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.

24 thoughts on “Would You Pay $1 to Get $30?

  1. At the very least, all those who have enabled this will have to recant and apologize. As John Edwards has done, and for that I respect him.

  2. I, too, have posted about the shameful acts perpetrated by the United States since the 1861-1865 civil war. All of the past exploits, even the recent excursion in Vietnam, pale in comparasion to the lies about our reasns for being in Iraq. From the beginning I’ve said it is, “All about the O-I-L ! !”

    So what ! ! No one listens to me, either.

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  4. Well, I believe I attempted to describe this thieving strategy a long time ago, and on this very site, but of course, not with the wonderful language and persuasiveness of Silber and others. I called the Iraq mess a long term heist and described the important ploy of creating a distraction for the public’s consumption. Like thieves who need time to strip and carry off a bunch of loot might set a big attention-getting fire nearby, the oil thieves needed to, er, help establish on-going turmoil and a mix-in of ‘terrorists’ to justify staying in Iraq beyond those purple-finger events……time enough to destroy the Iraqi will, time enough to build those military bases and that obscene oil control center, er, embassy.

    Compare the ‘Iraq-in-continual-turmoil-needs-continued-occupation’ strategy to the decades-long mastery of the same resource-gaining strategy in the behavior [and outcomes] of Israel’s occupation of neighbors’ lands. As long as there’s a continual turmoil, and especially if there is the attention -distracting mix-in of terrorism, the stealing of resources becomes not only barely below the radar, but justified or even praised. Please realize the value of continued turmoil for Israel, which now ‘owns’ 40% more land than the original Israel, and has taken possession of the precious water and best farm land from its neighbors, and always, Israel ‘justifies’ its thievery by pointing to the continued ‘threat to its existence’. I call this thievery strategy ‘the dance of evil’.

    All it takes to keep this dance of evil going for decades is for the occupiers to squeeze the occupied to the point of madness…… new terrorists are created, new turmoil erupts, new oppressive anti-terrorism measures need to be instituted……and that dance will very nicely hide and/or justify the thefts.

    I have been watching the democrats in Washington, and I do not believe that they represent an opposition party as much as they are a collusion party. Citizens want America to behave honorably, citizens want to see this thievery stopped and the thieves punished. Please look…. the ‘outcome’ after the ’06 election is not at all a turning back to honorable behavior, but, instead shows only ‘posturing’ and lip service to corrective actions.

    How hard is it to recognize that the power elite in Washington of both parties share the same ties to the moneyed interests hell bent on status quo maintenance? How hard is it to contemplate that all the powerful in Washington agree upon the long-term plan to control and steal Iraq oil? The viability of a two party system became obsolete when the path to election got strewn with obscene amounts of money needed to compete and got so dependent upon fair coverage of candidates by a corporate media. Remember, the same media shops who beat the drums for this resource war are the ones we count on to tell us about our candidates. Those same media shops will ‘sell’ us whichever candidates are already securely in the oil-thieving corner, and will ignore or drip-drip-drip denigrate whichever candidates might dare to challenge that corner.
    I believe the same power structure and their pundits who provide the story-line cover for theft of another country’s resources also provide the American people with a continuous illusion about electoral choices. Foster upheaval abroad and never tell the truth about it, foster pacification at home with phony opposition politics, and never tell the truth about it.

  5. Essentially the US is now following the path followed by Japan before WWII. Their expansionist policy was primarily to obtain the natural resources they lacked. Although you can argue that the level of brutality exhibited by US forces in Iraq doesn’t rise to the level of the Japanese in Nanking (for example), but the motivations are the same.

  6. Silber eloquently characterizes an experience many of us share.

    Remarkably, I’m still finding out about ways the Iraqi misadventure has disturbed the world. NPR this morning had a story about port towns on the north coast of France, who are trying to cope with Iraqi refugees trying to sneak across the channel to England to get work. As the ripples of the war spread, the people of Calais are having to build a shelter facility to help the people our war displaced.

    It will be years before we understand just how much has been screwed up by Bush and his gang of petro-criminals.

  7. an additional, terrible truth: almost no one wants to hear it.

    Chomsky, in one idea that I definitely agree with him on, has termed this “unthinkable thoughts”, and describes it as the way that Americans tend to self-censor their range of possible ideas, so there is no need for the state to go to any great lengths to impose censorship from outside. The people — including regular citizens, the media, and politicians — simply do it for, and to, themselves. I think it applies here.

  8. Consider all the near-term disaster scenaria (e.g. global warming, peak-oil, western demographic aging, pandemics) that get periodically and prefunctorallly discussed in the media. Now consider that our political, military and corporate elites undoubtably have significantly better analyses, both in depth and scope, at their disposal. The idea that insuring access to middle eastern and central asian energy resources is imperative (pun intended) should not be surprising. The kicker is that most of the would be citizens-of-empire supporting the current policies are going to find themselves somewhat disenfranchised in the new regime.

  9. So, we’re going to spend $1 trillion in PUBLIC funds (e.g., my taxes) to create $30 trillion in PRIVATE oil company profits with no investment risk whatsoever, after cutting taxes so that the owners of said companies can keep more of their no-risk profits. What a wonderfully cynical and corrupt plan. No wonder Cheney wouldn’t release the Energy Policy meeting attendance logs and minutes. Pre-911, when the organs of democracy were still functioning at some level and the Constitution still meant something, the bastards might have actually been investigated and impeached.

  10. Well I think it’s a pretty good deal too, but it’s such a short-sighted view that I could never get behind it.

  11. “Although you can argue that the level of brutality exhibited by US forces in Iraq doesn’t rise to the level of the Japanese in Nanking…”

    This is not exactly the highest of human behaviors bars to boogie our way under, no. The fact remains that the United States has smashed Iraq into a living hell of a country with no functioning infrastructure, death and war everywhere, with approximately half a million killed and two million refugees on the run, huddling in misery wherever they can.

    Talk about the truth never being spoken…were Americans truly aware of what they have done to fellow Iraqi humans, of in fact the reality of screaming children, limbs blown asunder form US bombs, beamed into their living rooms every night, well, the war would strop. But that reality–what has been done to the people and country of Iraq–is never truly explored, so our crimes continue.

    I’m going to follow up on this later in the week–it was striking to me how one commenter mentioned John Edwards, he’s apologized but not taken up the fight, I hear nothing about instantly stopping the war or reversing tax cuts or fuel mileage standards. Too much truth confronted there.

    All of our candidates, they too have shrunk from the truth. I often wonder if this is the main reason Al Gore does not run, even his peers can’t confront the truth, let alone speak it.

    The truth will be spoken, never fear, there are always human around who can do no less. There is hope in the pixels you see this instant, all is not lost yet with the internet here.

  12. Who gets the oil?

    China. The oil deal they signed last week with the Shite militias (the ones we’re attacking) is only the start. Right now, Bush is trying to get back on the Sunni’s goodside. The problem is they don’t have any oil. He’s pretty much vilified Shia leadership (Hakim is gravely ill coupled with the fact he’s shall we say extremely partial to Iran) so there’s no one to deal with.

    In the meantime, China comes to town and says “Let’s do business. Here’s the cash, here’s the jobs, provide us security, work out your own power structure and deliver the product.”

    Can you say triple checkmate?

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  14. America and the West (Canada too.. because our leaders are also climate change deniers) are at risk of loosing everything because of this gluttony. Signs of climate change are lurking everywhere. Studies of past civilizations have demonstrated that they are fragile things. Our own could be easily dismantled with fearsome consequences with just two back to back crop failures in North America. Think it can’t happen? That cost will be infinitely more than the value of all of the oil in Iraq or in all the world for that matter. Gluttons usually get what they deserve…with our carbon based economy we long ago made a deal with the devil. It is hard to be hopeful when we see the daily degradation to our planet and the indifference of those who hold power who could steer our ship away from lurking danger. Some future archaeologist (if anyone survives) will no doubt sift through the bones and debris of what we leave behind and conclude (quite easily I assume) that we was victims of our own greed and hubris…just like all the other collapsed civilizations before ours. The truly sad thing is to think of all the millions of species we are taking down with us. If there is a God I can’t imagine that he would be pleased with this.

  15. Another tragedy that most of you know but which has not been mentioned, is the opportunity cost. One trillion bucks could go pretty far in getting the country off of oil. Not only would this uncouple us from events in the Middle East, but it’s a problem that will need to be solved anyway, as peak oil nears. It’s so much easier and cheaper to solve while oil is still abundant, but that would mean the powers that be would have to start looking out for the whole country instead of just for themselves.

  16. Be careful talking about Rome. The democratic forms died in substance soon after Augustus, after which they had several good centuries of despotic rule. They (the Western Empire) only fell 5 centuries after the forms decayed, and about a 1 century after the Christians took over. Whatever caused that fall, it wasn’t a decay of democratic principles; the culture that produced all of those cool ruins in Europe was a dictatorial empire based on slavery.

  17. So let me get this straight. We can’t just LOSE a war – we have to let the Chinese profit from that too?

  18. Marshall, #19, point taken. I brought up Rome because Cahill’s characterization of Rome’s constricted arts and discourse in its final days bears an unfortunate resemblence to our own inability, in a supposed democracy, to discuss what really matters.

  19. I wrote this in my post but deleted it.

    “If we had someone like Augustus who clearly knew what he was doing and actually brought an improvement things might be different. I don’t believe Empire is inherently bad.”

    And of course, don’t forget the Byzantines who also had a aristocracy that lasted for centuries later. 1500 years of self-rule on Constantinople is nothing to sneeze it.

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