Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Iraqi Realpolitik

Jim Holt in The London Review of Books makes the case that the war in Iraq has been about oil and oil companies, and that by that measure it is already over, and the U.S. has won:

Among the winners: oil-services companies like Halliburton; the oil companies themselves (the profits will be unimaginable, and even Democrats can be bought); US voters, who will be guaranteed price stability at the gas pump (which sometimes seems to be all they care about); Europe and Japan, which will both benefit from Western control of such a large part of the world’s oil reserves, and whose leaders will therefore wink at the permanent occupation; and, oddly enough, Osama bin Laden, who will never again have to worry about US troops profaning the holy places of Mecca and Medina, since the stability of the House of Saud will no longer be paramount among American concerns. Among the losers is Russia, which will no longer be able to lord its own energy resources over Europe. Another big loser is Opec, and especially Saudi Arabia, whose power to keep oil prices high by enforcing production quotas will be seriously compromised.

Continued hegemony over Iraq and its oil can now be maintained at a relatively trivial cost, roughly equal to the number of deaths in this country from unhelmeted motorcylists.

The theory seems a little too simple. As Mr. Holt himself acknowledges, if this was the plan, it worked exactly as it was drawn up, and that is precisely the sort of outcome that history seldom delivers. And the Iraqi government, which has been willing to suffer a dramatic increase Iran’s influence in its country against the clear itnerests of the U.S., appears to be far too independent for this theory to make sense to me.

But the most interesting part is what he does not say. If we stipulate a purely cynical, national-interest (in the traditional sense) motivation for the war, it could certainly follow that the U.S. government would want permanent bases and to shovel money to U.S. firms, as the nuttier anti-corporate types claim. But it would also be true that countries like Iran and Russia, who would be damaged by the increase in Iraqi oil production that will follow the permanent establishment of enough stability in Iraq to get the oil flowing, have a clear interest in keeping Iraq violent and unstable. That, it seems to me, is a far more provocative deduction. But focused as he is on the U.S., it never occurs to Mr. Holt to pursue this.


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