Would You Pay $1 to Get $30?

You’d be tempted, wouldn’t you? This is the thinking behind Jim Holt’s It’s the Oil, appearing in the London Review of Books:

Iraq is ‘unwinnable’, a ‘quagmire’, a ‘fiasco’: so goes the received opinion. But there is good reason to think that, from the Bush-Cheney perspective, it is none of these things. Indeed, the US may be ‘stuck’ precisely where Bush et al want it to be, which is why there is no ‘exit strategy’.

Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves. That is more than five times the total in the United States. And, because of its long isolation, it is the least explored of the world’s oil-rich nations. A mere two thousand wells have been drilled across the entire country; in Texas alone there are a million. It has been estimated, by the Council on Foreign Relations, that Iraq may have a further 220 billion barrels of undiscovered oil; another study puts the figure at 300 billion. If these estimates are anywhere close to the mark, US forces are now sitting on one quarter of the world’s oil resources. The value of Iraqi oil, largely light crude with low production costs, would be of the order of $30 trillion at today’s prices. For purposes of comparison, the projected total cost of the US invasion/occupation is around $1 trillion.

Who will get Iraq’s oil? One of the Bush administration’s ‘benchmarks’ for the Iraqi government is the passage of a law to distribute oil revenues. The draft law that the US has written for the Iraqi congress would cede nearly all the oil to Western companies. ….

Read the whole piece, it’s not that long. What’s galling to me is that it’s been obvious from day one that getting the oil was a huge reason behind Operation Iraqi Liberation, and yet this is the elephant in the dining room, that no one dares talk about. As Alan Greenspan wrote in his memoir: “I am saddened, that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

Arthur Silber writes about the weird unreality of avoiding the elephants in the dining room:

…It is not simply that our national discourse rests on a foundation of evasions, complicated by equivocations, twisted by avoidance, and rendered into meaningless insignificance by an uncountable series of lies. All of that is true, but it fails to capture the quality that is most striking to the perceptive observer. That quality is one of overwhelming, oppressive and suffocating unreality. It is as if everyone knows, but will never acknowledge, that we may speak only in code, and that we may only utilize the safe, empty phrases that we have agreed are “acceptable” — phrases and language that are safe precisely because they have been drained of all correspondence to facts. It is as if everyone realizes, but will never state, that we are engaged in an elaborate charade, a pageant of gesture and indication, where substance and specific meaning have been banned.

…For this is where we are in the United States, nearing the end of the Year of Our Lord 2007: the truth is not merely unpleasant, an uninvited guest who makes conversation difficult and awkward. Truth is the enemy; truth is to be destroyed. To attempt to speak the truth on any subject of importance requires a deep reserve of determination, for to speak the truth requires that one first sweep away an infinite number of rationalizations, false alternatives, and numerous other failures of logic and the most rudimentary forms of thought — as well as the endless lies. On that single occasion in a thousand or a million when a person overcomes these barriers and speaks the truth, he or she discovers an additional, terrible truth: almost no one wants to hear it. This is how we live today: lies are the staple of our diet. Without them, we would die, certainly in psychological terms.

Until our country can come clean about its shameful acts overseas – and our oil grab in Iraq is only the latest, if most outrageous adventure – we will have squandered in only one administration what good will and high regard America enjoyed that literally took generations to build. The sad thing, is that presented with these unvarnished facts, many of our countrymen would simply shrug and be glad that they can continue their Happy Motoring lifestyle, more or less unabated – Iraqis or whoever, be damned.

Even sadder, is that our inability to talk about what Iraq really is about is only one example of the brokeness of our national discourse. I’m reminded of Thomas Cahill’s wonderful How the Irish Saved Civilization. The book opens with a description of the Roman Empire, in its last days, immediately before it fell. Cahill described the art and literature and discourse of that time as being sterile, trite, and derivative of the Empire’s former glory days. In fact, artists and writers were praised for their ability to mimic the styles of yesteryear.

In our time, we still have all the forms of democracy, including a Constitution, checks and balances, elections and an opposition party – all the stuff we took for granted and were bored with during high school civics – and yet the spirit animating these forms is dying, much as it left Rome just before it fell. As often as the winguts fly the flag, and as often as Bush shouts “Freedom” and “Democracy” we know that it’s all a sham, a cruel twisting of what our country once was. And as competent as the leading Democratic candidates are, they don’t dare to speak to what is really going on. The real rulers of this country decided that paying a dollar to get thirty is a good deal, and they don’t care what gets destroyed in the process – in fact it benefits them. Mission Accomplished.