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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How to Win an Oil War

posted by on August 20 at 16:48 PM

The surge has worked like shaken baby syndrome works: Things have quieted down, but nobody in their right minds would consider the situation likely to end up well in the long term.

When I hear McCain, channeling Bush, prattling on about winning the war in Iraq, I have to wonder: What does he mean by win? A stable, free and democratic Iraq? Not going to happen. We all know it, I’d hope even McCain knows it.

When we leave, the oil-bearing parts of the country will become the effective property of Iran. In turn, Iran will be embroiled in an insurgency of its own. Eventually, when the country is hollowed out enough, it’ll become at best a petty oil-dictatorship.

Can we be honest with ourselves, even if just for a moment? This war was about oil. In any candid sense, ‘victory in Iraq’ means we have access, perhaps exclusive access, to the vast oil resources contained within its borders. Everything else is gingerbread.

We’d like to forget—in the midst of all this flowery talk about spreading democracy, freedom-loving peoples and our love for the Iraqi people—that the first public declaration in favor of this war was fear—of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of someone beyond ourselves. All of this nation building rhetoric was bolted on, to cover the gaping lack of such weapons being used on the approaching US troops, or found buried in the sand.

And contrary to the consensus on the left, I think just about everyone in America connected enough to have an opinion on the war understood that it was people from Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, not Iraq, that attacked us. So many, including Osama himself, from Saudi Arabia (first known as the ARAMCO, the Arab/American oil Company) was the fear. If we couldn’t trust Saudi Arabia for our oil (#1 in proven oil reserves), we could tame Iraq (#2 in proven reserves) and tell the Saudis to finally fuck off.

How satisfying that would’ve been.

McCain fashions himself as some sort of a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt. Good thing, perhaps, if his plan to ensure continued American affluence is to do so on top of a mountain of human skulls.

A war over a resource like oil is a very 19th century sort of war, requiring 19th century attitudes and tactics. If the goal is the oil, the Iraqi people are in the way. Superfluous, useless. Winning a war like this, to dominate and extract petrochemicals, means being rid of many and cowing the remainder of the people unfortunately situated on and around the resource.

Well, what would that sort of victory look like? How could we have gotten there, to that very dark but affluent place so many of us seem to desire? (McCain’s willingness to talk of victory in wars like Iraq, to drill anywhere, to cling onto oil at any cost is my suspected source for his recent bump in the polls.)

Invade, ignoring the pleas of our many deeply loyal allies to just not do this. Do so with a force too small to successfully occupy and control the country after the fall of the government. Refuse to negotiate any sort of truce or surrender, cut any deal. Make it clear that we intend to fire and throw into poverty everyone in the government and military, rather than just bribe those already in power to play along with us.

In short, maximize the chance that, out of desperation, the opposing government will use any of the chemical, biological or nuclear weapons at their disposal. Make sure they have nothing left to lose, and only the grimmest post-invasion future ahead. If such weapons are not used—because they are not available, or the collapsing government has a moment of humanistic wisdom—fake such an attack on our own troops.

When such weapons are used on US troops, claim horror—and the need to retaliate in kind to maintain the stability of mutually assured destruction. Systematically vaporize inconvenient population blocks, located in oil rich regions, using nuclear bombs.

Wait the few weeks for the radiation to damn down to near-background levels—we have bombs just for this purpose—and then calmly occupy the resource-laden territory and start pumping the oil. Import labor as needed. When these fields are drained, repeat.

It might take decades for the last drops of accessible oil to dry up, but it’s coming. We can either get really good at fighting over the scraps or start working now on the alternates.

In our minds, we need to sharpen the choice in this upcoming election—between a man interested in using belligerence and the strong arm of war, military and government to sustain an unsustainable reliance on a dwindling resource and a man trying seriously to work on the alternate.

Victory in Iraq is imaginable, in all its horrors. So is victory without Iraq. We should at least be honest about the cowardly path we are backing towards, yet again.

RSS icon Comments


I don't think I wanna vote for you.


Posted by NapoleonXIV | August 20, 2008 5:03 PM

Wait. I didn't get past your first link. Don't shake? Are you sure it says "don't"? Doh! I mean, fuck! Got that one fucking 180 degrees backwards, didn't I? Motherfucker.

That does explain a lot.

So. Besides having a scientist with a column, is the Stranger thinking about some sort of "Dear Lawyer" column?

Posted by elenchos | August 20, 2008 5:08 PM

@2 - Please, please Annie Wagner write that column from Chicago.

Posted by Ryan on Summit | August 20, 2008 5:22 PM

Maybe "Everything is going to be just fine if we're willing to throw our weight around a little" is a more sellable message than "We need to buckle down and make some sacrifices for the long-term good."

Posted by flamingbanjo | August 20, 2008 5:31 PM

Damn, Science, you're still the smartest one on staff.

Posted by Justin | August 20, 2008 5:32 PM

flamingbanjo, that's Ron Paul talk. Be careful when you speak.

Posted by P to the J | August 20, 2008 6:00 PM

I like it -- this is just the nice crisp ten word reason to vote for Obama, that does not require a graduate degree in history and global political economy, that will get us the Bubba vote!!

Posted by PC | August 20, 2008 6:01 PM

You'd have to "reform tort law" or whatever, to keep the cancerous oil workers from suing. Or drill with robots (with frickin laser beams on their heads).

Posted by Amelia | August 20, 2008 6:28 PM

I have a plan for the alternates -- but first we have to reconstruct a lot of dinosaur DNA.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | August 20, 2008 6:29 PM


I agree with your assessment, and would add the following:
Bush, Cheney and now McCain assume that, in the present desperate world, you can stop at being a little ruthless, by merely throwing our weight around a little.

As Russia--and even Iran--have shown us recently, lots of countries can throw their weight around. If we want to win that fight, we can't be a little bit ruthless. We have to be willing to go all out, or our bluff will be called.

Only the US has the scientific and technical infrastructure to develop an alternate to petroleum. It's our advantage in this situation. We should play it.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | August 20, 2008 6:50 PM

#6: Things I agree with Ron Paul about:
1. Our leaders should dust off the Constitution and read it every once in a while.
2. Zeppelins are cool.

Posted by flamingbanjo | August 20, 2008 6:52 PM

Iraq was basically a field exercise for our eventual occupation of Russia.

Posted by John Bailo | August 20, 2008 7:02 PM

But what makes you think that Obama isn't just as capable of the same end game?

Sure he promotes exploration of alternatives, but he also wants to consider off shore drilling. Besides, once he is in the White House and learns his place with the military and the oil interests his tune will change - and fast.

This problem, as you describe it, goes far beyond the election of one President and/or a Congressional majority.

Posted by patrick | August 20, 2008 8:00 PM

The war was for oil in the sense that the US wants the oil in that region to continue flowing and that if there was no oil in that area no one would care.

But when you start talking about the US owning the oil there, you're into 911Truther territory. No one with any sense, even the craziest neocon, believes the US could simply claim the right to Iraqi oil and get away with it. And for those that think Halliburton getting oil services contracts is the same as owning the oil fields, you're really stretching there.

Posted by bob | August 20, 2008 9:02 PM

Would pipelines and rigs in a toxic desert of radioactive glass be less vulnerable to low-tech sabotage? Still vulnerable to high-tech attack though. If you put them underground?? Sounds like a major investment either way.

These mafiosi aren't long-term, big picture guys. Maybe Iraq was just about securing a foothold while driving up the speculative oil prices, since we're going to have to go off oil over the medium term anyway. Oh, and any excuse to pour money into the defense budget.

...Do the prevailing winds blow from Saudi Arabia to Iraq or vice versa?

Posted by Amelia | August 20, 2008 9:47 PM

The war was always about oil? Brilliant. Did you just now figure that out?

Dude - you are SO going to have a bad day when you find out that Santa isn't real.

Posted by montex | August 20, 2008 10:10 PM

"...I think just about everyone in America connected enough to have an opinion on the war understood that it was people from Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, not Iraq, that attacked us."


Newsweek poll of 1001 adults
June 18-19 2007

Q10 Which one of the following countries did most of the 9/11 hijackers come from?

43% Saudi Arabia
20% Iraq
14% Iran
11% Syria
12% don't know/refused

Q6 Do you think Saddam Husseinís regime in Iraq was directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001?

June 2007 41% Yes 50% No
Sept 2003 47% Yes 37% No

Posted by chicagogaydude | August 20, 2008 10:36 PM

I still don't think this war was for oil. This war is about Bush's ego, his desire to surpass his dad in SOMETHING. It's been years since the occupation began, we haven't seen any new oil coming from Iraq, and gas prices are still skyrocketing.

Posted by Brandon J. | August 21, 2008 3:26 AM


Just because there hasn't been any new oil coming from Iraq at any noticeable rate and prices are still climbing does not mean that the motivation was not about oil. Most likely it was a combination of both his ego and the desire for Iraq's oil, its just the oil part hasn't panned out the way they predicted or desired (much like every other aspect of this sham of a "war")

Posted by MarsAttack | August 21, 2008 7:13 AM

@18 - You might be right about Bush's motivation, but this whole thing has always been Cheney's wet dream.

Posted by Porkchop Sandwiches! | August 21, 2008 7:52 AM

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