Iraq's Missing Sea Of OIl  

Posted by Big Gav

Iraqi oil is a subject I always find fascinating, and Michael Klare is one of the best writers around on oil politics, so this article is a good combination. It doesn't touch on the great lost (black) gold of the western desert mystery, but hey, can't have everything.

We're guaranteed to see more Pentagon planning and war gaming based on the control of world energy supplies, not to speak of more and ever better military bases planted in far-flung, oil-rich areas of the world. So it's important, as Klare does, to take stock of what actually happened to Iraqi oil and the dreams of global dominance that went with it.

Energy is a strange thing to control militarily. As Iraq showed and Katrina reminded us recently, its flow is remarkably vulnerable, whether to insurgents, terrorists, or hurricanes. It's next to impossible to guard hundreds, not to say thousands, of miles of oil or natural gas pipelines. It's all very well to occupy a country, set up your "enduring camps," and imagine yourself controlling the key energy spigots of the globe, but doing so is another matter. (As the saying went in a previous military age, you can't mine coal with bayonets.) In the case of Iraq, one could simply say that the military conquest and occupation of the country essentially drove Iraq's oil deeper underground and beyond anyone's grasp. Hence, the signs should indeed say: "BLOOD FOR NO OIL." It's the perfect sorry slogan for a sad, brainless war; and even the Pentagon's resource-war planners might consider it a lesson worthy of further study as they think about our energy future.

In the introduction, Tom mentions the fabled "arc of instability".
Forget the fact that a number of the major players in the Bush administration came out of the energy business; that Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor, had had an oil tanker named after her (when she was still on Chevron's board of directors); that the neocons and their supporters evinced a special interest in the oil heartlands of our planet (a.k.a. "the arc of instability"); or that the Pentagon was staking those heartlands out, base by base.

This arc (or the "gap", as it is known elsewhere) is a concept that has been surfacing quite a lot lately. Mobjectivist described a sighting a little while back, but the view was a bit foggy so the significance of it was lost.



This arc (or gap, or cone) has been around for quite a while, and a cynic may be tempted to believe it exists for a reason. George Orwell, for example, described the gap in 1984 - it has a touch of post World War II thinking, but the essential point is that the arc / gap / cone is an area that is exploited by the 3 main industrial powers, rather than having any control over its own destiny:
All of the disputed territories contain valuable minerals, and some of them yield important vegetable products such as rubber which in colder climates it is necessary to synthesize by comparatively expensive methods. But above all they contain a bottomless reserve of cheap labour. Whichever power controls equatorial Africa, or the countries of the Middle East, or Southern India, or the Indonesian Archipelago, disposes also of the bodies of scores or hundreds of millions of ill-paid and hard-working coolies. The inhabitants of these areas, reduced more or less openly to the status of slaves, pass continually from conqueror to conqueror, and are expended like so much coal or oil in the race to turn out more armaments, to capture more territory, to control more labour power, to turn out more armaments, to capture more territory, and so on indefinitely. It should be noted that the fighting never really moves beyond the edges of the disputed areas. The frontiers of Eurasia flow back and forth between the basin of the Congo and the northern shore of the Mediterranean; the islands of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific are constantly being captured and recaptured by Oceania or by Eastasia; in Mongolia the dividing line between Eurasia and Eastasia is never stable; round the Pole all three powers lay claim to enormous territories which in fact are largely unihabited and unexplored: but the balance of power always remains roughly even, and the territory which forms the heartland of each super-state always remains inviolate. Moreover, the labour of the exploited peoples round the Equator is not really necessary to the world's economy. They add nothing to the wealth of the world, since whatever they produce is used for purposes of war, and the object of waging a war is always to be in a better position in which to wage another war. By their labour the slave populations allow the tempo of continuous warfare to be speeded up. But if they did not exist, the structure of world society, and the process by which it maintains itself, would not be essentially different.

The modern day guru of the gap is Thomas Barnett of the U.S. Naval War College - WorldChanging had an interview with him a while back which irritated me quite a bit, given the large dose of American exceptionalism it embodied, but it does give a different perspective on the subject (even if I don't agree with it).
Alex Steffen: What do you mean when you talk about "the Gap" and "the Core?"

Thomas P.M. Barnett: Let me back up and explain how I got here.

A few years ago, I was doing some simple mapping of where we sent US military forces since the end of the Cold War. We sent soldiers into conflicts almost 150 times, seemingly around the planet, but when you actually plot it out, you realize it's clustered, rather significantly, in a series of regions.

When I drew a line around those regions on the globe, I realized there were certain things about those regions that were similar, and in a burst of bold data-free research I realized there was a pattern: when you look at the area where we've committed our forces, you're seeing the parts of the world that are least connected to the global economy. And I realized the shape I was staring at I'd seen in many, many forms: biodiversity loss, poor soil quality, where the most fundamentalist versions of religions are, where there're no fiber optic cable, where there are no doctors.

And I wanted to describe this split without using a term -- like North and South, say -- which resurrects a whole bunch of old arguments. So I just tried to describe it plainly, calling the connected parts of the world the Functioning Core of Globalization (or the Core)

Across that Core I see integrating economies, the regular and peaceful rotation of leadership, and no real mass violence. All the countries that the Pentagon's been planning for a big war with are all in the Core, but oddly enough, these are all the countries that come to our aid after 9-11, and the countries that find commonality in a struggle against global terrorism.

Meanwhile, when I look at the other areas, what I call the Non-Integrating Gap (or the Gap), I see almost all the negative situations we've faced since the end of the Cold War. Virtually all of Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean Rim and Andean portion of South America, the Caucauses, Balkans, Central Asia and much of Southeast Asia: in that Gap I found virtually all the wars, civil wars, ethnic cleansings, genocide, use of mass rape as a tool of terror, children forced or lured into combat activities,virtually all the drug exports, all the UN peacekeeping missions and almost 100% of the terrorist groups we're fighting.

It's a simplistic map, of course, but the match-up is profound: show me where globalization and connectivity are thick and I'll show you people living in peace. Show me where globalization hasn't spread, and I'll show you violence and chaos.

In a way, this sort of thinking almost makes some of the theories about the "New World Order" make sense.

3 comments

We will never know as the man behind the "Cone of Silence", Get Smart's secret agent Don Adams, has died. :)

I loved the cone of silence :-)

Poor Max.

It does fit the paradigm of the day-to-day business world quite well.

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