What drives oil prices? Everyone has a theory that suits their ideological niche—Democrats blame lack of regulation, Republicans blame too much regulation, and the rest of us wonder why prices aren’t higher than they are already. Earlier this month, Congress got an earful from a variety of oil experts on both sides of the ideological divide (and on a variety of paychecks), and the upshot is—it’s all of those things, and more.
Really, what can and should politicians do about high gas prices in the U.S.? We’ve had plenty of Congressional hearings, firmly establishing the facts that a) much, but not all of oil’s price can be ascribed to unregulated ‘speculation,’ and b) the larger point is that global demand is going to keep rising. The UN’s International Energy Agency estimated recently that China and India will account for up to 70 percent of new demand from now until 2030, when the IEA projects the need for Asia’s new power-players to import 20 million barrels’ worth of oil a day between the two.
Karl Rove was on Fox News the other day saying that he knew people in the oil industry and they had told him that only a small part of the price of oil’s increase was due to speculation, but really it was about supply and demand. Congressional hearings, on the other hand, say that the so-called “Enron loophole” which allows unregulated trading in energy markets contributes 25-50% of the current record price increases. But all the speculation in the world won’t change the basic fact that global demand keeps growing, which of course is why people are speculating in the first place. It used to be that gold was considered an inflation hedge—nowadays, it’s a better bet to put your money into oil instead. (By the way, small investors, the minimum amount of crude oil you can buy at a time is 1000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, so start saving those pennies.)
Merely saying “supply and demand” doesn’t cover the whole of it—American gas demand is actually down and supply is actually up, and prices continue to rise, past $4 a gallon at the pump. As we learned in the 1970′s, when our domestic production peaked, the United States no longer controls the price of oil. And because even the crude we pump out of American soil is priced according to the global market, it doesn’t matter if Americans curb their consumption, which is actually what we’ve been doing for the past year. This is a great deal for oil companies with vertical monopolies, because they just pass the high global cost of oil onto consumers without having to buy their own crude on the open market. That’s why, even though the cost of extracting oil is definitely going up, the speculative rise in price lead to record oil company profits.
Now that we created the globalized world, we have to live in it, and that means facing up to the reality that cheap oil is gone. As I wrote almost exactly three years ago, the point about ‘peak oil’ is not that oil will run out, but that it will become increasingly more expensive to extract in terms of both money and energy. And now that crude prices are never going below $100 a barrel, all sorts of ‘unconventional deposits’ are becoming economically (if not environmentally) feasible, such as all that shale oil extraction which is ruining everything it touches near Fort McMurray in Alberta.
Is there a responsible way to stave off $5 gas at the pump come September?
There is, sort of. If you look at the news coverage of crude oil increases, there are always two things cited as contributing factors: growing global demand and political instability threatening supply. It’s no coincidence that an energy-intensive lifestyle and war are two of our major exports. Let’s look at how demand is structured first.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the major factors in the increase of demand is the rapid industrialization of countries like China and India, whose depressed labor markets have become newly available (thanks to globalization) to make large amounts of stuff for export, which takes even more oil to get to the industrialized countries which used to make the same products. And as I’ve said before, the price of oil will continue to climb as long as Americans drive their SUVs to Wal-Mart.
Break down the chain of events implied by this example—driving an SUV or minivan necessitates a certain amount of refined gasoline, of course, and Wal-Marts tend to be located in suburban towns (made possible by the Federal Highways Act and oil company subsidies), or exurban, smaller communities which are rapidly losing their manufacturing base to factories in China and India. Wal-Mart itself is largely responsible for this phenomenon. A memorable scene from CNBC’s documentary about the world’s largest retailer, “The High Cost of a Low Price” shows the buyers explaining to an entrepreneurial couple who came down to Bentonville to hawk their latest tchatchkeh that there is simply no way they can sell their item at Wal-Mart stores if the insist on manufacturing it in the United States (there are price targets which must be met). Of course, most of the items sold in Wal-Mart are actually made from oil in whole or part, from all the plastic to various industrial solvents and chemical process components. Not to mention the raw oil has to be moved from refining stage to processing stage to factory to consumer, all of which involve the consumption of even more oil as fuel. Even the agricultural products you can buy at a Super Wal-Mart invovle petroleum-based fertilizers and diesel-powered machinery, thanks to the Green Revolution in the 1970′s, which saved the world’s food supply at the cost of installing agriculture’s dependence on plentiful oil (the Rockefeller Foundation, itself built on windfall oil profits, bankrolled that research). Transportation only accounts for two-thirds of our petroleum usage—and only 19.5 of 42 gallons in each barrel of crude end up as regular gasoline; 9.2 gallons become diesel.
China’s exports, for example, have increased tenfold from 1992-2005. There are no available figures (please let me know if you have any) for exactly how much oil is involved in America’s burgeoning trade deficits like the one we’ve been accruing with China, but I can say with certainty that they are a major factor in the rising global demand for oil. It’s no coincidence that the Clintons have a long history with Wal-Mart and that Hillary (a former Wal-Mart board member) became the health-care industry’s darling by stealing Mitt Romney’s corporate health care plan. Whether or not you think the Democrats who were pushing it were betraying their constituency at the time, the promises of globalization (or at least as it was sold to the working class Democratic base) have certainly been exposed as folly. Not only are jobs, but entire industries are leaving, and they aren’t being replaced. And underpinning all of this is a dependence on advances in transportation, which makes cheap labor affordable in the larger scheme of things by letting developing countries export back to developed countries. But some analysts are wondering whether fuel costs are challenging the structure of globalization, which, like everything else the United States has built, relies not only on petroleum, but cheap petroleum.
Globalization is designed to address those market inefficiencies which have made the middle class possible. Let’s start with labor costs: the wages and job security which made America the envy of the world in the post WWII boom years were unsustainable in a globalized world, in two important ways: a) taxes were much, much higher for rich people back then, and b) organized labor and the industrialization required by World War II enjoyed a brief and fruitful affair. Workers got higher wages, health coverage, pension plans, and the promise of a career. To be fair, I don’t think corporations should be handling any of these things, because look how they’ve screwed up wages (stagnant, while productivity has soared), health coverage, pension plans, and job security. The problem, of course, is that the so-called ‘golden straightjacket’ of globalization, the neo-liberal regime imposed on developing countries, is to have the government privatize these functions and leave everything to the market. “When America sneezes,” they used to say, “the rest of the world gets a cold.” Through the World Bank and the IMF, we’ve elevated our Reaganite ‘pro-market’ policies to (what used to be called) a social disease.
Post-war America (and correspondingly, the American-built global marketplace) was built on the assumption that we could rely on extracting cheap domestic oil indefinitely. European drivers pay twice what we pay for gas, so they have smaller cars and avail themselves of government-built public transportation. Which, as we all understand, is totally un-American. We need to have highways and suburbs and three-car families and two hour commutes and cheap plastic knick-knacks because these are God-given rights. That’s why we consume so much oil (and everything else) per capita—it’s not just because we can, it’s a matter of national pride. Recognizing the consequences and costs of our lifestyle, however, is probably more un-American than taking a national rail service to a soccer match. This is the land not only of Manifest Destiny, but of white flight. America doesn’t like to deal with problems directly; we’d rather just get in a fast car and keep moving until we lose them in the rear-view mirror. And for a long time, it worked for many people.
Conservatives seem to think that no matter how much demand grows, we should be able to keep extracting more and more oil from the earth in order to preserve our way of life. Unfortunately, even if we increased our domestic oil production, we’d still need to import large amounts of oil because our production peaked over thirty years ago. Take, for example the folly of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Any day now, Jon McCain will flip-flop and declare that he is for oil exploration in ANWR, the same way he just came out for off-shore drilling. In many ways the ANWR issue is a bellweather for your concept of America, because allowing companies to go in there today would mean Americans would see the oil start flowing in 2013 and hit a peak of just under 900,000 barrels per day (about 5% of our current daily consumption) somewhere around 2025. The question is, do you want to put America in the position of needing 900,000 more barrels of oil a day in 2025, no matter the cost to the environment?
Of course, the dynamics of demand are only half the story. Global demand has certainly risen greatly in the last ten years, but that isn’t what’s been fueling the sharpest upturns in the price of oil. Demand has been rising arithmetically worldwide, according to the IEA’s web site:
But prices rose exponentially:
This rise in demand is totally fueled by globalization; demand in developed countries is actually shrinking. Supply is up, too:
So if supply is increasing and our consumption is shrinking, why are Americans paying $4 and more at the pump? It’s simple: war is the answer. We export conflict; much as real and projected increases in global demand for oil drive speculation, real and projected disruptions in the flow of oil come to bear on prices as well. This phenomenon is concentrated in three countries: Iran, Iraq, and Nigeria. You’ll notice that the price of crude drops during the beginning of the Iraq war by about $7 during the month of March 2003, when it seemed as though Bush’s plan for $20 gasoline through sheer force of personality (and depleted uranium) might actually work. But soon after it became clear that “Mission Accomplished” was a bit premature, crude began its inexorable climb.
When it comes to Iran, which sits atop the world’s second-largest proven reserves, U.S. policy, though less violent, is just as much responsible for driving up the price of oil. But our embargoing and sabre-rattling are always directly quoted as causes for any jump in the price of oil, even when we do it by proxy. Consider this snippet from earlier this month, when the price of oil sustained its largest single-day increase in history:
“It’s Iran — all Iran,” said Bernard Picchi, a senior managing director at Wall Street Access. “Iran is the bête noire of the Bush administration, the last remaining member of the ‘Axis of Evil’ that has not been militarily or diplomatically neutralized,” Picchi said in emailed comments. Comments from Israel’s transport minister, reportedly a close adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that an attack on Iranian nuclear sites looked “unavoidable” has driven buying to a fever pitch, according to Michael Fitzpatrick, an analyst at MF Global. Israeli Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz* was quoted by Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper as saying that if Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, Israel will attack.
By the way, Shaul Mofaz is actually Persian himself, one of the few ‘Oriental’ Jews in Israel’s power elite.
And Nigeria? The oil companies have been engaged in a “low-intensity conflict” with Nigerians for many years; lately even these multinational corporations’ white-collar Nigerian workers are ready to strike, not to mention the rebels who want their Nigeria’s oil to actually, you know help Nigeria. Last year, Chevron (who, with Shell, represent the western oil interests in Nigeria) were dragged into U.S. court for some of their routine murders of Nigerians in the name of petroleum extraction:
United States (US) District Court Judge in San Francisco, Susan Illston, ruled that Chevron was directly involved in the alleged attacks by acting in consonance with Nigerian government security forces, paving the way for a trial which the company had made spirited attempts to avoid for eight years. The lawsuit was brought against Chevron eight years ago in San Francisco Federal Court by nine Nigerian plaintiffs for alleged deaths and other abuses in the two incidents in 1998 and 1999. The plaintiffs assert claims ranging from torture to wrongful death.
According to information made available to THISDAY, Judge Illston “found evidence that CNL [Chevron Nigeria Limited] personnel were directly involved in the attacks; CNL transported the GSF [Nigerian government security forces], CNL paid the GSF; and CNL knew that GSF were prone to use excessive force.”
Of course, there’s one more component to how our foreign policy has raised the price of oil—the massive debts and global ill-will incurred by Bush’s war-mongering have driven the dollar into a downward spiral. Now, it is entirely possible, that if we stop threatening Iranian democracy, withdraw troops from Iraq, make Chevron and Shell pay for their crimes in Nigeria, enact a real alternative transportation energy policy, start drilling in North Dakota, and rebuild our railway system, we could get through this oil crisis. Or, there may actually be an oil speculation bubble to burst (although I think it’s pretty unburstable, barring some major advance in alternative fuels). Let’s see what Obama actually does in office.
Sometimes, it’s too easy.
What kind of idiot protests that the surge is working? “AJStrata,” for one, who wrote this charming piece of tripe which I cannot help but “fisk.” So, let’s get into it:
The signs abound that Iraq is stabilizing. The massacres of Muslims that al-Qaeda and the Mahdi Malitia [sic] inflict are because Iraq is the primary front in the global war against Islamo Fascism.
Point for AJStrata—the latest NIE has, in fact, identified 8 signs that Iraq is making progress toward stabilization. Unfortunately, it also cited 10 signs that Iraq is worsening. 4 out of 9 isn’t a great ratio, though.
The mass killings of Muslims would be going on whether we were there or not, just as they did in Jordan and Egypt.
Interesting—which mass killings of Muslims is he talking about? Perhaps the triple bombings in Amman in 2005? Nope, can’t be, because Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for that bombing.
Now, al-Qaeda did have a failed plot to blow up similar targets on New Years’ Eve 2000, but all three worldwide plots were stopped by US and Jordanian intelligence. But then again, that was back in the Clinton administration, so we all know it doesn’t count for the purposes of this post.
As for Egypt, it turns out that all the major terrorist attacks (2004, 2005, 2005, 2006) since the 1997 Luxor massacre targeted tourists rather than Egyptians, although of course more Egyptians were killed by Egyptian terrorists than any other nationality.
So… no, there was not, and would not have been the same mass killings of Muslims had the United States not invaded Iraq.
The Islamo Fascists only know base brutality as their form of political expression.
It’s funny you should mention that in such close proximity to the words “Egypt” and “Mahdi.” Across the Islamic world, democratization has consistently been followed by attempts by Islamist parties to gain representation in government. We need only look to the spectacular electoral success of Mahdi-backed Shiite theocrats in Iraq, or the Palestinian victory of Hamas at the polls to see this in action. Egypt, on the other hand, is consistently cited for human rights abuses and authoritarian defects in its own democracy. But much of the political repression in Egypt is directed at the Muslim Brotherhood and other ‘Islamofascist’ parties, who have been barred from running for office.
Look at al-Qaeda’s current ’strategy’ – kill as many Muslims as they can so as to cower the country back into submission.
This troglodyte clearly doesn’t know very much about al-Qaeda or Iraq.
The brutality of al-Qaeda did something in the Middle East most predicted was impossible – they caused the Muslim street to rise up and ally with America. Take yesterday’s brutal bombings:
Bombings killed at least 76 people in the oil-rich city of Kirkuk on Monday, police said, the worst such violence there in recent memory. Ethnic tensions have been building in Kirkuk, a city with a mixed population of Turkmens, Sunni and Shiite Arabs, and Kurds, as it approaches a referendum on its future required by the Iraqi Constitution.
No one claimed responsibility for the bombings, but some residents and observers blamed militants linked to Al Qaeda in Iraq who are attempting to sabotage the political process by bringing sectarian tensions to a boil.
Sorry, I didn’t catch the part in the article where the Arab street rose up and allied itself with America. Where was that again?
This incident is in addition to two schools being destroyed in Iraq and terrorists in Iraqi Army uniforms killing 29 in Dilaya[sic] Province. More killing of Muslim women and children here.
Still not seeing it.
Yet the SurrenderMedia refuses to recognize that this is not Muslim sectarian violence but a deliberate and bloody effort by al-Qaeda to create civil war in the absence of one.
How quickly we forget that the sectarian militias (like the above-cited Mahdi army) are the actual Islamofascists—killing people with impunity and discriminate violence. These are the people who have a reasonable shot at establishing an actual sharia-based government. Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, are about as good at statebuilding as we are; my criticism of the U.S. Army’s constructive capacities applies pretty well to Al-Qaeda, too, now that I think about it.
Why does the media continue to admit they are wrong?
Armchair ‘experts’ with large audiences seem to always feel their success equates to their omnipotence.
Ignorant ‘chicken-hawks’ with chromosomal deficiencies seldom use English grammar and vocabulary correctly. Hey, AJStrata, where did you study Middle Eastern politics? Lemme guess… Fox News?
But it is a fragile arrogance it seems, one where admitting a mistake is not possible.
Good thing 9/11 killed irony, or that statement would have been hilarious.
It is clear what impact these attacks are having on the people of Iraq. They are shunning al-Qaeda and turning them into authorities every chance they get.
You know, when they’re not planting IEDs for food money. Every other chance.
More and more we see stories like this one, where tips led to the capture of Islamo Fascists preparing to kill more Iraqis:
Soldiers of 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) out of Fort Drum, N.Y., and 4th Battalion, 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, joined forces to clear the villages near al-Owesat and al-Thobat, Iraq, July 14. During Polar Tempest, tipsters gave the Coalition Forces viable information.
The night began with Soldiers clearing houses, when an Iraqi man who claimed to know where several terrorists lived in the area led them to various places.
The Iraqi man guiding the Soldiers said he believed they had encountered the lead element of a larger group of anti-Iraqi forces. As the U.S. and IA forces continued clearing houses in the area, the man pointed out one of the residents as a terrorist. In another house a male claimed to know where a high-value target lived. As Coalition Forces followed him, several local residents began to flee in vehicles. They were stopped and detained.
When citizens are swarming to turn in the brutal animals living amongst them this is not sectarian violence – this is moderate Muslims battling the Islamo Fascists. In fact, the fascists are so bad that former allies who once dreamed of Jihad turned on al-Qaeda when faced with it in all its cruel reality:
In the pursuit of an elusive enemy the US loosely labels AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq), US Green Berets and soldiers in this remote corner of Iraq have enlisted the help of a new ally that they have christened LRF, the “Legitimate Resistance Force.” It includes ex-insurgents, police dropouts with checkered backgrounds, and former Al Qaeda-linked fighters – all united by a desire to rid Diyala Province of the network’s influence, say US officers.
“A lot of them are former Al Qaeda operatives … but when they saw the stealing, murder, and terrorism, they realized it was not the way forward for Iraq,” says Maj. John Woodward of San Antonio.
That’s great, until notice who make up the “LRF”—sounds like they want a piece of the action, not so much to launch a moral crusade. If these are the people we are touting s our new coalition partners, it makes you wonder why we’ve attracted these lowlifes in the first place. AQI is a gang, basically, with political and ideological cover provided by the occupation. The LRF is another gang who wants AQI’s territory.
The SurrenderMedia continues on in this story to create fictional alternatives as opposed to simply admitting the brutality of al-Qaeda is too much for many who once dreamed of Muslim glory – not of killing Muslim women and children.
The problem is this—al-Qaeda doesn’t really need the support of the “Arab street.” They just need enough to supply a steady stream of suicide bombers, preferably women and children.
It seems the only ones who can still stomach al-Qaeda is the news media. Just about everyone else has seen them as the animals they are and provide them little to no credibility as an ‘alternative’ life style.
Did anyone else just get a visual of Bin Laden in a leather outfit at the Gay Pride parade? Just me? Never mind.
The Iraqi people, in combination with our military’s own amazing efforts, have turned the tide in Iraq. Jack Kelley notes how our forces are actually not engaging much at all with the enemy in Anbar – once the capitol of al-Qaeda’s operations in Iraq and its center of the modern caliphate they planned to create.
One call was from “Bruce in Upland,” whose son is a soldier currently serving in Iraq. “I will speak for my son who right now is bored out of his mind in Ramadi, because he hasn’t heard a shot fired in combat now in about six or seven weeks,” Bruce said.
There were about 22 enemy incidents per week in Ramadi in April, said Marine Major Jeff Pool. That’s declined to “about two per week.” (An enemy incident is any type of direct or indirect fire, from a sniper to a mortar or an IED attack.) Throughout Anbar province, the number of “incidents” has dropped from about 400 last December to 155 last week, said Maj. Pool, the public affairs chief for U.S. forces in western Iraq.
“Though these numbers are a substantial drop, I believe them to be artificially high,” Maj. Pool said. The increased operational tempo resulting from the troop surge has increased exposure to the enemy as it has increased the number of al Qaida operatives killed or captured, he said.
“Anbar is returning to a state of normalcy, so I consider the soldier in Ramadi being bored a true measure of progress,” he said.
The Surge is working. Anyone but a stubborn fool can see that. I like to find comparisons so I can gauge things against a known example. So I decided to look at NY City’s violent crime statistics and see how things compare. Here is what I found. In 2003 (a low crime year after 9-11) NY City suffered 597 murders and 31,253 aggravated assaults. No, they did not suffer any car bombs (though they have had one in their past and who can forget 9-11). But NY City is, thankfully, a ways away from the front in the war with Islamo Fascism. But if we combine these numbers and divide by 12 we find NY City is quite violent when compared to Anbar. The number of ‘incidents’ per month in NY City (and this is NOT counting rapes, robberies and theft) is 2,654. Anbar is 155. Anbar is smaller in population and the 155 incidents include a lot of deaths. More than NY City’s 50 per month – but not a lot more. (note: here is other data with slightly lower numbers from NY City itself)
So as Anbar settles down into a state of violence that is not too far away from that in one of our largest city (and I would wager similar to many large cities in the world, including Moscow and others) are we really going to continue to pretend Iraq is not turning the tide? Are we going to continue to pretend al-Qaeda’s bloodlust is what is behind all the Muslim killings? Are we going to pretend and the Muslim street is NOT turning against al-Qaeda?
Now, a whole bunch of commenters got to this before I could finish this post, but here are some numbers:
Population of New York City: 8,213,839
Population of Anbar province: 1,170,178
Est. Police officers in NYC: 37,838 (217:1)
Est. U.S. troops in Anbar: 38,000 (31:1)
Attacks on US Troops/month, Anbar: 155 (1 in 245)
Attacks on civilians/month. NYC: 2,654 (1 in 3,094)
(No data on attacks on NYPD available, but 2 cops were killed in the line of duty in 2006).
Just for kicks, let’s follow this moron’s line of reasoning: an incident is defined by the army spokesman as “An enemy incident is any type of direct or indirect fire, from a sniper to a mortar or an IED attack.” Now, neither the U.S. government nor the Iraqi government releases comprehensive crime statistics for the provinces, so we’ll have to assume that these attacks are being made on U.S. soldiers. The Iraqi army may be included in the statistic as well, but Major Pool’s comments don’t lead me to believe that they are.
If my hometown was beseiged by 155 mortar, sniper and IED attacks on the NYPD a month, it would be a very different place, trust me. But then again, there are seven times as many people here. If the Canadians invaded and had to occupy New York at similar soldier to civilian rates as our occupation in Anbar, they’d need about 480,000 troops and we’d be attacking them at the rate of about 2,000 ‘incidents’ per month, keeping to the Anbar ratios.
At any rate, I wouldn’t be posting this if there wasn’t a larger point illustrated by this person’s stupidity.
The fact that for AJStrata the Iraq war is viewed in terms of American casualties reveals that he doesn’t give a shit about Iraqi civilians and probably never has. As I wrote before about the multimillion dollar search for three missing soldiers, our priorities in Iraq are SNAFU, which is army slang for “Situation Normal, All Fucked Up.”
Here, I’ll quote myself:
“If we went through the same thing for every missing Iraqi, we’d have something—a police force. But we’re not going to do that, and neither should we have to. As I’ve pointed out before, only a government which is sustained by its own troops and police can be legitimate, and therefore effective.”
It seems that our primary mission in Iraq isn’t nation-building or global counter-terrorism (since we’ve been doing a remarkably poor job at both), but force-protection. Even many of the peace camp cite the number of U.S. troop deaths instead of Iraqi civilian deaths as the reason to pull the plug. We only give a shit about our troops, and basically the army is there to fight an enemy of their own creation. The problem is they’re playing defense in a strange land, which seldom works out well.
As long as CYA is our primary goal, we’ll never be able to stabilize the country. Al-Qaeda in Iraq knows this, which is why their strategy is in fact to prolong the U.S. occupation for as long as possible, in order to bleed us to death. This is the strategy which the jihadists seem to believe (although it isn’t true) brought down the atheistic USSR. Our presence is the only justification for theirs; as soon as we leave, they’ll be fighting to create a Sunni theocracy to which the largely secularized Iraqi Kurds and Sunnis would never submit. Even Iraq’s Sunni tribesmen aren’t that religious. But as long as they’re fighting the American occupiers, AQI will find friends in Iraq and abroad.
We spent decades building up a formidable army, but with that power comes the upkeep. Most of the service people in Iraq are either private contractors or supply personnel; as the New York Times wrote last year,
On any given day, according to military officers in Baghdad, only about 11 percent of the Army and Marine Corps personnel in Iraq are carrying out purely offensive operations. Even counting others, whose main job is defensive or who perform security missions to stabilize the country for economic reconstruction and political development, only half of the American force might be considered combat troops.
The fact that our army, even after (and in part, because of) the modernization drive initiated by former Sec. Def. Rumsfeld, is so expensive to maintain so far from home is no deterrent who say that we must “project power” across the world at all times. It seems that our army needs to be able to handle every international crisis if we are going to base our diplomatic efforts on “strength,” but let’s be serious—that kind of capacity would require a draft.
As a consequence, our army and its neocon commanders leave themselves open to the kind of guerilla insurgency Iran could fund for years for a few days’ worth of oil revenues (which we are hell-bent on making as high as possible for all oil producers—quite ecumenical of us, really).
Fighting a war of attrition against the Soviet Union (which is what our army had been built to do) and fighting an occupational war of attrition are two different things. The whole point of such a war is to outlast the other army with superior productive and offensive power; but if the other side isn’t spending the same amount of money as we are, the calculus of such prolonged war radically changes.
During the war in Afghanistan, I warned that initiating a state-to-state conflict in response to a terrorist incident was 20th century thinking and that it was a totally inappropriate response. Besides killing more Afghan civilians than Al Qaeda did within a few short weeks of the start of bombing, I knew that this wasn’t going to be the end of it, either.
In conclusion, if you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, beware of people who do know what you’re talking about.
I can’t quite put my finger on why I’ve singled Republican Presidential candidate Duncan Hunter out as my bête noire, but I have, so deal with it. Hunter isn’t as dangerous to civil rights as, say, Sam Brownback, or as connivingly amoral as Rudy Giuliani, but there’s something about him that just rubs me the wrong way.
Even when he says something halfway decent, I can’t help but take issue with the San Diego Congressman. I’m talking about the following statement he made at the Reagan Library debates:
MR. VANDEHEI: Congressman Hunter, Kenyu Thomas (sp) from Honolulu, Hawaii, wants to know if you watched Al Gore’s environmental documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” (Laughter.) REP. HUNTER: No, I didn’t watch it. But, you know, I think that global warming and the need to be energy independent gives us a great opportunity. I think we should bring together all of our colleges, our universities, the private sector, government laboratories and undertake what for this next generation will be a great opportunity and a great challenge to remove energy dependence on the Middle East and at the same time help the climate. I think we can do that.
We need to take taxes down to zero for the alternative energy sources.
We need to make sure that all the licensing from our laboratories goes to the private sector, goes to the American manufacturing sector for these energy systems. I think we can do it.
Duncan, I was with you until the last paragraph. This is the kind of speech a Democrat might have given, and I think it’s really great to hear this becoming a bipartisan issue, because moving renewable energy to the middle- (and fore-) ground makes it possible for something to be done about it.
Hunter is right to separate the issue of global warming and building a renewable domestic energy supply, because the latter issue has broader implications even if you don’t believe in global warming.
But the Democrats and Hunter, because they are American politicians running for public office in America, have in their proposals one fatal flaw: keeping the patents in the United States.
It’s actually more important for China to switch to renewable energy than it is for Americans. That’s only partly because China has 1.3 billion people. It’s also vital because China is undergoing its own Industrial Revolution—the same kind that set us off in this carbon-spewing, gas-guzzling direction in the first place. China is building a huge amount of coal-powered electric plants and buying cars for families that never had anything worse than a bicycle. China, and the rest of the world, need to build their infrastructure right from the ground up, because it’ll be prohibitively expensive to fix later, if these things are even fixable. Every dollar invested in fossil fuels pushes us backwards and slows down renewable energy’s progress.
That’s the technological aspect, but the meat of this issue are the geopolitical implications of fossil fuels. You may not believe that Iraq was invaded because it sits atop the world’s second-richest oil field, but consider, for a moment, Darfur. 70% of Sudan’s oil exports go to China, who actually trade weapons for oil, thus arming the Janjaweed militias who have been carrying out a genocide against the Darfuris. China’s oil needs are gigantic, and burgeoning. But what if they didn’t need Sudan’s oil?
Notice how politicians who talk about this always have to make it an issue of “dependence on foreign oil” (I would have just said ‘oil’, but I can understand why they need to tar foreigners with our excesses). The United States gets most of its oil from North America anyway; according to a PBS website:
Where does America get all the oil it needs? The U.S. imports roughly half the total — over ten million barrels of crude oil a day. Canada is the top source, at nearly 1.8 million barrels. Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Venezuela are numbers two through five, each exporting more than one million barrels a day. Angola, Iraq, Colombia, Kuwait and Algeria round out the top ten; each exports between 273,000 to 641,000 barrels a day.
Oil prices and supply are global phenomena that affect the U.S. (see: price of gas, unrest over). Just reducing our oil dependence is a fine idea, especially considering we consume more than three times as much oil per year and 12 times as much per person as China does, but keeping those innovations to ourselves doesn’t help us as much as we seem to think.
Paradoxically, higher oil prices mean that more countries (although this mostly applies to Canada) can now consider producing dirtier oil that wasn’t economically feasible to extract before, like tar sands. At any rate, demand will outpace local production and countries will have to look elsewhere to import oil.
Renewable energy, on the other hand, has the potential to give every country its own energy security. I’m not going to pretend it will bring about world peace, but it will eliminate one of the major contributing factors in wars all over the world. Oil wars are a global problem and they have a global solution. (And once each country is energy independent, we can move on to potable water filtration.)
Competing for limited resources rather than sharing the intellectual property to make the world self-sufficient is a surefire way to incite more oil wars. Remember, World War II was won when the Allies cut off Germany’s gasoline supply; the strategic value of self-sufficiency cannot be overstated. So let’s release those renewable energy patents to the whole world! It can only help us; being selfish in this case is a fine way to ensure self-destruction.
C-SPAN is getting better and better with the Democrats putting the investigations front and center. I have to say it’s thrilling to watch Republicans squirm after years of this bullshit going the other way.
Kucinich, bless him, is even going after Dick Cheney with articles of impeachment. I am a big fan of this approach, because I have always maintained that we’re gonna need to get Cheney out of the way before we impeach the President.
But honestly, we need to impeach people for the right reasons, otherwise we’re no better than Kenneth Starr. Let’s not make it a witch-hunt and address the issues head on. We have a lot to choose from, so let’s make it the right choice, OK?
And let’s make it a real issue so the GOP candidates duking it out for the privilege of being the loser in ’08 have to comment about it on national television.
Speak Into The Lamp, Mr. Attorney General
What’s funny about the whole Gonzales-attorney firings scandal is that the firings themselves weren’t illegal, especially not after the Bush administration pushed through that law which specifically cleared such actions. It’s kind of like Whitewater all over again—a shady deal with no underlying illegality.
Democrats are applying a mob-busting technique in their investigative approach. Move the fridge and the roaches will scatter.
As always, the cover-up is worse than the crime. Gonzales probably lied to Congress. But let’s say he didn’t. Let’s say these Bush administration guys, like Gonzales and Scooter Libby and the rest of that bunch aren’t lying when they pull the memory defense.
It seems, from the available evidence, that all this politically motivated nonsense is just standard operating procedure in the White House. These guys are screwing people on their shit list all day—you think they remember who they talked about screwing at 3:15 on a particular Tuesday afternoon? Of course not! They screwed sixteen other people that day.
Republicans may protest that I’m not being fair, that I’m not giving the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt. Well, I have a proposal I think will be mutually agreeable: we need to have the GAO bug the White House. Every staff member’s office, phone, and computer should be monitored. I mean, you know the Democrats are going to keep launching these investigations—wouldn’t it be nice to have full documentation at your fingertips to avoid embarrassing gaffes?
Now, I hear what you’re saying—if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. Others may be wondering, this bugging operation sounds expensive. Why doesn’t Congress get off its ass and just torture the answers out of them? Sorry, but torture has been legally restricted to matters of national security… oh, wait.
The Lyric is “Barbara Ann,” Jackass
Do any of the people running for President understand what war with Iran actually entails? Both Democrats and Republicans have basically threatened to go to war with the Islamic Republic, from Hilary and Obama’s “no option is off the table” to McCain’s “Bomb Iran” bit at the VFW.
Let’s start with McCain’s sentiment. If our plans involve trying to disarm Iran’s nuclear capacity, we should look at the history of this sort of thing and learn from it, because Iran has.
Jonathan Pollard is serving a lifetime sentence for passing (among other things) information on Iraq’s nuclear weapons program to Israel, which took this information and bombed Osirak, Iraq’s nuclear reactor facility in 1981, ultimately putting a nuclear weapon permanently out of Saddam’s reach.
Since then, Iran started building their nuclear facilities deep underground, so as to avoid such crippling air strikes. Essentially, you have to use “bunker buster” nuclear warhead to get at these installations—and the Iranians have built dozens of dummy facilities to fool satellite reconnaissance.
Did you understand what I just said? Attacking Iran means nuclear war. Now, is there a candidate from either party who has enough guts to take a stand against global thermonuclear war? I can really only think of Kucinich, who is just crazy enough to impeach Dick Cheney as discussed above, so he’ll never get that all-important moderate wing of the Democratic party on his side.
That’s just the bombing part—Iran is four times the size of Iraq and has more than two-and-a-half as many people. But there’s also another big problem: Iran controls Hezbollah, the world’s best rained and financed terrorist gourp, who have largely stayed away from the U.S.—if Iran gives Hezbollah the go ahead, we’ll have a different kind of world war on our hands. And to top it all off, it will prove to the world that we don’t hate Arabs, we hate all Muslims, be they Arab, Afghan or Persian.
Going to war with Iran, whom we have already immeasurably strengthened by taking out Saddam and impoverishing their traditional rival Iraq, means starting World War III, unless you consider the Cold War “World War III.”
It’s funny, as I started typing this, the Antibalas song “World War IV” started playing on my Rhythmbox. Were the lyrics prophetic for 2000, or is it just that shit never changes?
This tune is called World War IV.Everyone’s wondering, what happened to World War III? …The war makers of this world are so crafty that they can have World Wars without people realizing they’re even going on, people can just sort of disappear. Everything happens silently.
…We have all these war criminals going around. There’s a big war criminal in the United States named Bill Clinton. And Madeleine Albright, right, who’ve been trying to starve people to death in Iraq, and Cuba, and North Vietnam.
So that’s World War IV, it’s the president of Mexico trying to starve all the different groups of Mayas in Chiapas to death…
It’s the New York City Police officers’ war against black people who come out of their houses with their wallets in their hands.
It always unnerves me when American politicians pretend to care about Iraqi civilians, especially those who voted to endorse the genocidal sanctions which killed 1.5 million people.
Free Speech and McCain Feingold
I think, based on the partial birth abortion ban decision, that the Supreme Court will overturn McCain-Feingold on free speech grounds. Personally, I have never thought the act went far enough in addressing the problem of legalized corruption, and now that the Democrats are going to have to come up with a replacement, I humbly offer the following:
All media purchasing by the candidate is banned, other than a website, dramatically driving down costs. Any advertising will be bought by completely separate 527-style groups which will be unregulated except for the following: a) No communication or financial support can be shared with the campaign or campaign workers, and b)The SEC awards a $100,000 fine to anyone who can provide proof of libel in political advertising against a named candidate or party, to be paid by the offending 527. That way all the candidate is legally allowed to focus on is grassroots organizing and their message.
Simple and constitutional, no?
With the third anniversary of the War in Iraq, our attentions have turned, naturally, to Iran. A while ago (before Iran’s nuclear program was making front-page news), I was talking to a friend about liberal interventionism, and of course, Iran came up. What did I ultimately propose to do, she asked, about the human rights violations there? I said there was no justified interventionist action we could possibly take. We both agreed that the use of force wasn’t a good option, and the U.S. has been embargoing Iran since 1979, so that clearly hasn’t worked, either. She suggested we spend money to fund democratic movements there, and I pointed out that they already have somewhat of a democracy and that we wouldn’t be able to help that way.
We have (as we’ve had from the beginning of the occupation) a civil war in Iraq and Iran, who have more influence in Iraq than anyone besides the U.S., have offered to talk with the Americans, who have been hammering Iran’s supposedly civilian nuclear program in rather threatening terms.
Lately, the Bush administration has been talking about Iran in much the same way it had been talking about Iraq in 2002, so I thought I should write about the challenges we face with Iran. Now, I just fixed this blog’s search engine so that I could look for all the occurrences of the word “Iran” in the past two-and-five-sixths years. Here’s a small review:
|12 October 2004“Then we come to how this war has affected our relations with the rest of the world. Anyone who has been out of the country recently is well aware of the problems America is having. Imagine, there was something we could do to make us even more unpopular than we already were around the world! Did you even think such a thing was possible four years ago? I tell you, the Bush White house has some real talents there. And it’s more than just people not liking us; Iran and North Korea are stocking up on nuclear weapons for that single universal good in the eyes of the international system, namely self-defense.”
|3 March 2005:”You might call it ironic, but Axis-of-Evil Iran’s is the most likely path to democracy in the Middle East. It’s not quite a democracy, but it has been declared compatible with orthodox Islam. Someday, reformers will take over the clerical branch of Iran’s government, and they’ll be able to have a real democracy.”
|10 May, 2005:”Currently, America is worried about Iran’s possible (and North Korea’s declared) nuclear capabilities. Even with the whole “Axis-of-Evil’ meme out there, many Americans don’t seem to realize that Iran’s rush to get the bomb (not to mention everyone else’s) is directly tied to the invasion of Iraq. Much to the delight of military contractors, we have started a whole new arms race.
We all know why countries get the bomb–it’s the only thing that will stop the U.S. from invading you. The way Bush went after Iraq (particularly after the “Axis of Evil” speech) was an explicit demonstration of this principle. Why don’t we send the Marines over the DMZ? MAD at work, my friends. So what we really accomplished in the rest of the world was basically to exhort countries who felt threatened to develop WMDs post haste. “
|17 July 2005 (in response to Brad, The Unrepentant Individual):”Hey, based on Dean [Esmay]’s criteria for democracy, is that why we won’t go to war with Iran?”
Brad had previously suggested we should have started with Iran instead or Iraq, not an unreasonable thing to say considering Iran’s democratic government actually has links to al-Qaeda and is possibly seeking WMDs. So, while I think we’re far too overextended to go up against Iran in a land war in the forseeable future, it’s sort of interesting to consider that by some people’s definition, they may already have declared war on us. It’s closely related to Thomas Friedman’s McDonalds theory of international relations, which says that no two countries with McDonalds’ fast-food joints have ever gone to war. (Go tell that to Serbia.)
Now, I just couldn’t resist another Brad quote:
“I do point out one thing, though, that between Iraq and Afghanistan, we are trying to establish US-friendly regimes on both borders of Iran. That may ratchet up the pressure we can exert on the mullahs, which is a very good thing.
Why bother “racheting up the pressure” on the mullahs? Why not just give them the fucking bomb–as Meredith said, at least then we’ll know they have it and when they got it.”
So now it comes as no surprise that Iran is talking tough about ramping up its nuclear program, which it says it needs for civilian purposes–a claim as likely to be true as Bush’s claim that Iraq was an imminent threat. Now, just because they have nukes doesn’t mean they will use them; in today’s nuclear environment, atomic weapons are more of an insurance policy against invasion. And who’s the only country which does any invading anymore? Why, the only country which has ever used nuclear weapons in a war (on civilian targets, nonetheless). Some might say that the overextension of U.S. troops at present neutralies any military threats we might be able to hang over other countries’ heads, but it’s just as likely we could “redeploy” all of our troops from the civil-war-ravaged states of Iraq and Afghanistan into Iran if we felt it might get the President’s approval rating back above 29%.
The facts of Iran’s support of terrorist groups including Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, its human rights abuses, and involvement in Iraq are known; many have long said that the causus belli against Iran was a much stronger case than against Iraq. A few days ago, political analysts were all over Bush’s speeches mentioning Iran, but they couldn’t decide whether he was taking a hard or soft line against the regime:
The international community is also speaking with one voice to the radical regime in Tehran. Iran is a nation held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people, and denying them basic liberties and human rights. The Iranian regime sponsors terrorists and is actively working to expand its influence in the region. The Iranian regime has advocated the destruction of our ally, Israel. And the Iranian regime is defying the world with its ambitions for nuclear weapons. America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats, and Iran’s aggressive behavior and pursuit of nuclear weapons is increasing its international isolation. When Iran’s case was brought before the IAEA earlier this month, 27 nations voted against Iran, including Russia and China and India and Brazil and Sri Lanka and Egypt and Yemen. The only nations to support Iran were Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela. Now Iran’s case will be taken up to the U.N. Security Council. The free world is sending the regime in Tehran a clear message: We’re not going to allow Iran to have nuclear weapons.
So far, it sounds like the kind of rhetoric the White House was spouting against Iraq in 2002. Iran is pursuing weapons of mass destruction, is a threat to its neighbors, etc. For those who still recall the hype with which Bush whipped up the nation’s war machine in preparation for Iraq, it certainly seems like this speech qualifies as a “hard line” against the Islamic republic. But then, take a look at the next part of the speech:
The world’s free nations are also worried because the Iranian regime is not transparent. You see, a non-transparent society that is the world’s premier state sponsor of terror cannot be allowed to possess the world’s most dangerous weapons. So, as we confront Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, we’re also reaching out to the Iranian people to support their desire to be free; to build a free, democratic, and transparent society.
Bush’s complaints about Iran’s democracy not being transparent are ironic, to say the least. The Bush White House has done everything in its power to make the American government more opaque than any administration since Nixon, yet when an Islamic democracy whose inner workings are a matter of public record wants nuclear weapons, suddenly Americans deserve transparency–not from their own elected government, but from someone else’s.
Iran’s human rights violations are legion. But the government is democratically elected, even the clerical branch. Just having elections is no safeguard for human rights; just ask any of the ‘enemy combatants’ at Guantanamo. The political oppression in Iran is a blueprint for a semi-facist theocracy which justifies itslef according to religious and democratic principles. Transparency is really the least of their problems; repression is carried out in the name of the people and in the light of day.
The United States government under Bush is nowehere near as repressive as Iran, and it’s extremely unlikely that it could ever become that bad. But America is heading down a similar path of domestic spying and political repression in the name of ‘security’ and so forth. Bush was right in this regard; the increased opacity of government is what enables this kind of violation of rights to happen, and the pseudo-populism he espouses cloaks a campaign against free speech and popular dissent.
Again, Bush isn’t anywhere near as bad, solely in terms of internal repressive policies, as Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Iran’s president. Ahmedinejad is no less of a controversial figure in his own country, by the way. Although Ahmadinejad was elected with over 60% of the vote against reformer and former President Rafsanjani, his opponents claimed election fraud and that the clerical branch of the government had illegally intervened in the election to help his campaign effort.
Both Presidents are religious conservatives belonging to apocalyptic sects, and both have been faltering with regards to their effectiveness within their own governments. Both seem to think taking a harder line against each other will result in greater internal political support, regardless of the larger implications for regional stability and world peace.
These are the kind of nutjobs we have running the asylums.
At any rate, let’s return to Bush’s plans for the new most-dangerous-country-in-the-world:
To support the Iranian people’s efforts to win their own freedom, my administration is requesting $75 million in emergency funds to support democracy in Iran. This is more than a fourfold increase over current levels of funding. These new funds will allow us to expand radio and television broadcasts into Iran. They will support reformers and dissidents and human rights activists and civil society organizers in Iran, so Iranians can organize and challenge the repressive policies of the clerical regime. They will support student exchanges, so we can build bridges of understanding between our people and expose more Iranians to life in a free society. By supporting democratic change in Iran, we will hasten the day when the people of Iran can determine their own future and be free to choose their own leaders. Freedom in the Middle East requires freedom for the Iranian people, and America looks forward to the day when our nation can be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.
So this is the so-called soft-line diplomatic solution: tens of millions of dollars of propaganda! The problem is, the very reformers Bush supposedly want to fund in their mission say that the taint of American support harms them more than it helps. Here’s an excerpt from a must-read Washington Post article:
We are under pressure here both from hard-liners in the judiciary and that stupid George Bush,” human rights activist Emad Baghi said as he waited anxiously for his wife and daughter to emerge from interrogation last week. “When he says he wants to promote democracy in Iran, he gives money to these outside groups and we’re in here suffering.” The fallout illustrates the steep challenge facing the Bush administration as it seeks to play a role in a country where American influence is called unwelcome even by many who share the goal of increasing democratic freedoms.
“Unfortunately, I’ve got to say it has a negative effect, not a positive one,” said Abdolfattah Soltani, a human rights lawyer recently released from seven months in prison. After writing in a newspaper that his clients were beaten while in jail, Soltani was charged with offenses that included spying for the United States.
“This is something we all know, that a way of dealing with human rights activists is to claim they have secret relations with foreign powers,” said Soltani, who co-founded a human rights defense group with Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi. “This very much limits our actions. It is very dangerous to our society.”
So, in announcing his big diplomatic plan, he has essentially cornered the very people he purports to want to help. And anyone who has an understanding of Iranian society could have told him as much. Unfortunately, our history of involvement with Iran has yet to yield a single positive result (more about that in a minute), and we aren’t making any progress with this stupid initiative.
Now, I’d like to take the opportunity to call out the Democratic Iran-hawks on their blustering and supremely dangerous demagoguery. I’m thinking, in particular, of presidential hopeful Evan Bayh, who thinks he can outflank the Republicans on the right by echoing Bush’s Iraq rhetoric for Iran (emphasis mine):
First, Iran must be made to understand that a nuclear Iran is not negotiable. We will not let a government that calls for the end of the United States or Israel acquire a nuclear weapon. It is that simple. With that as our non-negotiable position, the administration must immediately go to the United Nations Security Council and call for strong economic, political, and diplomatic sanctions. If its nuclear activities persist, there will be consequences beyond that, including the use of force. We cannot afford to wait. The Iranian government must understand that if its nuclear activity continues, it will be treated as a pariah state.
Second, supplies of refined gasoline to Iran should be cut off. Iran may be one of the world’s largest exporters of oil, but currently imports 40 percent of their refined gasoline. By cutting that supply off, the Iranian economy will be hurt badly.
Third, Iran must be isolated diplomatically, financially, and culturally. Their delegations should no longer be welcomed in countries around the world. Iranian assets should be frozen and financial and banking ties severed. Travel to and from Iran should be cut off and international flights should not be allowed to land or originate from the country. Most importantly, Iran should be denied the foreign investment for its energy sector that it so clearly craves.
I used to think (way back in 2002) that there’s no way we would be stupid enough to try and occupy Iraq because it’s a no-win situation. Now I know that no matter how improbable the logistics of attacking and “liberating” a country about 3.7 times Iraq’s size and 2.6 times larger population-wise, we might still do it if, say, we’re feeling down about the size of our military-industrial erection.
American exceptionalism is the word of the day here, folks. I know we have inherited this great “can-do” attitude about the world, and in many respects it has served us well. But this idea that we can achieve any foreign policy goal if we just set our minds to it is tragically false. After WWII we got the idea that if we send enough troops, money, or both, we can effect any change we desire in the world in our own interests. You’d think that Vietnam would have dispelled this notion, but somehow we managed to neutralize the lessons we should have learned (I blame Sylvester Stallone and Rambo, for one).
When considering the morality of interventions, I find it useful to try the “shoe-on-the-other-foot” test. For example, what would happen if Ahmadinejad were to employ the same reasoning Bush is using against us? After all, the U.S. is a classic example of an aggressor; while America (again, the only nation to have actually used nukes in wartime) retains the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and refuses to disarm in the name of self-defense, it has attacked and destroyed two bordering states and threatened the Iranian regime, all the while trying to shame Iran for “meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs” without the slightest hint of irony. We already placed sanctions on Iran a generation ago, and our history of supporting the brutal regime of the Shah, twice deposing democratic Iranian governments in the name of oil security, hasn’t garnered any credibility with Iranians. An American invasion in the name of democracy would only destroy any hope for it in Iran, as we did in the 1970s.
The shoe-on-the-other-foot test applies to our ridiculous “democracy initiative” as well as for any military invasion. Imagine if Iran bombarded us with broken English leaflets urging us to junk the Electoral College or guarantee paper trails for electronic voting machines–do you think it would help or hinder our democracy? What if Iran were to funnel money to the the DNC or MoveOn.org the way we propose to fund democracy initiatives? It’s a fool’s errand, and liberal interventionalists are just the fools to propose it.
Bombing Iranian civilians as punishment for Ahmadinejad’s nuclear aspirations makes as much sense as Iran bombing the US as punishment for Bush’s recent violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. There is no greater threat to the Muslim world than the United States, as we have been demonstrating for the last five years. Our sabre-rattling has had the predictable effect of driving Iran to the hard right, and dropping $75 million worth of leaflets is not going to convince anyone that we have their best interests at heart.
Speaking of Iranian elections, the damage we did in 2005 by helping elect the mystic madman Ahmadinejad (not to mention strengthening Iran’s position in the Middle East immeasurably since the invasion of Iraq) is nothing compared to the potential Iranian voters will have this year to set back the progress-clock in the upcoming clerical elections.
As I’ve pointed out before, the Iranian system is set up to moderate progress by means of clerical intervention. Later this year, the Assembly of Experts, who meet annually, will be popularly elected. The cycle of Iranian democracy is simple: reformers are elected to Parliament and make modest progress, then they are barred from running for reelection by the Council of Guardians so that conservatives can regain power. Rinse, repeat. The Assembly are clerics, popularly elected to eight-year terms; they, in turn, elect the Velayat-i-faqih, or Supreme Leader from among themselves, who then appoints the Judiciary and half of the Council of Guardians.
If there is any real progress that will be made in Iran, it will have to begin with the Assembly elections, which have eight-year repercussions. If our actions convince Iran it will soon be under attack, the people will likely elect some real reactionaries and hopes will be set back for another eight years, losing another generation to extremism.
Real ‘progress’ in Iran will never be made until the people elect moderate clergy. A clergy which understands the value of free speech and civil rights for women. The United States was in such a position a two hundred years ago, when the clergy was racist and sexist and so forth, but over time the people have forced the message further toward humanism with every generation.
Take the Catholic Church, for example. They just voted out the idea of “Limbo” the other day. Why? Because it caused problems in the minds of ancestor-worshipping potential converts to think their ancestors would never get to Heaven. Poof! Cardinals vote–dogma forever changed! The rules are more flexible than people realize. All religions are slowly, slowly getting more inclusive, some faster than others. Orthodoxy just makes it harder, but some people will abandon or change the things they don’t like.
So, of course, our pal, Georgie, has marshalled all of his energies to command a brutal expedition in radicalizing Islam by invading Iraq and Afghanistan. We get ourselves in front of the whole world with images of dead and tortured civilians because we think that a humiliation strategy is the most appropriate response to dealing with Arab sensibilities. We think that trying to inspire fear in people with our formidable progress in destabilizing Iraq will help our cause. We’re like the drunken idiot in a bar trying to fix a broken jukebox by smashing the glass and fumbling with the records.
Sorry, but there are some things the U.S. Armed Forces under Bush are not qaulified to do, and it’s time we stopped pretending. Like so many prominent conservatives lately. Elephant said to me the other day that we could have accomplished our neocon-style goals in Iraq if we had sent a different army, say, a force of 200,000 language specialists from all around the world. I agree it probably would have worked better, but the fact remains that you can’t really start a democracy overnight from the top down. And if we were to invade Iran’s fledgling democracy, for example, we would irrevocably poison the well for generations to come (right now we’re working on poisoning one generation at a time).
So now Iran has offered to talk to the U.S., presumably about nuclear weapons and Iraq. Are they offering a deal? Will they ask the U.S. for permission to join the nuclear club in exchange for exerting some influence with worldwide Islamist elements? And would we take such a deal?
President Bush is now saying that he will deal with the issue of Iran’s nukes with “diplomacy,” and with the way our military resources have been wasted, one has to wonder whether there are really any other viable options. And the $6 billion dollar question remains–what effect does an overextended military have on the delicate balance of mutually assured destruction?