iraq so royally? I haven't discounted the theory, advanced by Frontline, that Rumsfeld thought he could handle Iraq like he handled Afghanistan, with a small force. Or the likelihood that the stifling corruption of the administration doomed the reconstruction from the start, by handing it over to such boy scouts as Halliburton and Bechtel. But the massive disaster of the operation makes me wonder if this wasn't the plan all along.

I should preface my theory by mentioning that I have little doubt the invasion of Iraq was motivated by the U.S.'s wish to control the world's second largest oil reserves. This is partly due to my belief in Peak Oil, but mostly due to my aforementioned worship of Prof. Chomsky and his theory of realpolitik (though I've never heard him use the word): the idea that the state acts in the interest of its society's elites.

So if global oil extraction (Most people say "production," but I don't like that 'cuz nobody "makes" oil.) is about to go into terminal decline, then it makes sense to secure the Middle East, site of most of the world's remaining oil and natural gas. But the U.S. gets most of its oil and natural gas exports from Canada, Mexico and Venezuela. We are dependent on the Middle East for our current economy, but a slight increase in fuel efficiency for our car and truck fleets (just 2.7 mpg) would eliminate the need for the 5 million barrels of oil per day we get from that region. Therefore, we can get by without them, even if oil production in the Americas declines soon. (I may be wrong, but I think it already has begun to decline overall.)

I've taken the long way around, but what I'm trying to say is the purpose of the Iraq occupation may not be to secure the oil for American use but merely to deny it to the rest of the world, in particular China and India, but also Western Europe, which has proved irritatingly insolent since the announcement of the Iraq campaign. The evidence? Iraqi oil extraction and export has dropped below pre-war levels. U.S. intelligence before the war predicted it would lead to more terrorism and greater regional instability. As Chomsky has discussed, a truly democratic Iraq would empower the Shi'a majority and could incite Shiites in northern Saudi Arabia (where most of the oil is) to revolt against the ruthless Saud dynasty. According to recent articles in the L.A. Times, Iraq is sliding into civil war, which could ultimately invite intervention from Turkey in order to suppress the independent aspirations of its own Kurdish population, Iran to support the Shi'a and Saudi and other Gulf states to support the Sunnis. Who knows how the American colony, Israel, would react, a truly frightening component since it's the only regional player holding the nuclear card. Now that would be a quagmire. Or, more accurately, a recipe for disaster, maybe Armageddon if China, India, Pakistan, Russia or Europe joined the fray to defend their energy interests.

In that scenario, and any realistic vision of the short-term future of the Middle East, it would become much more difficult, if not impossible, to import oil and natural gas from the region. Sure, the U.S. would lose the (illusory) chance of continued economic growth, but so would all of its rivals. In the end, I wonder if our elites aren't as worried about losing the capitalism endgame as they are about somebody else winning.

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