Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Fisk, Chomsky & Leftist Self-deception - part 2 (E)

Continued from part 1 - on American unilateralism. Another focal point of much leftist commentary is the US' single-minded concern for oil and energy supply. Part 2 of this text offers a few dissident remarks in that regard :

Many critics condemn the war in Iraq as the latest and crudest incarnation of America's oil policy. To them, the US has no other agenda than to guarantee the unhindered access to Middle Eastern oil, writing off all other justifications for the intervention as mere hot air. For sure, safeguarding the westward flow of oil probably does rank as one of the top priorities on America's list. But ramming home this single issue criticism obfuscates more than it reveals. Let me indicate a few problems in that respect.
1) For a start, compacting America's foreign policy as oil policy, makes it sound as if all players involved in the implementation of such a policy, are streamlined and univocal. Moreover, the Left loves to credit the neo-con kabala that secretly runs the country with pulling off this impressive feat. Alas, we now know that this is not the case. Considerable amounts of in-fighting between the Pentagon and the State Department, and between those administrations and so-called 'big oil' permeate the American strategy in the field. (read more here). According to most sources, 'big oil' managed to decide the battle in its favor. Now, does that square with the American security agenda ? Not by definition, as the industry (with US and UK firms leading the pack, I agree) will benefit from a strong OPEC and high market prices, while the state - and the Pentagon especially - would rather see the organisation dismantled and the prices free. An industry that conceivably aims for the highest possible profits and returns, does not necessarily reckon with the need for maximum political leverage, energy independence and overall security that a state would wish itself to enjoy. It is precisely this pay-off that remains unaccounted for in the rather uncritical conflation of the economic and political agendas.
2) Furthermore, it is not entirely clear why an oil economy should necessarily imply an oil politics. Shibley Telhami at the Brookings Institution makes the following interesting observation :

"Historically, political alliances have not greatly altered patterns of trade between the oil countries and the rest of the world. Oil producers sell oil to the countries that need it and are willing to pay the price and import the best products they can from the best sources they can find. The same was true even during the Cold War years, when political relationships were obviously not central to the oil producers' trading behavior. A case in point was Libya, which, up until 1969, had been a strategic ally of the West and had hosted British and American military bases. The overthrow of the monarchy there in 1969 and the rise of President Qadafi shifted Libyan politics in favor of the Soviet Union. Yet its trade patterns before and after the coup were largely the same. For example, the share of trade with Soviet Bloc nations stood at 1.9 percent in 1960 and 1965, 1.8 percent in 1970, 1.3 percent in 1975, and 1.0 percent in 1980. Moreover, moderate states in the Middle East did not differ radically from pro-Soviet states in their trading: the oil-exporting nation with the greatest share of trade with the Soviet Bloc was the Shah's Iran, not Libya, Algeria, or Iraq. The bottom line was that these states did what was in their economic interest, regardless of their political orientation."

The author adds a further twist to the basic logic of access and assured flow, when - building on declassified documents from the National Security Council - he reveals oil to be not so much an end in and of itself, but mere chump change in the rather grander drama of hobbesian power play; not 'access', but precisely the 'denial of access to enemies' is a driving force behind America's resource politics. From a realist point of view, such a reading makes perfect sense. If American relations with the Saudis deteriorate, and Iraq and Iran begin to market their huge reserves to the soaring economy of China say, that poses a real threat to the industrialised west as a whole. Europe may already be bickering with China over ladies' garments, the bra wars of late, far less appealing 'accrochements' may unravel in the future, should this sell-out of Middle Eastern oil occur...
3) In view of pending resource depletion coupled with the industrial boom in China, establishing de facto control over the remaining fossil fuel-reserves is a very realistic thing to do. Those who are keen to ascribe such in-your-face behaviour to that shoot-first-ask-questions-later Bush and his cronies may be surprised to learn that this policy has had many precursors...and is best known as the Carter doctrine, proclaimed in 1980, following the Soviet invasion of Aghanistan. President Carter has stated : "Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force." As you will remember, President Carter won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for his "efforts to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development". Lest we forget...
4) The argument that we should stay away from oil is at best charming. It is hard to picture what the negators of oil's role in contemporary life have in mind in terms of an alternative. Self-sufficiency ? Green sources ? Nuclear ? Water ? ... None of these is big enough at present to make up for fossil fuels. And then we're not even mentioning the burgeoning economies of Central, South and East Asia, and those of Latin America... The demand that they generate further compounds the problem. Most analists seem to agree that the wars of the future will be resource wars. Before oil, that means 'water' I dare say. But even then, with resource wars ahead of us, one better comes prepared. Also, even if the current frenzy about oil and scarcity does not amount to war, it is wise to diversify while holding on to your prime source for the time being. Now, the latest National Security Strategy document 2006 states exactly that :

" Our comprehensive energy strategy puts a priority on reducing our reliance on foreign energy sources. Diversification of energy sources also will help alleviate the “petroleum curse” – the tendency for oil revenues to foster corruption and prevent economic growth and political reform in some oil-producing states"

It's a wise thing : the forced implementation of conservation measures and the speedy development of alternative energy sources... given that global environmental collapse looms larger every day. And for all the European gloating over its lighter ecological footprint, grand scale sustainable architecture and green public transport is visibly being implemented in New York... not Brussels. (e.g. 7 World Trade Center, and the Hearst Building).
4) On a more general note, it is important to say that historically, the west's meddling in the affairs of the Middle East is a given. Oil was and is but one element at play, besides access to trade-routes and thorough-fares. This may help to remind us that virtually all global players, from Britain to the Ottoman Empire and Russia, have left their complex and complicating marks on the region over time. Even the regional powers themselves bear a good part of the burden when it comes to the present factionalism and abuse. It is impossible to brush this legacy aside and pretend as if the US, or by extension 'the Coalition', are raping a virgin slate. Admittedly, a heightened awareness and consequent responsability on the part of the west and its dominant power(s) in particular should be demanded, but that's an appeal that goes out to France, Germany and Russia just as much as to the countries that face all the flack now. A principled argument against resource control and manipulation, should not content itself with being merely anti-American.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel the need to mention the "wise father - spoiled child" dynamic that exists between the Bush ADMINISTRATION and the American people. The administration (I use this word specifically to stress that I think many other players [Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Rice etc.] have a tremendous impact on what is said and done on behalf of the American people) treats the public as if we are too young or naive to really understand the complexity of what is happening on a global level and is better off believing that what we are doing in the Middle East is for our own protection. I agree that we are not at a place yet where we can rely on other forms of energy to power the economic factory that keeps us healthy and safe. However, the American people are never let into the dialogue. There is no dialogue. Whenever you hear Bush, Cheney or any of the others talk about the war in Iraq it is never about oil it is about terrorism and our security. The administration brushes aside questions about securing oil reserves and immediately turns the subject back to national security. Now, I know many of my fellow Americans may not be up on how much a barrel of oil costs or who are the members of OPEC. However, I think what gets the left into a froth is the dumbing down and the denial when explaining what they are doing in the Middle East. I think the public deserves to be spoken to with honesty and respect even if it will cost the messenger their political career. Many of the US presidents in the past did just that ( FDR, Carter, for examples) and right or wrong the American people were fully informed.

On a side note, you touch briefly on the subject of alternate energy but it bears repeating. If a fraction of the money that is being spent on the war in Iraq (callously ignoring the loss of life, disruption of families and permanently wounded aspect) was used to invest in researching alternate energy sources the American face would look a lot less imperialistic to the rest of the world. Brazil is already way ahead with Ethanol powered cars and we have the technology to do the same. Which makes some people wonder why we are not more proactive in this respect? Bill Gates and Richard Branson are huge investors in Ethanol so I am sure it will take off soon. Could it be that there is a lot of political pressure to keep oil the fuel of choice for America?

Elisabeth

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Elisabeth continued :

It's hard to judge from the inside if I am believing the press I want to believe and filtering out the rest or judging accurately what is going on with Bush. I know it sounds like liberal paranoia and the left gets accused of this on a daily basis, but I still believe the American people have not been told the whole truth about Bush and Iraq. I don't necessarily think Bush is EVIL as many left wingers spit venom for him. I also don't think it's a grand conspiracy either with someone in an underground lair making billions from the US war machine ala Dr. Evil in Austin Powers! I do still believe that sound bites are focus grouped to find out which exact phrases will resonate the most with the public. I believe that big pieces of the picture are left out of the public debate because the administration fears if we had all the facts we would not be on board with their policies. I feel this way because I listen to them, to what they say and how they make it all too simple. Playing on the fears of people and not explaining the very real part of the equation, we need Middle East Oil, we need the Middle East countries to have economic stability and therefore political stability and we need time and cooperation on a global level to help those one product countries to diversify, have democratic governments of their choosing and freedom. Democracy has to be a choice, not something imposed on you. Unfortunately, many of these countries have majorities that don't want to modernize. Don't want to give rights to women. Don't want to change a thing and in fact want to become more conservative. That is something I can appreciate and understand. But that is never discussed and I can only conclude that the reason why is the administration thinks we can't handle the truth.

7:12 PM  

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