Saturday, October 13, 2007

Generally Speaking

Another newly retired General, Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, admits that Iraq is FUBAR'd.

Pretty remarkable that we've got such a long list of distinguished ex-Generals, from Shinseki to Sanchez, who are trying to tell us that Bush has gotten us into a freakin' mess. Sure, a general or two could have it wrong... but the whole list of them? I don't think so. And yet we have that stubborn mass of people who still think that Iraq is a liberal media problem, with them reporting continuously on all of the violence and political nastiness and not enough on the school paintings.

The only context that makes sense to me anymore is oil. I'm a fairly recent convert in this regard... I wasn't willing to concede the emotional "blood for oil" argument that so many were citing a few years back. The facts are starting to make that seem unmistakable now and I'm a bit embarrassed for not having seen the obviousness of it from the start.

Because of this, I was interested to read Jim Holt's timely analysis of the situation (via Andrew Sullivan). Holt argues that Iraq may not have gone exactly as planned but it's still on target to achieve the desired results (which goes a long way in explaining Bush and Cheney's casual optimism).
Who will get Iraq’s oil? One of the Bush administration’s ‘benchmarks’ for the Iraqi government is the passage of a law to distribute oil revenues. The draft law that the US has written for the Iraqi congress would cede nearly all the oil to Western companies. The Iraq National Oil Company would retain control of 17 of Iraq’s 80 existing oilfields, leaving the rest – including all yet to be discovered oil – under foreign corporate control for 30 years. ‘The foreign companies would not have to invest their earnings in the Iraqi economy,’ the analyst Antonia Juhasz wrote in the New York Times in March, after the draft law was leaked. ‘They could even ride out Iraq’s current “instability” by signing contracts now, while the Iraqi government is at its weakest, and then wait at least two years before even setting foot in the country.’ As negotiations over the oil law stalled in September, the provincial government in Kurdistan simply signed a separate deal with the Dallas-based Hunt Oil Company, headed by a close political ally of President Bush.


How will the US maintain hegemony over Iraqi oil? By establishing permanent military bases in Iraq. 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. (It takes a brave reporter to leave the Green Zone without a military escort.)


But will the US be able to maintain an indefinite military presence in Iraq? It will plausibly claim a rationale to stay there for as long as civil conflict simmers, or until every groupuscule that conveniently brands itself as ‘al-Qaida’ is exterminated. The civil war may gradually lose intensity as Shias, Sunnis and Kurds withdraw into separate enclaves, reducing the surface area for sectarian friction, and as warlords consolidate local authority. De facto partition will be the result. But this partition can never become de jure. (An independent Kurdistan in the north might upset Turkey, an independent Shia region in the east might become a satellite of Iran, and an independent Sunni region in the west might harbour al-Qaida.) Presiding over this Balkanised Iraq will be a weak federal government in Baghdad, propped up and overseen by the Pentagon-scale US embassy that has just been constructed – a green zone within the Green Zone.


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.
Read the whole thing... it's actually quite interesting.


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