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Thursday, October 11, 2007


we are never leaving iraq

jim holt in the london review of books channels kevin phillips, whose "american theocracy" provides much of the factual ammunition for holt.

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.

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 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which will probably diminish, and which is in any case comparable to the number of US motorcyclists killed because of repealed helmet laws) – are negligible compared to $30 trillion in oil wealth, assured American geopolitical supremacy and cheap gas for voters.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.

all versions of leaving iraq proposed on either side of the aisle are decoys. so did the british talk constantly of leaving, from 1922 to the 1958 fall of the hashemites. in the end, they had to be expelled by their own bankruptcy following the second world war.

neither will the united states leave until that time. particularly if northern ghawar has actually peaked, as now seems likely -- in fact, early realization of this fact by highly attuned oil multinationals and the bush administration that is complicit with them probably drove dick cheney's attachment to the neoconservative plan to conquer iraq from a very primal level.

holt goes too far, i think, in presuming that even the piss-poor plan of pacification was intentional -- no developer of oilfields wants these conditions, and what has happened to iraq is purely a confluence of ideology and incompetence. but cheney's 2001 energy task force almost certainly touched on the nearing peak of saudi oil production and the need to procure and quickly develop untapped sources, from a perspective that far transcends profit and addresses directly the root of the american model of technological dependence and consumption-driven economics. iraq is that source, the only known one on earth.

it remains to be seen if future american governments can make good on this resource-driven expansion of the american empire in the face of a burgeoning debt crisis. in spite of its moral abhorrence, as an american and a westerner, one must hope for something like success. much of what we think of as western civilization may now depend on it in the intermediate term.

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