It’s “About Oil”
A guest analysis from James H. Kunstler

The following, a couple of entries in James Howard Kunstler’s “Clusterfuck Nation” blog, are very much worth considering.  The fundamental premise is one which is hard to dismiss—that is, “it’s about oil.”  That is, surely the attack on Iraq is grounded in long term theories about oil production and control held by Dick Cheney and the rest of the current US administration.  I come to this premise to some degree by the process of elimination.  Obviously the Iraq regime did not have weapons of mass destruction.  Obviously they were not directly involved in the events of 9/11.  And most obviously, we did not start that war to “bring democracy” to a Middle East nation.  It has to be “about oil.”  How “about oil?”

Well, it’s probably true that the authors of our adventure in Iraq did fantasize, over single malt and NFL playoffs, that if they could just “stand up” a real western-style democracy in the middle of the turmoil that is the heart of the old Ottoman Empire, perhaps such a happy regime would be “catching.”  But it has to be true that all of the neo-cons understand that an enormous portion of the United States’ energy requirement is at present in the hands of foreign governments who don’t particularly like us, or have much interest, beyond the simple income stream, in making sure our economy—our way of life—continues without serious dislocation.  Surely anyone who thinks strategically can see that the United States is truly at the mercy of other countries.  Jimmy Carter saw this clearly in 1976, and made attempts to change the nation’s course.  Unfortunately, Mr. Carter didn’t have an inkling of the volcano that was about to erupt on his watch in Iran.  Even more unfortunate, Mr. Reagan, spokesman for his party of business interests in 1980 (as is Mr. Bush today), chose to argue that a great country like the US “didn’t have to put a sweater on for nobody, no time, no where.”  This emotional appeal to jingoism and short term self interest was well nigh traitorous to the real long term interests of the American people, and of course it worked like a charm—Reagan was elected to two ruinous terms in office and set the country firmly on the course to disaster on which we continue to travel at increasing speed.

When Reagan was elected the US turned an important corner.  We imagined that we could drive as much as we liked, forever.  Uncle Ronnie told us so.  Even when we achieved a brief respite from fantasy-based government during the Clinton years, the Clinton administration chose not to rock the boat with regard to energy policy.  Indeed, SUVs became ascendant in the ‘90s, and at any rate, only two years into the Clinton Presidency Mr. Clinton found himself with a Republican majority in the House and under investigation for trumped up small time real estate dealings in Arkansas.  Choosing to spit in their face by screwing an intern under the presidential desk during office hours, Mr. Clinton gave the GOP an even better non sequitor than button-up sweaters and the 55 mph speed limit, and once again the voting public was distracted into voting against their real interests.  (Of course it’s true that in 2000 the GOP had the further aids to success of mechanical and electronic election process manipulations; Gore did win—but Monica made it close enough, so he still “lost”).

So we find ourselves before another election, in a morass of a war about oil.  The following article may offer some clarity to readers of any stripe about what oil is about.  As far as “what to do” at the moment: well, we have precious few choices as individuals.  First, get the Republicans out of majority in both Houses of Congress.  Second, try to elect “real” Democrats rather than “Republican-lite” candidates like Joe Leiberman (who is currently campaigning in Connecticut with Republican House candidates!).  We might also admit to ourselves that even small, incremental turns away from oil dependence must be good, e.g., wind turbines in beautiful but windy places are in the larger scheme of things more positive than negative.  Finally, it may be true that Kunstler’s description of this Jihad Movement is still significantly over-wrought.  That is, I find it hard to believe that the ordinary people who live in Muslim parts of the world want anything much different from us: a reasonable life without war.  We’re all in the same boat, and war blows a hole in the bottom. So does global warming for that matter. This is not to say that, at present, things do not trend in Kunstler’s direction.

–Bill Hicks  [photo, James Dean as Jett Rink, Giant]

August 21, 2006

It is interesting to see how suggestible world opinion can be. Hassan Nasrallah says that Hezbollah "won" the one-month war it started with Israel and the world affects to believe it. Even the Lebanese pretend to believe it, though their economy was wrecked in the process.

     What interests me a little more is the absence of any sense of cause and effect among the Lebanese leaders. They allow Hezbollah to operate as a surrogate military within their state, and then they complain when Hezbollah's military transgressions are answered by an Israeli military response against the host state. And now the Lebanese have to pretend to celebrate Hezbollah's victory -- while tourists quietly decide to go anywhere in the Mediterranean except Beirut.

     Another body of opinion, exemplified by George Friedman at Stratfors, says that by failing to eliminate Hezbollah's hardened positions in south Lebanon, Israel has lost its aura of military invincibility -- the invisible shield that for thirty-odd years made the leaders of Muslim states think twice before starting a rumble. This might be true for the moment. But it doesn't include the additional reality that sometimes failure is a salutary prompt to rethink one's tactics and strategy. The likelihood now is that Israel will find ways around Hezbollah's (and Iran's) tactic of conducting rocket war from fortified bunkers and Israel will not advertise it when they do.

     Israel's current Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert may be viewed as a loser by Israel's Knesset or parliament, and they may replace him with Bibi Netanyahu, who was PM in the 1990s and went through his own years of loserdom, and now might return to power with a more refined tragic sense of politics and circumstance, as Churchill did in England in 1939.

     World opinion seems to regard Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the current "winner" in the region. He says he aims to kick Israel's ass and sends his goons to show the world how it's done. They're like little kids who go to a neighbor's house, set a paper bag full of dog shit on fire on the door step, ring the doorbell, and hide in the bushes to watch the response. Eventually the police show up.

     America's aura of loserdom in the Iraq adventure glows a more nauseating shade of greenish brown every day. But it would be a mistake to think that Iraq was Vietnam all over again. Iraq stopped being a war for us three years ago and became a hopeless police action in a terrible neighborhood. Would Iraq (and the world) be better off with Saddam Hussein still in charge? My guess is he would be vying with Mr. Ahmadinejad to lead the jihad for a return of the Islamic caliphate. That event might have stimulated Europe to take the clash of civilizations a little more seriously a little sooner -- but, alas, we will never know.

      As things stand now, Iraq appears poised to crack up along ethnic and regional lines, no matter how many Hummers patrol the streets, which would leave most of the remaining oil wealth of the Shiite-dominant south within Iran's sphere of influence.

     Sooner or later America is going to lose access to the roughly 20 percent of the total oil imports it gets that come from the Middle East. The foothold in Iraq was an attempt to postpone that day. It looks like it will not work out. The US army is exhausting itself and bankrupting the civilian treasury. Sixty percent of the US public now disapproves of our continued presence there. Internal pressures among the Middle East oil producers themselves -- including those on the sidelines of the war -- will create additional stresses. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, the UAE, all have peaked now in terms of oil production. Meanwhile, their populations still grow, their internal oil consumption increases, leaving less for export, and the quality of the crude goes from light-and-sweet to heavy-and-sour, with further difficulties for refining and marketing.

     If America loses 20 percent of its oil imports -- on top of steep depletion rates elsewhere (Mexico, the North Sea), plus political trouble in places like Nigeria and Venezuela -- then we can kiss goodbye a whole roster of things like WalMart, easy motoring on the interstate highway system, Walt Disney World, a continued profitable build-out of suburbia, and a diet of Cheez Doodles and Pepsi. I am on record, of course, as not being in favor of these things, but it would be very messy indeed if they all ground to a halt in a few mere months.

      We've done a lousy job of preparing ourselves to live differently. In fact, the whole thrust of American politics along the whole spectrum has been to keep the current racket going. This is why the only broad discussion now occurring over our energy problems is focused to the point of neurotic obsession with keeping the cars running by other means at all costs. This is true on left as well as the right. The left is lost in raptures of driving around in cars fueled by used french-fry oil. The right is lost in raptures of executive pay packages for retiring oil company executives. We are putting no thought, meanwhile, into how we will grow our food in an energy-scarce future, how we will conduct manufacturing and trade, or how we will heat all the McHouses.

     There are two themes here, related by strange circumstance, and both are a clear and present danger to America's well being. One is the implacable enmity of an Islamic world bent on vanquishing its old adversary "the Crusader West." And the other is the West's inability to face the practical problems of reorganizing our societies to meet the reality of an energy-scarcer future. The scary thing is, we have to take both of these challenges seriously.

     In the meantime, Israel is the West's stalking horse and Jihad's whipping boy. We should recognize the obvious symbolism.

August 14, 2006

 The great weakness of the peace movement is its utter inability to think strategically. The deep wish for peace, for an absence of hostilities, eclipses the fact that hostilities abide. Thus, Israel becomes the new villain in the story for carrying the West's water in the struggle against the abiding hostility of Jihad.

     The peace movement does not believe in Jihad. By Jihad, I mean a trans-national ideologically-driven campaign to murder "infidel" non-Muslims and to extend Islam's domain geographically as far as possible. An important feature of the campaign is the elimination of Israel, an irritating piece of Western "infidel" grit lodged in Islam's throat.

     Ideologically, Jihad despises Israel because Hebrew culture represents the basis of notions central to western civilization -- that there should be rules regarding decent human conduct beyond whatever raw power itself may assert; that we are responsible for our conduct; and that someone above is watching our conduct and weighing our responsibility.

     Jihad is not interested in decent conduct per se. That's why many Jihadists endorse conduct like the indiscriminate murder of non-muslims per se, videotaped beheadings of non-combatants by the cruelest methods imaginable, the suicide / homicide bombings of discos and cafes where no military assets are present, and the downing of civilian airplanes with bombs. These things are merely expressions of raw power, which is the antithesis of civilized conduct.

     The leaders of Lebanon are not interested in responsibility for the conduct of their policies and the things that happen within their territory. They permit a rogue Jihadist army to operate freely on Lebanese soil, to amass rockets and other ordnance, to fire them at Israel at the behest of the Jihadist's sponsor, Iran, and to use Lebanese civilians as shields and sandbags to defend those military assets -- and then they complain about the consequences when those military assets are attacked.

     The peace movement doesn't take Jihad at its word. Jihad is not interested in peace. It is a war movement.

     The United States had to take Jihad seriously when Jihad hijacked airplanes and knocked down two skyscrapers and one side of the Pentagon. (And, by the way, I regard theories that Vice-president Dick Cheney "masterminded" the 9/11 attacks to be paranoid nonsense beneath discussion.) The US has engaged Jihad, but rather obliquely. Our "war" in Iraq stopped being a war in 2003. It has been a clumsy and unsuccessful policing job since then against two Islamic sects fighting over the oil production assets of a collapsed artificially-constructed 20th century state that was once known as "Iraq."

     The original strategic impetus of the Iraq war was to kick an Islamic state's ass as a reply to the 9/11 attack. Since the 9/11attack was not carried out by a sovereign nation, the US reply had to be made to a target that represented the next best thing, and by default Saddam Hussein was selected because he and his state had caused a lot of trouble in the recent past. Strategically it was deemed that removing him from power would have additional benefits for stability in the region. It was a tragic miscalculation. Life is sometimes tragic and nations make tragic errors. The US effort since the initial invasion was intended to prevent that state from collapsing but turned out to have only stimulated and accelerated the process. The Shia and the Sunni antagonists were not really interested in the one thing that the US had to offer: institutions styled on Western infrastructures for justice and law. The two antagonists were only interested in the assertion of raw power.

     One thing the peace movement never considers: what if there had been no US reply to the injury and insult of 9/11? What if we had just sucked it up? I can't prove this, but I believe that such behavior would have only emboldened Jihad to seek more targets of opportunity, and probably enticed Mr. Hussein into the kind mischief and grab for leadership of trans-national Jihad that Mr. Ahmadinejad is now showing. Critics will hasten to point out that Hussein was a secular dictator. I would hasten to remind them that in his final years in power he had taken to such stunts of religiosity as building mega-mosques, and transcribing the Koran using his own blood for ink.

     (The 9/11 Dick Cheney fantasy is interesting insofar as it provides the nuttier elements of the peace movement with a justification for not replying to the attacks -- we did it to ourselves.)

     What is the meta-strategic objective for the US in the Middle East? It is to preserve the orderly flow of oil resources. Is that a good thing? I happen to be a critic of the way America uses its oil resources, that is in the operation and further elaboration of a living arrangement based on extreme car dependency. I am not convinced that a "cold turkey" sudden cut-off of our oil supplies would be a good thing for our society. However, I have a fatalistic view that sooner or later we will face the loss of these energy resources and that we had better prepare ourselves for the event.

     Something else is happening. The US's strategic objective of preserving oil flows is being pre-empted by the objective of defending the West against an increasingly restive and aggressive Jihad. Sooner or later Jihad will turn to its "oil weapon" to throw a wrench in the machinery of the West's defense -- but in the meantime, the greed for oil revenues trumps that action. Anyway, Jihad perceives the West's growing weakness without sacrificing its oil income. The addicts are killing themselves.

     Finally, it is apparent to Jihad that they face a horizon on the availability of their oil drug (and weapon). Peak oil is well understood by the Islamic oil producers. (Among the most articulate peak oil voices on the international scene is Samsam Bakhtiari, former head of the Iranian National Oil Company.) For the oil-producing Islamic nations, the dwindling of oil supplies, now imminent, has enormous implications. Chief among these is the very existence of large populations predicated on a single resource. Their fear of this future has stimulated millions of young men in these doomed societies to join Jihad, an apocalyptic cult seeking the resolution of last things.

     The West, too, has its share of apocalyptarians. While the Republican party in power has flirted with them for political gain, I do not believe that anyone really holding the reins of power, including George W. Bush, really subscribes to these ideas. At worst, George W. Bush subscribes to the idea that Americans should continue to live in an easy-motoring utopia. But the reality of peak oil must even impress him.

     So, as the oil predicament becomes untenable for both the suppliers and the addicts, we increasingly face this worldwide campaign of religious wrath. Though it is almost never expressed in the West, out of excessive politeness, Jihad can probably be described as a campaign of sheer vengeance against those who consumed Islam's energy resources and thus its future. The Muslim people got a raw deal. Their kings, princes, and despots enjoyed wealth beyond imagination, while the masses simply bred themselves into an ecological crisis. They possessed a geographical region, large as it is, that is mostly good for nothing except growing dates and sesame seeds. Their fantasies of vengeance are grandiose. The West has to contend with them, has to defend itself against them. Israel is on the front lines of that defense. The prospects for the other Western nations facing this implacable enemy are grim and frightful. We want there to be no fighting. We want everyone to be kind to everybody else. We want peace. They want war.

--James Howard Kunstler,

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August 25, 2006