Saturday, December 01, 2007

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Why Are We in Iraq

Update: This essay on the Rec list with a good discussion at European Tribune.

With the deal last week between the Bushites and the current Iraqi government to formalize the intention to keep U.S. troops in those huge permanent bases in Iraq, and to "encourage" foreign investment (i.e. U.S. oil companies and related Bushite corporations), two prominent theories--not mutually exclusive by any means--got additional evidence for their answers as to why the Bushites began and prosecuted the war and occupation of Iraq.

One theory is Naomi Klein's in her book, The Shock Doctrine. Basically she outlines a strategy used in various parts of the world to further the goal of enriching large corporations--almost always run by or with strong ties to the folks now identified as Bushites, but who have pulled strings, or assisted their mentors in doing so, in previous Republican administrations. On Thursday she got the opportunity--the first I know of--to explain what she means on U.S. television: on a very well done
segment of Countdown with Keith Olbermann. (Her theory aside, Klein should be regularly analyzing geopolitics and the news on U.S. television.) Here's what she said about Iraq:

KLEIN: Well, Iraq is the classic example of the shock doctrine. You had a military strategy that was called Shock and Awe. It was a military strategy designed to maximize disorientation. The theory was—This is a quote from Richard Armitage, the former deputy undersecretary of state, who said that the theory was that Iraqis would be so shocked, they would be easily marshaled from point A to point B.

In that moment when they were supposed to be easy to control, easy to martial, you had Paul Bremer waltz in his Brooks Brothers suits and Army beauties, the uniform of the disaster capitalists, and say Iraq is open for business, and create this sort of—an attempt to create a corporate Utopia for American multinationals.

It didn‘t work out. Then you saw the emergence of a third shock, not an economic shock, but shocks to body, the shock of torture, as they attempted to control this rebellious country. There‘s three kinds of shocks in “The Shock Doctrine,” the shock of the crisis, then an economic shock therapy program, and then, if people don‘t behave, a third shock, which is the shock of torture.

But didn't it work out? Certainly it's been messy, and so far such favored corporations as Halliburton, Bechtel and Blackwater have had to take their considerable piles of money and run, but could this latest agreement be the Bushite victory?

Jim Holt in the London Review of Books reverse-engineers the Iraq war and sees how this is entirely possible. First, he outlines the prize Iraq represents. That it's all about the oil isn't a news flash to a lot of people, but probably most don't know just how much oil is involved:

Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves. That is more than five times the total in the United States. And, because of its long isolation, it is the least explored of the world’s oil-rich nations. A mere two thousand wells have been drilled across the entire country; in Texas alone there are a million. It has been estimated, by the Council on Foreign Relations, that Iraq may have a further 220 billion barrels of undiscovered oil; another study puts the figure at 300 billion. 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.

To get and keep control of that oil--even if it takes another decade or two--is the purpose of those bases, Holt suggests. He mentions that "Five self-sufficient ‘super-bases’ are in various stages of completion. All are well away from the urban areas where most casualties have occurred. There has been precious little reporting on these bases in the American press, whose dwindling corps of correspondents in Iraq cannot move around freely because of the dangerous conditions." But they are all mini-cities or walled suburbs. He refers to Thomas Ricks' reporting on one of the bases, the Balad air base: "Although few of the 20,000 American troops stationed there have ever had any contact with an Iraqi, the runway at the base is one of the world’s busiest. ‘We are behind only Heathrow right now,’ an air force commander told Ricks."

(Holt mentions something that I pointed out a couple of years ago--that U.S. bases in Iraq meant that U.S. bases in somewhat unstable Saudi Arabia, that so upset Osama bin Laden, could be closed--and they have been.)

But even if the U.S. and the West can't get much Iraqi oil into their pipelines for awhile, they still win because the U.S. presence deters their major competitor for oil in the world: China. Without more energy, China's economy can't keep growing at its current rate. By denying China this source, the West has a chance to weather the Chinese economic storm.

So Holt wonders: Was the strategy of invading Iraq to take control of its oil resources actually hammered out by Cheney’s 2001 energy task force? One can’t know for sure, since the deliberations of that task force, made up largely of oil and energy company executives, have been kept secret by the administration on the grounds of ‘executive privilege’. One can’t say for certain that oil supplied the prime motive. But the hypothesis is quite powerful when it comes to explaining what has actually happened in Iraq. 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.

Which is why the failure to nurture a strong central government is actually success: 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?

So if you're thinking in terms of dollars and cents--even in billions or trillions--the whole thing makes sound business sense:

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.

In fact the only counter argument Holt can muster is that the Bushites don't appear to be this smart. Still, there is reason to be sceptical of the picture I have drawn: it implies that a secret and highly ambitious plan turned out just the way its devisers foresaw, and that almost never happens.

Yet it makes perfect sense, even rhetorically. When real politik Republicans talk about freedom, they mean the freedom of themselves, their rich cronies and supporters to loot the world unencumbered by law, morality or compassion. (It's also why they're not bothered at all about the missing billions likely used for graft and other payoffs. Or why the current rampant corruption in Iraq is of no concern. After all, China has no problem with it either in their colonies such as Cambodia. It's part of the price of business.) That certainly seems to be what the Bushites mean when they say they're bringing freedom to Iraq.