Cui Bono?

Thursday, December 15, 2005 11:06 AM

Why didn't Washington invade China instead? When is Washington going to invade China, and why not? Unlike Iraq, China has plenty of genuine "weapons  of mass destruction" and no democracy, to boot. China needs democracy, doesn't it? Bush, Cheney and their "neocon" ideologues want to see free elections held in China, like what has just taken place in Iraq, don't they? Washington is eager to spread "freedom and democracy" throughout the world, right? That, at any event, is the current justification for "Operation Iraqi Freedom". So let’s invade China now.

Well, no. It depends on whose ox is being gored, to coin a phrase, and if "freedom and democracy" is actually good for business. One of the biggest businesses in the world is politics, the business of power and control. If one were to take seriously Bush's pronouncements about "freedom and democracy", one might think that Washington regards these commodities as ends in themselves and that Bush and Cheney are altruists. No one in his right mind can believe that, I hope. Whatever Bush and Cheney are selling, they are selling it because, rightly or wrongly, they consider it to be in their own political interest or those of the United States. Which is to say, "freedom and democracy" is at best a slogan, a cover story.

Unlike Gulf War I of 1990/91, which Secretary of State James Baker frankly justified to Congress and to the American people as  being about cheap oil and thus "jobs, jobs, jobs", in Gulf War II of 2003 the White House rationale was the destruction of "weapons of mass destruction" and then the "liberation" of Iraq and now the spread of "freedom and democracy" so that the Arabs will no longer hate America and therefore should be disinclined to hijack jetliners and crash them into Manhattan and Washington. Oil was almost never mentioned. Israel, supposedly "the only democracy in the Middle East" was mentioned in passing, as a kind of afterthought, a side issue disconnected from the Iraq war itself. Listen to Karen Hughes, Bush's public relations advisor, or to Bush himself, or to Cheney, if you can stand it.

As the article below in the International Herald Tribune indicates, if cheap oil--not "freedom and democracy"-- was the real motive behind the Iraq imbroglio, then results have not materialized the way Cheney and Bush may have wished. At an overall, long-term cost of a trillion U.S. Dollars, untold suffering to the civilian population of Iraq, and with the deaths and trauma to thousands of American military personnel, there is less oil and more expensive oil in the wake of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" than before it. No doubt oil was a factor, but it is reasonable to suspect that oil was not the primary motive behind the war.

Instead, Eric Margolis, foreign correspondent and commentator for the Toronto Sun probably hit the nail on the head when he wrote ten days ago on December 5th: “Sharon and his US supporters--I call them the American Likud Party (aka ‘neoconservatives’)--did much to engineer the US war against Iraq, thereby destroying one of Israel’s prime enemies. So far, Israel, Iran and al-Qaida have been the only winners of the 2003 Iraq War. Israel has been able to lower defense spending and cut troops. Sharon, according to former US National Security Advisor General Brent Scowcroft, ‘has Bush wrapped around his little finger.’”

Remember, politics is a big business, and war is a racket. Bush and his inner circle can rationalize their own actions to themselves and to us any way they please. They control the flow of information. All that matters is what actually happened, why and at what cost. The world is stuck with the consequences.


Has Iraq helped America's energy security?

John Gault / International Herald Tribune


GENEVA / A dubious investment
Many in the Arab world and beyond believe the real purpose of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was to seize control of the country's oil. The Bush administration, presumably to avoid confirming these beliefs, has not touted energy security as a central justification for the invasion,
even as other pretexts - from weapons of mass destruction to the linkage between Saddam Hussein and the Sept. 11 attacks - have been discredited.
Nevertheless, oil has long hovered in the background. When the White House's economic adviser, Laurence Lindsey, said in September 2002 that the Iraq invasion could cost $100 billion to $200 billion (an estimate the White House quickly disavowed as too high), he indicated that one could expect an additional three to five million barrels a day of Iraqi oil production following the ouster of Saddam.
As it turns out, the Pentagon will have spent $281 billion on the war and occupation through fiscal year 2005, but Iraq's oil production today remains below the level sustained by Saddam even under international sanctions restricting oil industry investment.
The $281 billion figure, recently calculated by the Congressional Research Service, does not include all of the costs that would continue even if the war were to end now, such as benefits for veterans, contributions to Iraqi reconstruction and interest on the national debt. Nor does it include such economic costs as the impact of higher oil prices induced and sustained, at least in part, by the continuing turmoil in Iraq.
Stephen Walt, the academic dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, writes in the current issue of Foreign Policy that
“Although our armed forces have fought with dedication and courage, this war will ultimately cost us more than $1 trillion, not to mention thousands of lives. And what will the United States have achieved?”
Walt's figure, high as it may seem, is only in the middle of the range predicted by William Nordhaus, a Yale professor, before the war. In 2002, Nordhaus wrote that the invasion could cost between $99 billion and $1.9 trillion, depending upon how long the occupation lasted and the impact of the consequential oil price increase on the U.S. economy.
If Walt's figure of $1 trillion is in the right ballpark, it is reasonable to ask whether this expensive investment will, in fact, improve U.S. energy security and, if so, whether the improvement is worth the cost.
So far, the Iraqi invasion has contributed to the demise of the old U.S. energy security structure in the Middle East. This structure had two parts: friendship with traditional regimes ruling the oil-producing states, and willingness to use military might to protect their power and their oilfields. In return, the United States received assurances of ample oil supplies at moderate prices.
The Iraq intervention forever changed this equation. It revealed that even a U.S. military occupation could not protect oil installations from sabotage. It revealed that America, tied down in Afghanistan and Iraq, might not be able to come to the rescue of another regime at the same time. It revealed that the Bush administration would promote "democratization" in the Middle East at the expense of authoritarian regimes. And
it continues to augment anti-American feelings in the region, putting governments friendly to America in an awkward position.
Even an increase in Iraq's oil production capacity has not been achieved. Nordhaus, in his optimistic case, anticipated that Iraqi production would rise to three to four million barrels a day within two years after an invasion. Iraqi experts, soon after the invasion, spoke of capacity rising to six million barrels a day by 2010 given sufficient investment. In fact, Iraq's oil output today is well below two million barrels a day and is declining. Major oil companies wait in the wings pending the emergence of a stable government and an improvement in physical security.
So the $1 trillion investment has hardly paid off in terms of U.S. energy security.
If Arab public opinion is correct and the purpose of the invasion was really to seize control of oil, the goal is at best receding.
Coincidentally, the International Energy Agency estimates that total oil and gas investment in the Middle East and North Africa is projected to amount to about $1 trillion over the period 2004-2030 (in 2004 dollars). In other words, an investment similar to what America is spending on its Iraq intervention could assure ample oil and gas supplies from the region, not just for the United States but for the entire world, over the coming quarter-century.


John Gault is an independent energy economist based in Geneva.


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