The Flight Forward  

Posted by Big Gav

Yet another good post from Billmon today on Iran - this one is called "The Flight Forward", which tries to determine what the US strategy really is - is a variant of "the madman theory" the correct way to look at it ? Or is it more akin to a last ditch gamble ?

There is another possibility – a new twist on the classic madman theory. As Kaplan notes, the current nuclear blustering may actually be aimed at U.S. and global public opinion, in hopes of making a conventional bombing strike against Iran seem, well, almost sane:
It's a variation on the game that national-security advisers sometimes use in laying out options to their bosses. Option 1: Declare all-out war. Option 2: Surrender. Option 3 is the course of action that the adviser wants to pursue. Hersh's story might be serving the same purpose. Option 1: Nuke 'em. Option 2: Shut your eyes and do nothing, like the Europeans would prefer. Option 3: Attack Iran's facilities, but with 2,000-pound smart bombs, not 5-kiloton nuclear bombs.

Perhaps. Although if this is true the administration appears to have an even lower opinion of the American public, and the democratic process, than I do.

The manuever that Kaplan describes – i.e. options 1,2 and 3 – is usually played out behind closed doors, not as part of a national PR campaign. There's always the risk that the public (and Congress) will basically geek out at the thought of nuclear war, and will try to do something to stop it, making the administration's job of planning and preparing for conventional war that much harder.

But these attempts to explain the seemingly irrational may all be going off on the wrong tangent. The more I think about it, the more I'm starting to suspect that the madman theory – and its weaker sister the "saber rattling" scenario – are the wrong concepts for understanding the tragedy that may be playing out in front of us.

What we are witnessing (through rips in the curtain of official secrecy) may be an example of what the Germans call the flucht nach vorne – the "flight forward." This refers to ta situation in which an individual or institution seeks a way out of a crisis by becoming ever more daring and aggressive (or, as the White House propaganda department might put it: "bold") A familar analogy is the gambler in Vegas, who tries to get out of a hole by doubling down on each successive bet.

Classic historical examples of the flucht nach vornes include Napoleon's attempt to break the long stalemate with Britain by invading Russia,the decision of the Deep South slaveholding states to secede from the Union after Lincoln's election, and Milosevic's bid to create a "greater Serbia" after Yugoslavia fell apart.

As these examples suggest, flights forward usually don't end well – just as relatively few gamblers emerge from a doubling-down spree with their shirts still on their backs.

But of course, most gamblers don't have the ability to call in an air strike on the casino. For Bush, or the neocons, or both, regime change in Iran not only may appear doable, it may also look like the only way out of the spectacular mess they have created in Iraq.

The logic is understandable, if malevolent. Instead of creating a secular, pro-American client state in the heart of the Middle East, the invasion of Iraq has destroyed the front-line Arab regime opposing Tehran, installed a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad and vastly increased Iranian influence, not only in Iraq, but throughout the Shi'a world. It's also moved the Revolutionary Guard one step closer to the Kuwaiti and Saudi oil fields – the prize upon which the energy security of the West depends.

By the traditional standards of U.S. foreign policy, this is a fiasco of almost unbelievable proportions.

The concept of "The Flight Forward" is quite an interesting one if you relate it to responses to peak oil. Thus far (making the possibly unwarranted assumption that our governments both understand peak oil and believe that it is reasonably imminent, as opposed to them just playing the usual geopolitical games over "The Prize"), it would seem that our reponse is just a flight forward - growing more determined to control remaining oil resources, and supplementing the shortfall in conventional oil with a rapid increase in unconvential coal and bitumen based alternatives with a lower EROEI and higher environmental cost - all the while ignoring the side effects (global warming and the terrorism that occurs as a result of the resource wars we are fighting). Eventually, like the gambler who keeps doubling his bets trying to catch up again, we seem doomed to fail unless we change course...

Mobjectivist has a good pair of posts on EROEI math, which illustrate how EROEI affects net recoverable energy.



Grist has one of those black humour posts that leave me shaking my head in dismay - the US Department of Homeland Security (presumably someone who isn't busy reading kiddie porn or harrassing teachers) is busy hunting down an evil threat to the nation - "'Eco-terrorism': The scourge of flyer distribution". The problem with constructing police states is that you not only end up giving a whole lot of power to a large number of people, some of whom will inevitably abuse it - but that once the enormous bureacracy is in place it feels the need to justify its existance finding and quashing perceived threats to security - even if the population as a whole would probably regard these as reasonably normal activities in line with basic democratic principles.
Laugh? Or cry? Hard to say. Here's a bulletin issued yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security. Among other things, it says this:
Attacks against corporations by animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists are costly to the targeted company and, over time, can undermine confidence in the economy. ... Although we have no specific, credible information at this time suggesting animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists are planning to target known corporations, we encourage private sector owners and operators to remain vigilant, report suspicious activity, and continue to enhance protective measures.

On the TPM Muckraker site, which is hosting the document, Justin Rood adds:
Such radical extremist groups may use several tactics -- each devastating in its own way -- including:

- "organizing protests"
- "flyer distribution"
- "inundating computers with e-mails"
- "tying up phone lines to prevent legitimate calls"
- "sending continuous faxes in order to drain the ink supply from company fax machines"

That's right. If the ink runs out of your fax machine, that means the terrorists have won.

Joking aside, though, Rood makes the relevant point:
The real outrage in this is that on the very day some DHS yahoo spent time and government money producing this bulletin, a jury was convicting a white supremacist on five counts of trying to obtain a chemical weapon and stolen explosives. The man's dream: to explode a briefcase "dirty" bomb inside the U.S. Capitol.

Needless to say, I'm told DHS has yet to send out a warning on wackos like him: white supremacists, militias, anti-abortion groups or other violent far-right groups that have actually killed people. It's the vicious left-wing flyer brigades that pose the greatest danger.

Of course, we can't say we didn't see this coming.

That's the nut. The point is not whether you approve or disapprove of arson or intimidation (or "email inundating"). The point is that the DHS is complicit in a decidedly political attempt to smear and generate hysteria about domestic opponents, on ideological, not security, grounds.

Dave also has a post on why environmentalism is worthwhile - a point which, bizarrely, seems lost on quite few people.
Let's do a thought experiment.

About 251 million years ago, there was an enormous extinction event. No one knows why for sure, but one theory is ... global warming. 90% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrates were wiped out. Left behind? Mostly fungus.

If animals, plants, and ecosystems have value in and of themselves, we must view the Permian-Triassic extinction event as an almost unfathomable tragedy, far worse than anything human history has witnessed. It ought to make us tremble, shake faith in a benevolent deity.

But it doesn't. We don't view it as a tragedy that dwarfs any human violence, starvation, or disease, not really. Some might say it is, but I'll venture nobody on the planet feels it to be such.

It's just something that happened. Indeed, though it was the worst, it was but one of seven major extinction events -- including the one we're living through now, the fastest.

Now: imagine we wipe ourselves out, along with more than half the other extant species on earth. In 250 million years, should their be creatures capable of studying the past, do you think they will shed tears for us? Not likely. We too will just be something that happened.

The earth will not have suffered appreciably. As long as the basic chemical building blocks of life persist, the planet can easily weather many more extinction events. The solar system produces life and it produces death, in cycles, and there's no reason to think this isn't the cosmically appropriate thing for it to do. Humanity is just one weapon in a species-destroying arsenal that includes asteroids, mega-volcanos, plate tectonics, and gamma ray bursts.

What, then, is environmentalism? We want to save the set of ecosystems and species that happen to exist at this point in the earth's history. Why this set? What makes it more special than the six other sets that have come and gone?

Here's an obvious answer: This set includes us.



The Energy Blog notes that a new Prius is on the way using Lithium-ion batteries - with a target fuel efficiency of 40 km/litre (113 mpg).
According to an article in Auto Express, the next Prius, to be introduced in 2008, has a target fuel economy of 113 mpg (40km/liter) and will use lighter and smaller lithium-ion batteries. Performance will also be improved by reducing the car's 0-60 mph time by more than a second. The article stated that the motivation was to try to improve European sales, where the car has not been a sucess due to the popularity of diesel models.

The article also noted that both Subaru and Mitsubish both plan to sell electric cars by 2010.

About time!! This is the first mention, that I have seen, of a production car planning to use lithium-ion batteries.

Also at The Energy Blog - a post on Vertical Axis Windmills and a technical one on Hydrogen from Coal Technologies".

Word of the week comes from WorldChanging - "walksheds".
A few weeks ago, Worldchanging ally Alan Durning's 18 year-old son totalled their family car. He was fine, the other driver was fine, but the car was a write-off. The family has therefore decided to conduct an experiment, and see if they can live a car-free lifestyle in a compact neighborhood in a mid-density North American city.

What they're discovering is that they can reasonably walk about a mile to do most things:
"A one-mile perimeter, therefore, defines this car-less family’s pedestrian travel zone—call it our “walkshed.” Fortunately, because we chose to live in a compact community, our walkshed turns out to be well stocked."

Now, we've discussed the benefits of walking (both for the walker and for the neighborhood itself). But one thing Alan has discovered is that there's a paucity of good information tools for walkers, even here in tech-friendly Seattle...

The Oil Drum has an interesting post by Dave on "Sudan, Chad, Oil and Genocide" - an examination of what seems to be an increasingly common trend - resource wars over oil.
Viewing geopolitics through the lens of oil is not always right, but as Michael Klare's book Blood And Oil makes clear, there is often a connection. A good case can be laid out that Chad and the Sudan are in turmoil right now over oil and who controls it. Another case can be laid out that the cause of the Genocide in Darfur has it's root causes not only in ancient ethnic/tribal and religious rivalries that have been going on since Sudan's independence in the 1950's, but also has most recently been exacerbated in disputes over who will control the oil in the regions. This genocide is being carried out by the Janjaweed militias supported by the Sunni Muslim government of Sudan based in Khartoum against the Christian and indigenous Africans of the Darfur provinces. First, we'll start with a map of the region to get everyone situated...



The latest "Peak Oil Passnotes" from Resource Investor also takes a look at Chad.
Nigeria is getting close to a basket case, witness the emails sent by the Delta militias last week saying any Shell teams going back to the attacked platforms "would be executed." The Militia's sent the emails because they were watching events, most likely on CNBC, at the Seventh International Oil Summit in Paris. There a Shell executive said they hoped to resume work in the delta this week. Put it this way, they did not. Isn't the internet great?

Then we have another madman President Idriss Deby of Chad. Unfortunately for the Chadians, who are the 167th richest nation on earth out of 175 measured by the U.N., they found over 1 billion barrels of oil in the south of the country in the Doba region.

Deby has brutalised, executed, tortured, massacred and more since he came to power in 1990. Of course as he allows Exxon, Chevron and Petronas into the country to run the $3.7 billion Chad-Cameroon pipeline he is not overthrown. Not even remotely. Instead he was lavished with World Bank loans and secretive deals that pretended to divert some of the revenues to the people. But even that was too much for Deby, he scrapped that to send more money to the army, to basically save his backside.

Because he is so hated by his country that half the army have quit and went to live in Darfur, in neighbouring Sudan. It's got to be bad if you up sticks and go and live in an existing war zone. But the army deserters have wasted no time, probably funded by the Sudanese in all likelihood, in coming back and attacking the capital N'Djamena.

The Chad pipeline sends 200,000 barrels a day of oil to platforms offshore Cameroon. You do not think they would be onshore do you? Then the oil goes mainly to the U.S. The $3.7 billion was in part funded by your money, where do you think the World Bank get their money from? Exxon aren't going to pay when you will do it for them, why should they? It is the single most expensive foreign investment in all Africa.

So we face some serious meltdown in central and western Africa, then there is Iran...

Today's tinfoil decoration is from Wayne Madsen (April 16), with his own theory about the recent violence in Chad.
No sooner had Chad's President Idriss Deby threatened to cut off the flow of oil to the West via the Exxon-Mobil Chad-Cameroon pipeline, rebels from neighboring Sudan launched an attack on Chad's capital, N'Djamena. All along, Deby has been an ally of the Bush administration in the battle against pan-Sahelian rebels who were linked to the so-called "Al Qaeda" global terrorist bogeyman. Not only did Deby receive military assistance from Washington, but U.S. advisers have helped train his troops. However, when Deby got into a tiff with the Wolfowitz-run World Bank over oil revenues, he found himself facing armed rebels massed on the outskirts of his capital. Wolfowitz cut off oil revenues to Chad after Deby said he wanted to money to fight the rebels. France, which is opposed to growing U.S. hegemony in Africa, sent fighters to bomb the rebel encampments.

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