Oct 19, 2007

The Cheney Calculus

In one of the more interesting pieces on the Iraq War that I have read recently, Jim Holt (“It's the Oil” in the London Review of Books ) suggests that Bush and Company are right where they want to be, sitting on top of 115 billion barrels of oil reserves—and more importantly—on top of 220 to 300 billion more of unexplored and undetermined potential.

If these estimates are anywhere close to the mark, US forces are now sitting on one quarter of the world’s oil resources. The value of Iraqi oil, largely light crude with low production costs, would be of the order of $30 trillion at today’s prices. For purposes of comparison, the projected total cost of the US invasion/occupation is around $1 trillion.

Thus, all of the lives, lost or shattered or traumatized, of American soldiers, Iraqi citizens (both dead and fled, innocent and insurgent), living and oppressed under an occupation and a puppet democratic government, according to this ugly Cheneyesque calculus, appear to be worth it. One can imagine Cheney and his oil cronies back in the early part of 2001, shortly after the inauguration, with their oil survey maps spread out before them, doing the rough calculations. And when you imagine it, there comes more of a frightful feel to the vision. No wonder they want to protect the details of the meeting from the prying eyes of the journalists who lost the FOIA request for the minutes. It was "executive privilege," remember? And of course, no one in attendance would ever dare spill the beans. No need to swear secrecy there in that meeting, since revealing the slightest detail would produce an immediate denial and a snarling smirk, though even a smidgen of truth would clearly make them out to be the international pirates we all suspect they are.

According to Holt, this is the reason for the permanent bases, this is the reason for the largest embassy ever built by the US, this is the reason for the projections that the troops will be in Iraq for another 5 to 10 years. This is the reason that the top three Democratic Party candidates refused to commit to the troops being out of Iraq by the end of a first term in their presidency. This is a vision of colonialism for the 21rst century. Below the bullshit of the WMDs, people of Iraq wanting freedom from a dictator, and the military intentions to bring security to the government, you have the need to possess someone else's resources under the guise of a free market system. I always wondered why the one recommendation of the Iraq Study Group that Bush and the Administration latched on to was the need for the oil sharing agreement. He rejected everything else almost out of hand. But of course, the oil sharing agreement was part of the ISG because the old way of doing business, as exemplified by James Baker, helped to produce the report. No matter the difference in the means, the end is still the same.

Holt points out the winners of this oil play: the oil companies, the US voters/oil consumers,Europe and Japan, even Osama Bin Laden(!), and in the end the U.S. also contains Iran, Russia, China, and even that pesky Venezuela. (If that doesn't make you read Holt's article, well, you are no Iraq War junkie and you really will be missing out on a good think piece.) Holt's article is a wonderful session of cynical speculation, and I recommend you read the full essay. Even better—run off a copy and keep it with you to study the details.

There's only a few things I can see that might suggest that the plan might not work: the desire for revenge on the part of the Iraqi people, the ummah or the sense of community of all Muslims, and the terrible pressures of the world's largest forced immigration now under process in the surrounding countries. Despite the fact that Iraq has only been in existence since 1920, perhaps there is a true sense of nationhood that may motivate its citizens against the foreign colonial power.

Forgive me if I seem to be going along with the cynicism of the article. I just finished watching John Pilger's newest film, The War On Democracy. One scary thought is that we have been perceiving this administration as being incompetent as well as ruthless. But what if we are flat out wrong? What if the perceived incompetence is really just a manifestation of the hard miserable truth that deliberately planned colonialism in this day and age is very expensive, bloody, gruesome, and sloppy, but that in the end there is, to borrow a very scary phrase, a “triumph of the will”? And then there is the thought that follows: What alliance will be powerful enough to fight against this axis power reaching out so far from its homeland?

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