Friday, April 28, 2006

Empire : Love to Love You Baby (E)

Mid-June will see the release of Ricky Seabra's new performance 'Empire, Love to Love you Baby' at kc nOna in Mechelen.
This is a piece that will deal with matters related to the imperial status of the United States, the possible loss of that status in the eyes of the world - especially since the wild undertakings by President Bush and his clansmen - and how to possibly regenerate the pull and attraction the States once had..
More information on the piece can be found on Ricky's webpages, here

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.