Nicolas J S Davies

A collection of published articles and letters to policymakers regarding the crisis in United States foreign policy by Nicolas J S Davies.

Location: North Miami, Florida, United States

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

More Blood for Less Oil?

Published by Online Journal

On Monday, April 11th 2005, the Financial Times printed a letter from Ian Rutledge, the author of “Addicted to Oil”, in which he explained that the United States Government and U.S. oil companies had counted on the invasion and occupation of Iraq to quickly boost Iraqi oil production by 2 million barrels per day, easing a projected shortfall in global oil supplies. Instead the war has had the opposite effect, reducing Iraqi exports by 1 million barrels per day, and the result is now evident at gas stations from Baghdad to Boston.

In his excellent book, “Resource Wars”, Michael Klare warned in 2000 that misguided efforts to secure the world’s diminishing supply of oil and other resources by military force could have precisely this effect. Turning one of the few parts of the world that still has abundant oil reserves into a war zone just when we really need the oil certainly seems like lunacy. What led the Bush administration to take such a risk? The short answer is that, from their point of view, they had to. It was a critical part of a larger strategy, and they have yet to seriously consider any alternative to this strategy.

As the world’s supply of oil declines in the coming years, the United States and Japan will be the countries whose advanced economies are the most dependent on imported oil. Russia is self-sufficient, China has other options, and Europeans use half as much oil as Americans. So how have American policymakers prepared for these difficult times? Alternative energy? Fuel-efficient vehicles? Public transportation? How about a $500 billion annual military budget to ensure military dominance, outspending the next 23 world military powers combined? (Or is it $800 billion? See “U.S. Military Budget” by Don Monkerud in the April edition of Z)

If the armed forces of the United States were committed only to our country’s legitimate defense interests, these vast expenditures could be attributed to some combination of realistic defense concerns, paranoia and vested interests, and we could debate how much of each as a political issue. However, the Bush administration has openly declared its intention to use these forces in ways that constitute crimes of aggression under international law, as it has already done in Iraq.

The 2002 National Security Strategy blatantly misstated the international legal principle of preemption when it said “legal scholars and international jurists often conditioned the legitimacy of preemption on the existence of an imminent threat”, pretending that one of the basic foundations of international law is neither current nor binding. If you remove the parts I have italicized, what remains is an accurate statement of long-standing international law. In his pre-war legal advice to Mr. Blair, Lord Goldsmith wrote “the USA has been arguing for a broad doctrine of a right to use force to preempt danger in the future…this is not a doctrine which, in my opinion, exists or is recognized in international law.” (See “The Crime of War: from Nuremberg to Fallujah” in the February edition of Z for a full description of how the Iraq war constitutes aggression under international law)

Ignoring the imminence of a threat as a precondition for military action has opened the Pandora’s box of unrestrained international violence. The new National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (2005) states that, in addition to legitimately countering “imminent” threats, the U.S. Government is now planning to use military force against “emerging challenges”, “gathering threats”, “to deny an opponent the strategic initiative”, to “defeat adversaries at the time, place, and in the manner of our choosing – setting the conditions for future security”, or to “strike targets that directly threaten the United States or U.S. friends or other interests”. In other words, once the United States Government has identified any country or group of people as an “adversary” or an “opponent” and decided that “future security” might (one can never be sure of this) be improved by military action, this vast war-machine will continue to be used in ways that violate international law.

Many Americans who are shocked by the war in Iraq take comfort in viewing it as a mistake, an aberration or a special case rather than as part of a larger strategy. I have to say that nothing in the official documents and policy statements of this administration supports this view. On the contrary, the National Defense Strategy begins “America is a nation at war” and describes the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and against terrorism as components of a long-term offensive global war. The purpose of this war is alluded to only in terms of mystifications like “freedom, democracy and economic opportunity”, and analysis of root causes or actual goals is scrupulously avoided. There is no mention of the conflict between U.S. interests and the aspirations of other peoples that lies at the heart of the U.S. foreign policy crisis, nor of its economic or historical roots in past U.S. policy. And, even though one could easily mistake a map of U.S. military deployments and declared “threats” for a map of the world’s oil fields, the words “oil” and “petroleum” do not appear in these documents.

The past century of colonialism and neo-colonialism has ensured that most developing countries that are rich in oil and other raw materials are now ruled by regimes that can easily be construed as “threats” or “tyrants” once they commit the cardinal sin of disloyalty to their neo-colonial masters. Without the precondition of an imminent threat, any one of these countries can now become a target of U.S. aggression, and the kind of political process by which this can be engineered has been excruciatingly laid bare for the whole world to see in the case of Iraq.

The gamble this administration has taken in Iraq pales by comparison to the long-term one that they are taking by staking the future of our country on the illegitimate exercise of military power to secure the Earth’s dwindling resources in the 21st century. This policy requires not just waging and winning serial wars of aggression, but somehow doing so without triggering escalating disruptions in the supply and distribution of the commodities we are fighting over. This war-weary world is only too familiar with this type of international behavior and the United States has previously led efforts to establish a “permanent structure of peace”, as President Roosevelt called it, based on international treaties and institutions, collective security and a fundamental commitment to peace.

The current illegitimate policy is intertwined with our government’s huge investment in military power and its rejection of alternatives to the use of that power as the final arbiter of international problems. When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, and I would add that you and your hammer become a real danger to everyone, including ultimately yourself.

Iraq has quickly exposed the weakness of this policy. Two years in, the Iraqis are resisting as fiercely as ever against the full range of U.S. military power. Much of the country, including most of Baghdad, is effectively in the hands of resistance forces. Even the 10-mile road between the two centers of U.S. power, the Green Zone and Baghdad Airport, is hostile territory. Ramadi has been bombed for months in a block-by-block slow-motion replay of the destruction of Fallujah, and yet resistance forces are still hitting U.S. Marine bases there with accurate and lethal mortar fire. U.S. forces all over Iraq are hunkered down in fortified bases reminiscent of Dien Bien Phu or Khe Sanh, defended by armored sorties and air strikes against surrounding areas, and supplied by heavily armed convoys and airlifts.

The human cost of the war is staggering. The Center for International Emergency, Disaster and Refugee Studies at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health conducted a survey of Iraqi civilian casualties, and concluded, “Violent deaths were widespread…and were mainly attributed to coalition forces. Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children. Making conservative assumptions, we think that 100,000 excess deaths or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths”. (The Lancet, November 20th 2004)

These conclusions are supported by Iraqi Health ministry reports released to Knight Ridder Newspapers and the BBC in September 2004 and January 2005 respectively, and there can be little doubt that this is an accurate picture as far as it goes. It dramatically contradicts the impression conveyed by the embedded media that most of the violence in Iraq has been committed by anti-American forces.

Mainstream resistance groups seem increasingly well disciplined, and highly-publicized terrorist attacks that have killed a lot of civilians appear to be mainly the work of fringe Islamist groups. “Iraqi Interior Ministry Special Forces” and other Kurdish and exile groups allied with the U.S. have been implicated in assassinations of academics, human rights activists and political opponents, and there is sophisticated debate amongst the Iraqi population about who is really behind each terrorist attack and murder. Many Iraqis question the existence of “terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi”, the villain of Centcom press releases and the U.S. infotainment industry.

By continuing to resist, the Iraqis are calling the United States’ bluff, forcing the U.S. military to put its cards on the table and reveal its strengths and weaknesses to other potential adversaries, thus surrendering a critical edge in an age of asymmetric warfare. More importantly, the resistance is exposing both the futility and the brutality of U.S. policy. In spite of sophisticated “information management”, this naked view of U.S. aggression is generating popular opposition to U.S. interests all over the world, alienating both allies and trading partners, and the United States is losing the war on the very terms by which our leaders have sought to define it: non-proliferation; human rights; democracy…not to mention oil. As for counter-terrorism, the State Department has abruptly discontinued its annual report on global terrorism after the National Counterterrorism Center reported a 250% increase in worldwide terrorism, from the previous record high of 175 incidents in 2003 to 625 incidents in 2004.

While the United States persists in its aggression in Iraq, and has locked itself into hostile stand-offs with Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela (the list keeps growing), other countries are making deals, signing treaties and hammering out the tough choices that will be vital to a peaceful, sustainable future for the human race. As the U.S. puts its best resources into developing the next generation of killing machines, other countries will be developing the technologies and social structures to take human civilization beyond the age of petroleum.

Before the invasion of Iraq, the prospect of war was greeted by worldwide protests involving millions of people who knew only too well what this would be like, even as policymakers in Washington buried their heads in mystifications and wishful thinking. That our leaders were so wrong should lead all Americans to question their long-term strategy and the dangerous and naive assumptions about military power and international relations that underlie it. Michael Klare suggests that the formation of the International Energy Agency in 1974 to allocate scarce oil supplies in response to the Arab oil embargo provides a useful alternative model for dealing with the inevitable resource shortages of the 21st century. We can only hope that the counterproductive and horrific results of our country’s aggression in Iraq will lead the American people to reject militarism, to renew our commitment to international law, and to put this country’s enormous wealth and human potential back to work with the rest of the world to solve our common problems within a “permanent structure of peace”.


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