News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: October 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

All That Oil and No Bush in Sight?

I repost the following in light of arch-conservative Milton Friedman's pronouncement that "of course" the war in Iraq is about oil:

The point I was making was that if there were no oil under the sands of Iraq, Saddam Hussein would have never been able to accumulate the resources which enabled him to threaten his neighbors, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia. And having watched him for thirty years, I was very fearful that he, if he ever achieved — and I thought he might very well be able to buy one — an atomic device, he would have essentially endeavored and perhaps succeeded in controlling the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz, which is the channel through which eighteen or nineteen million barrels a day of the world eighty-five million barrel crude oil production flows. Had he decided to shut down, say, seven million barrels a day, which he could have done if he controlled, he could have essentially also shut down a significant part of economic activity throughout the world.

The size of the threat that he posed, as I saw it emerging, I thought was scary. And so, getting him out of office or getting him out of the control position he was in, I thought, was essential. And whether that be done by one means or another was not as important, but it’s clear to me that were there not the oil resources in Iraq, the whole picture of how that part of the Middle East developed would have been different.

Reading over a recent Guardian Unlimited piece on Christopher Hitchens, I recalled Slavoj Zizek's comments that Hitchens has presented one of the best arguments for the so-called war in Iraq
:The one good argument for war against Iraq is evoked by Christopher Hitchens: The majority of Iraqis are Saddam's victims, and they would be really glad to be rid of him. He is such a catastrophe for his country that an American occupation in whatever form is a much brighter prospect for Iraqi citizens. We are not talking here of "bringing Western democracy to Iraq," but of just getting rid of the nightmare called Saddam. To this majority, the caution expressed by Western liberals cannot but appear deeply hypocritical. Do they really care about how the Iraqi people feel?

Of course, what Zizek gives with one hand, he takes away with another. While conceding that most western liberals are mealy-mouthed placaters when it comes to opposing real evil and tyranny, he also notes that the war with Iraq is not that kind of war--no matter what Hitchens avers. Indeed, for Zizek the Iraq debacle is symptomatic of western neoliberals and the social and economic imperialism imposed by this way of thinking.

It's an oversimplification of Zizek's argument, but it seems that he has always said that any war--no matter how noble or apparently altruistic in intent any war carried out by neoliberal countries, they will always be underpinned by less noble, more mercenary motives.

The war in Iraq is a case in point. The Bush admin has crashed and tumbled over numerous "reasons" for going to war like a drunk trying to maneuver an obstacle course.

First, we had weapons of mass destruction and the impending shadow of nuclear mushroom clouds. When that didn't pan out and no weapons were found and the nuclear threat was shown to have been based on a forgery whose origin is still unknown, the Bush admin reverted to some soporific talk of democratizing the Mideast.

Now Iraq that is slowly circling the drain into sectarian civil war, the Bush admin has supposedly dropped its mantra about staying the course in Iraq. But what has appeared unique in the new rhetoric and the old one's demise is something of a peek at the real reasons for this war and for the US presence in the Mideast.

Thomas Nadelhoffer at Truth to Power (echoing others) points to Bush's own recent statements about the reason to see the nasty deed done to the bloodiest nail and tooth:
You see, 'reasonable' citizens of the world look at these kinds of facts and conclude that we invaded Iraq in order to liberate the Iraqi people from an oppressive dictator. The delusional, paranoid, and conspiratorial, on the other hand, are crazy enough to conclude that the Bushie oiligarchy might have invaded Iraq for profit and oil.
A day or so after I read Nadelhoffer's comments, I heard Pres. Bush voice the same argument again; that is, that if we allow the terrorists to take Iraq that they will gain access to Iraqi oil fields and thereby threaten US security. During his Oct 25 news conference, Bush said:
The fact that the fighting is tough does not mean our efforts in Iraq are not worth it. To the contrary, the consequences in Iraq will have a decisive impact on the security of our country, because defeating the terrorists in Iraq is essential to turning back the cause of extremism in the Middle East.

If we do not defeat the terrorists or extremists in Iraq, they will gain access to vast oil reserves and use Iraq as a base to overthrow moderate governments across the broader Middle East.
Of course, few in the MSM picked up on this comment or the one quoted by Nadelhoffer (though I believe that CNN's Wolf Blitzer made passing reference to it but without pursuing its implication; CNN's own report of the news conference doesn't quote it).

And--of course--the idea is not a new one, that is, that the US' main objective in Iraq is to secure the vast oil field and reserves there. Noam Chomsky has been saying this since the beginning of the so-called war, as I have in speaking to various groups of people. Indeed, the idea that the US or another imperial power would go to war over oil was first voiced by Simone Weil in the late 1930s. I have linked several times to articles that deal with this issue, most notably the comments by former Republican strategist and insider Kevin Phillips.

While all of this may be true, I want to look at one phenomenon I have recently encountered when trying to discuss this notion about the US going to war over oil. From the beginning of the invasion I always heard people say that it cannot be about oil. That if it was about oil, it'd be ... something.

The reason I put an ellipsis there is because when people say that it can't be about oil and then are asked why it can't be, they are often speechlessly left saying< "It just can't be...". One of the more articulate responses about why it can't be is because if it is then it's wrong. That if soldiers are dying for oil it's ... just wrong.

On the face of it, there's nothing unreasonable about a country that depends on oil to run its industrial infrastructure on oil trying to secure its sources for this valuable resource. In a world where Machiavellian maneuvering displace banalities about morality, the idea seems perfectly rational, indeed overwhelmingly rational. Many people, however, simply do not want to face several factors: 1) the immense role that oil plays in our lives, 2) the effects that having no oil would have on their lives, and 3) the desire to simply deny reality when it becomes apparent when the reality is staring them in the face.

Certainly, leftists have not made enough of the oil-over-war meme. In the rather over-used phraseology of an over-worked corporate hack, leftists have not "educated" the public in this aspect of 1) the war and 2) the role that oil plays in everyday life. Yet, beyond this practical, procedural observation, there's the existential fact that even should the idea gain some discussion in the public sphere whether people would believe it, want to believe it, or simply tune it out because it is unbelievable, conspiratorial sounding, or too brutally honest that they'd rather believe anything else except that.

I have a penchant for naivety. I respect the desire to see good in all things and to trust those who tell me something. I take seriously Kierkegaard's admonition that when faced with uncertainty involving hate or love, it always incumbent to choose love:
"[E]xistence must be so arranged that you do not with the aid of certainty in knowledge slink out of revealing yourself in judging or in the way you judge. When deception and truth are presented as two equal possibilities in contrast to each other, the decision is whether there is love or mistrust in you." -- Kierkegaard, _Works of Love_
Yet, this type of stance towards life does not rule out a common sense, critical eye on the machinations of the power mongers. Indeed, as Kierkegaard would have been the first to point out, those who attempt to deceive and falsely pass off truths that exploit our deepest anxieties must indeed be exposed for the liars and corrupters they are.

That argument has the distinction of giving the leaders of this country a benefit of the doubt. Imagine, on the other hand, that the scenario depicted in the movie Syriana of oil running out is not paranoid delusions. Then the leaders of this country could be seen as acting ethically, if by that you mean for the benefit of the whole. Yet, by hiding the truth of the danger and by lining the pockets of the wealthy oil barons, that ethical dimension begins to diminish as the level of corruption grows.

Ethically, the empire's leaders should level with the American public. Not in the saccharine and sanguine terms that GW tried to do several months ago with his talk about energy dependence. This talk should be as hard-bitten and to the bone as possible. It should be as black and white as possible with all the finer shades of grey included but not for the sake of cushioning the blow of the truth but to make the true light of that truth stand in its proper background.

My guess is that the truth here will be immensely bitter. Facing the facts would entail a complete redirection of the life of the community--away from excessive consumerism and take-it-all while you can life styles. It would mean a massive sacrifice of immediate pleasures and gratifications on such a large, painful scale that the US might actually look like a Spartan nation rather the ostentatious Athens that it now does.

Such an undertaking would guarantee future generations of our children at least a future. And if it is done right, that future would not have to look so spartan nor so bleak as a world in crisis because it can't feed its thirst for oil and blood might otherwise look.

My guess, though, is that there are few politicians who have the grit to bring these truths to reality for an American public more willing to delude itself because of its inability or its refusal to face the bare-knuckled ethical problems. The reasons for this are many and include the way that the republic is organized to leave a preening mass in the dark while the so-called insider elite finds its entitled glimpse of hardcore realities reason enough to govern.

The problem is that this position in the past has allowed them to moderately profit from their insider knowledge. Now, however, the lid has come off and the profit-taking and massive plunder of the public treasure has given them a taste for more and ever more. The restraint that a Protestant ethic once inculcated in the leadership has worn away and the profiteers of the republic have nothing to stabilize or stem their greed.

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In this interview the recently deceased Norman Mailer talks about things in a voice that often evokes wisdom and compassion. Over a long life Mailer seems to have learned something--an notion I once heard him travesty--about not just abstractions and fictions but about the nitty-gritty and thorny ethical issues that make a life worth having lived.

To talk about Hitler in the way he does is illuminating. To talk about the possibility of a future life and the repercussions of one's acts in this life is edifying. Though I cast a shadow over ideas as bloodless wraiths invoked by equally bloodless souls, Mailer's thoughts and ideas come across as lived observations. Not as one trying to take a god-view of life, but one who's been educated by a power and process that refines and shapes the spirit into a personality that sees things in all their particularity. I

n this way, the wonder and awe that might lead to something bigger and beyond which perhaps begins to come into view. Read more!