Elephants and Quagmires: Peak Oil and the Bush Denial
While the Bush administration, the media and nearly all the Democrats still refuse to explain the war in Iraq in terms of oil, the ever-pragmatic members of the Iraq Study Group share no such reticence.
Page 1, Chapter 1 of the Iraq Study Group report lays out Iraq's importance to its region, the U.S. and the world with this reminder: "It has the world's second-largest known oil reserves."
An administration full of oilmen, cognizant of 'peak oil' and America's dependence upon a Middle East containing 60% of the world's remaining cheap oil, faced with a dictator in oh so central and tempting, incredibly oil-rich Iraq, who as a sworn enemy was threatening oil flow not only from Iraq but from the wider Gulf, chose a military solution: shock and awe and regime change.
The neocon faction within the Bush Admin manipulated 9/11 and fear of terrorism into a pretext for already planned aggression in Iraq. They broke American and international law but fantasized that a democratic, neoliberal Iraq of their creation would turn the course of Middle Eastern geopolitics to America's long term benefit (and Israel's long term benefit too, of course).
The war went incredibly well. But they mis-managed the immediate stabilization after victory and made a mess of building a client state in Iraq. And the blatant and cynically illegal aggression created an immense backlash throughout the Middle East, the wider Islamic world, and globally, inflaming potential terrorists and severely weakening America's leadership position.
A destabilized Iraq sliding into civil war now threatens to destabilize the entire Middle East. The growing Sunni-Shia conflict threatens to engulf Saudi Arabia and the other oil producing states. Military unilateralism has also heated up the quarter century old cold war between America and Iran with both sides planning potential military action around the crucial Persian Gulf. Disastrous blundering in Iraq now threatens not only the flow of oil.
America has no choice but to solve this now mission impossible. (And for all-important domestic political reasons American leadership must also at least pretend to be considering a timetable for removing troops from the quagmire.)
Given necessary lead times it is several decades too late to initiate Geogreen innovation to wean America from imported oil from the Middle East. It is in all probability too late to switch to a diplomatic strategy for pacifying a now inflamed hornet's nest even if, now in the worst of times, a Palestine-Israel settlement, an Israeli-Lebanon-Syrian settlement, an American-Iranian settlement and/or a Shia-Sunni settlement were possible.
The hawkish option is a major escalation of American military might in an effort to re-establish control. Such an escalation that would have to include Iran would in all probability risk shutting off the flow of oil from the Gulf at least temporarily, maybe for far longer, precipitating God knows what in the American and global economies. Such a major escalation of hostilities also risks a much wider geopolitical destabilization.
(It is still possible in some circles to fantasize a rebuilt Middle East put back together in an enlightened manner where all would benefit from democracy and prosperity.)
The Bush Admin choice of the resource war path in Iraq as an escalation of America's historic policy to secure Middle East oil was a serious provocation against China and Russia. Success meant American control of the Middle East and an America determined and capable of controlling needed resources globally. Failure has emboldened each and every enemy of America, but desperation could lead to far worse, presently unimagined, outcomes including a final, nuclear, world war.
The present shallow debate about American options in Iraq has mostly ignored both the central importance of American dependence upon the continuing flow of cheap oil from the Middle East and the fundamental Iraq illegality and unilateralist contempt for an international rule of law and co-operation shown by the Bush Admin. America's governing class is still in denial and so there are no solutions on the horizon, only a deepening quagmire.