August 11, 2006

Politics: Civil War Is Over (If You Noticed)

There's been a lot of talk about the potential for civil war in Iraq, and whether it's already underway, what outside forces will be involved and so on.

Funny thing is, a civil war already happened, and it was in the middle of the Iraq Invasion. On one side was John Negroponte, Richard Armatige, Richard Perle, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld , John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz and others. This group is (was) mostly made up of former Reagan staffers, and has a strong military element to it. They are the neo-cons, folks who have a world view shaped by a combination of the Cold War, John Wayne, and Risk(tm).

Remember "Manifest Destiny" from your school history books? A little catch-up:

Historian William E. Weeks has noted that three key themes were usually touched upon by advocates of Manifest Destiny:

  1. the virtue of the American people and their institutions;
  2. the mission to spread these institutions, thereby redeeming and remaking the world in the image of the U.S.; and
  3. the destiny under God to accomplish this work.

Sound familliar? The idea is that since "our nation" (whichever one that happens to be, in this case the United States of the 1800s) is so great, it's our duty to ensure everyone else in the world has the opportunity to be part of that greatness. Specifically, by falling under our control. It's difficult to find a nation that hasn't had some streak of this, either through military means or political ones ("The world would be so much better if people just did what we do!").

In any case, these folks are the ones who wanted a strong base in the middle east. They want a military presence in the region that is under their direct control. The game, for them, isn't just oil or other resources - it's power. If they didn't lose the civil war, oil would have been flowing out of Iraq at a rate that is far closer to full capacity than what they are running at now. What they wanted was to weaken Saudi Arabia's control of the region by increasing production and thus dropping the cost of oil.

So why didn't that happen? Let me introduce the folks who won:

Here we have Dick Cheney, James Baker III, Garfield Miller, who are more intimately tied in with the big oil companies. In fact, they're the ones who wrote "Options for Iraqi Oil", the 323-page pamphlet that the U.S. government denied existed for two years. What did they stand to win if Saddam Hussein were successfully removed from power? Stability.

No, really! Stability.

Well, not political stability, of course, though that would have been handy. If they wanted political stability, there wouldn't have been a war. No, what they wanted was economic stability. Ever since the 1970s, when the nations of OPEC started to nationalize their oil production, stability has been the most important feature for the companies involved with those nations.

*waves at Hugo Chavez*

Short history break:

Between 1970 and 1973 the price doubled, then the Six Days war happened, tripling prices again to around $12/barrel. At that price, countries outside OPEC started looking for their own reserves, and costs stabilized or even dropped (down to about $15/barrel in 1988). But political seeds had been set with the Carter Doctrine: the U.S. would intervene with military force if its supply of oil was threatened. While the idea was to send a message to the Soviet Union (before they found their own oil), but it ended up being the political justification for going into Kuwait. Kuwait was selling far more oil that the limit set for it by OPEC, and Iraq invaded. That didn't work out so well for Iraq, and an embargo limiting what the nation could purchase by selling its oil was enacted and enforced by the United Nations.

While politically stable, the amount oil that was released by Hussein fluctuated wildly. Oil is a fungible commodity, so it could come from anywhere, and Iraq was still selling right up to the day of the invasion. For those unfamiliar with the term "fungible", that means that the current supply of oil is essentially pooled together before price is determined. The cost of transporting oil is low enough that it will be shipped to whomever is willing to pay for it. The more oil available, the lower the cost will be. The only crisis' that oil companies want are the ones they manufacture.

What has taken them by surprise, however, is just how far the price has jumped: at this point, every bump or potential bump in the oil supply now jumps the cost disporportionately to the actual diffculties encountered. This has led to a much wider variety of potential oil locations now being worth exploring, which could draw oil production out of companies hands. Whatever happens in the near future, the companies are building themselves one hell of a war chest right now.

So at least one civil war has already happened, within the Republican party, and the military lost. Now I wonder if the Democrats are going to have one themselves...?

*A bit more of who's what from last year.*


posted by Thursday at 12:14 pm


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