Whitley's Journal

Disaster in the Middle East

In January of 2003, I published a journal entry on this website in support of going to war against Saddam Hussein. The reason I offered then is even more valid now than it was then. It is that the west needs at least one substantial, proven and stable source of oil outside of its own borders. The stakes are not small: we need this to survive. To those who ignore the oil problem, claiming that ?free market? forces will always find enough supply to meet demand, I say this: one ideology is as much an illusion as another.

The world repudiated the myth of communism because it failed to bring the wealth and happiness it promised. Now the ?free market? myth is at high tide. It will recede amid a flood of dead oil fields and dry holes, destroyed, as was communism, by the fact that it is also an illusion, a seductive oversimplification that is doomed to failure when, quite simply, it ceases for one reason or another to work.

This oversimplification will fail because nature doesn't care about the "mystical power" of some market theory. In nature, two and two is just and only four, not the five and a quarter or so that the "free market" believers are expecting will bring nonexistent oil out of the ground simply because we need it.

Not to say that the oil isn't there. Very simply, the world political situation, let alone current reserves, are going to deteriorate much faster than new resources can be developed.

This is why my basic position is that we MUST develop alternative energy sources on an ultra fast track. We must apply our intelligence and scientific skills to innovation in this area or face human suffering on so vast a scale that it is almost beyond imagination.

No national energy strategy can be complete without two components that are missing from our current strategy, which goes no farther than to attempt to secure, short-term, a stable oil supply. An intelligent energy strategy includes two further components: conservation and innovation.

The present administration ignores conservation entirely. It has paid lip service to innovation with the president's mention of hydrogen fueled cars in the last State of the Union address. But a real strategy would encourage the manufacture and purchase of hybrid and low mileage vehicles now and reward engineering innovation for the future. It would encourage real innovation, like attempts to grow crops that can be converted into engine-useable fuel.

It would also encourage conservation. A tax break for SUV purchasers is hardly the solution. In fact, this policy shows cynical contempt for the welfare of our country. It is designed to prevent us from becoming energy independent.

Anybody who does not strive for energy independence for this country is, very simply, not a patriot. Short term, that means stabilizing our oil supply. But innovation and conservation are even more crucial components.

The economic catastrophe that follows present policy will reveal it for what it is: a smokescreen of propaganda designed to conceal and condone the greedy and irresponsible activities of great corporate systems.

In fact, the only political system that is ever going to work must balance capitalism with wise regulation and appropriate taxation. People need the freedom to hope and build and strive. But the economic entities that come about, especially the larger ones, require careful regulation, and they must be made to shoulder their fair share of tax responsibility for the public infrastructure that supports them.

At present in the United States, six out of ten corporations pay no taxes at all, and a ?no taxes? initiative has been cynically connected to evangelical Christianity by clever demagogues, who, seeing that evangelicals were well organized, entered the movement and twisted the truth of the bible into a wildly heretical ?wealth is a sign of God?s favor? philosophy. They did this in order to use Christians for corporate ends that have nothing at all to do with the message of the Master, ?the meek shall inherit the earth.?

By invading Iraq, the Bush administration implicitly acknowledged the coming oil crisis with needed action. But it failed to act in a way that would lead to a stable Iraq. From the first day American soldiers crossed the border, I knew that the war was lost. And indeed, events have proven my worst fears to be right.

I was horrified when the president made the decision to go ahead with the invasion even though we could not send troops through Turkey. I did not doubt that we would be quickly successful on the ground. But the fact that the northern border would remain in Saddam?s hands throughout the war doomed the whole operation to eventual failure. It meant that Saddam Hussein and his substantial secret army of military intelligence experts would have time to reorganize behind our lines, and establish financial arrangements through the unofficial pan-Arab network that exists entirely outside of the established banking system and is not accessible to US control in any way whatsoever.

Worse, the dreadfully low number of American troops on the ground meant that there was no way at all that order could be established in the country. The US went in with the pitifully na?ve notion that we would be welcomed by an oppressed and freedom hungry people. The Defense Department became a fantasyland, ignoring what little good intelligence was available in favor of listening to ineffectual and dangerous advisers like Ahmad Chalaby.

And yet, his contention that US troops would be greeted with elation by the Shi?ite majority was believed and acted upon by the US Secretary of Defense despite the CIA?s warnings that the Shia distrusted and even hated us, and could not be counted on for anything. Chalaby?s theories were chosen over the CIA?s facts because, if the CIA?s position was adopted, it meant that we could not win the war without committing far more troops than we could spare. Bizarrely, the Defense Department planned the war and the recovery of Iraq on the assumption that the Shia would be welcoming and co- operative.

This was nothing but a dream. It had no basis in reality and was not supported in any way by what little intelligence we did have. In reality, the Shia were extremely suspicious of the United States and had reason to be. During the first Iraq war, the US cynically encouraged them to rebel against Saddam, which they did. Then, in an act of unspeakable cruelty, we pulled out of their part of Iraq, just weeks after promising them that we would stay.

Saddam returned and three hundred thousand Shia were brutally murdered in a monstrous reign of terror.

And now the country that caused that catastrophe, the single worst thing that has ever happened to the Shia of Iraq, was returning and expecting to be greeted with sweets and flowers.

That the men who sent our youth to fight and suffer and die based on this silly fallacy have not been made to resign is a serious strike against the current administration. It is simply fantastic that Donald Rumsfeld, after an error on this historic a scale, that has cost the country untold wealth, hundreds of lives, and possibly even its future as a superpower, has continued to have the trust of the president suggests that his weakness, a tendency to fool himself into believing what he needs to believe in order to do what he wants to do, is integral to the administration itself.

Unfortunately, soldiers fight and die in the real world, not in the out-of-touch fantasies of those who all too often decide their fate.

Even so, we almost won the war in Iraq. In fact, we just recently lost it, when two incidents took place that tipped the scales irrevocably against us, and possibly even against the west as a whole. The first of these incidents was President Bush?s endorsement of Ariel Sharon?s settlement reduction plan. By doing this, and doing it without consulting a single Arab head of state, he announced to the world that the United States no longer saw Palestinian demands for return of land as viable.

This gigantic blunder caused Arab good will to become, at best, neutrality. Worse, it was done for no gain at all: the Likud Party rejected Sharon?s gesture, as feeble as it was. As a result, the United States and Israel are isolated in the Mideast as never before.

A fuel as dangerous as stolen plutonium was added to this fire when pictures of Americans torturing Iraqis were released and circulated worldwide. More damning, it turned out that these pictures had been in the hands of Pentagon authorities for months, with little being done beyond the quiet suspension of a few guards. Not only that, a US Army report detailing the abuses and stating that they were endemic to the system had been in the hands of military commanders since February. This report said that "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses" were present in virtually every prison facility in the country.

What is worse, General Richard Meyers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has now been revealed as having personally requested that CBS News delay release of the pictures for two weeks, which the network did. The situation was further inflamed in the Arab world when it was said that the US military officers involved would only receive reprimands.

The situation came about because the jails of Iraq are staffed by untrained and completely inadequate jailers. To save money, military personnel have been co-opted and private contractors with no training in this difficult field hired. Like virtually everything else America does in Iraq, the whole incarceration and interrogation process has been accomplished via half-measures and ad-hoc, unplanned processes, rather than carefully designed and professionally constructed programs.

The result is predictable: a disaster for America that, while it is being diminished at home by skilled professional propagandists, is setting the Arab world on fire with hate and disappointment of a kind that has rarely, if ever, been directed at this country before.

A few pictures, the result of irresponsible management and poor personnel choices made by strapped and desperate administrators, have made a mockery of all the sacrifice and the sacred excellence of so much American effort in Iraq, and have caused our contention that we represent the goodness of the human spirit seem like the rank lie that our enemies claim that it is.

The mismanagement of Iraqi society by the US began with our failure to secure such key sources of information as Iraqi governmental ministries in the days following the capture of Baghdad. This meant that Saddam Hussein?s still-intact intelligence commands were able to enter these buildings and destroy records, a process that has permanently crippled US intelligence in the country.

It continues with the almost incredible decision to cut off of thousands of Iraqi soldiers from their only source of income, their army wages, and thus guarantee that there would be a substantial population of militarily trained recruits for the militias that radical clerics and Saddam?s still-intact intelligence organization have been setting up around the country. Our failure has been further guaranteed by our inability to stabilize physical infrastructure and the flow of money into the government. The only reason that Iraq even has a titular government is that the American taxpayer pays its wages. The failure to allow even low-level Baathist party administrators to continue their bureaucratic work has meant that such things as the system of taxation has failed.

The entire economy is, in effect, a black market economy. ?Free market? believers in the US are even applauding this. But their applause will die when they see the result: Iraq is liable to follow Afghanistan, which has been managed just as badly, into a chaos of small entities led by warlords and religious fanatics.

Above the entrance to the headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service there is chiseled a quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Taxation is the price we pay for civilization." This quotation has been the object of much derision in recent years, but we will come to curse those who let the ability to tax effectively slip away from us in Iraq, as it also has in Afghanistan.

Obviously, gaining a stable oil supply from Iraq is not on the horizon. While oil from the stable Kurdish north might well come our way, and will help, the situation in the south is essentially hopeless. Because of the depth of damage to the social fabric as well as the economic infrastructure of the country, and the hostility we have gained, we are not likely to see a stable supply from the south for a very long time.

Unfortunately, the oil crisis that probably inspired our move into Iraq in the first place is growing like an out of control refinery fire.

In January of 2003, the prestigious Uppsala Hydrocarbon Depletion Study Group published a study saying that world oil reserves were far less than the oil countries were claiming. The study suggested that inflated claims on the part of many countries were due to a need to support their vast indebtedness with oil reserves?that are not, in fact, there.

And indeed, in February and March of this year, Shell Oil downgraded its reserves by 20%, or four billion barrels, primarily because of overstated reserves in Oman. Industry speculation is rife at this time that another enormous international company will soon follow suit, and that the reserves of more than half of OPEC?S members, including Venezuela, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, are seriously overstated.

The destruction of American credibility among the Arabs has seriously, perhaps fatally, weakened our key supporter, the one country whose destruction would bring about the ruin of the world as we know it now. That country is Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi Royal family?s association with the Bush family has become a disastrous liability that could easily tip the balance to abdication.

Saudi Arabia is not ruled by the royal family. This is a fiction, nothing more. Day to day rule in the country belongs to the Religious Police, and they report to the religious leadership, which, although nominally under the power of the king, are, in fact, independent entities, most of them radically in favor of a complete return to sha?a?ria, which, incidentally, also means capping the oil wells and, essentially, returning to the desert.

It isn?t very likely that any but the most radical Saudi extremists would go this far, but they would certainly cease to support oil prices with production increases, as the royal family does now. It is likely that politics would govern the allocation of oil as well. Countries acting in ways that a radical Saudi regime disliked could expect to be penalized.

If the Saudi Royal Family falls, the United States will at once need to invade and gain detailed control of the country in order to insure the continued flow of oil. But Saudi Arabia is a complicated and sophisticated oil pumping machine. It is vulnerable in thousands of different places and maintaining its functionality against even small groups of fanatical saboteurs would, quite simply, be impossible. Without the royal family, we lose our free access to Saudi oil, and it is not likely that the royal family will survive in power even a few more years.

Indeed, the combination of the Bush-Sharon pronouncement and the ghastly pictures of Iraqis being tortured in ways calculated to humiliate Moslems and blaspheme against their religious scruples, have so inflamed the region that an uprising in Saudi Arabia could take place literally at any time. Barring that, serious attacks against the oil infrastructure could be in the offing, no longer prevented by Saudi anti- terrorism units whose loyalty to the regime has been destroyed.

We have not seen the end of our problems in the middle east. Far from it. We have hardly yet seen the beginning.

This is the first in a series of articles about world issues, written from what has become an almost extinct viewpoint in American dialog: that of a centrist. I am neither a liberal nor a conservative, but someone who is interested in ensuring continued national economic vitality and freedom by accurately recognizing and correctly responding to the economic, political and environmental problems that surround us.

NOTE: This Journal entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.


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