Power Dynamics

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

"I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." Alan Greenspan in his memoirs.

Why did the US and UK invade Iraq? Theories abound, but here are the top four:

  1. To get rid of weapons of mass destruction.
  2. To overthrow an evil dictator and extend democracy to the Iraqi people.
  3. To aid Israel in its quest for global domination.
  4. To secure control of strategic oil reserves.

If you've read any of my previous musings, you'll know which I think is the correct answer. The real question is why so many liberal lefties and antiwar activists choose to believe variants of the first three theories. Let us suppose Iraq did have deployable nuclear missiles, as Iran might have and Israel certainly has, would this not prove the first theory right? Never mind the failure of inspectors to find little more than remnants of past chemical weapons projects in a country devastated by sanctions, that is not the primary reason why the US administration has spent over US$ 200 billion invading and occupying Iraq. If they cared about the WMDs of other countries, then presumably China, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Brazil and North Korea should be of greater concern and let's not forget the nuclear arsenal of France and UK that the US usually deems friendly countries. Not even UK government ministers believe WMDs were the real reason for Britain's support. It served as a mere pretext to secure a UN rubber stamp for Anglo-American geostrategic aims.

However, many pundits have lent credence to the second excuse. Some would have us believe that even if the US and UK did it for their own self-interest, the Iraqi people benefited through their first multi-party elections and greater freedom of expression. This version of events assumes democracy can exist without any effective control over the economy of the country over which the elected officials nominally have jurisdiction. From a psychological standpoint I'd suggest most leftists who pretend Iraqis have somehow benefited from the invasion are simply in a state of denial. While they criticise the neocon elements behind the Bush Junta and Brown/Blair subsidiary in the UK, they somehow believe the US and UK are progressive forces for good, largely because they see progress in terms of the value system prevalent in trendy upper middle class circles of San Francisco, New York, London and Sydney. I can just see the likes of Peter Tatchell lecturing Iraqi students on sexual politics in a newly opened Starbucks in downtown Baghdad with Bono's U2 music in the background. Bono and Tatchell may have voiced their opposition to the invasion, but their idea of progress is very much the consumerist dystopia that made Bono rich or bankrolled Peter's lifestyle campaigns.

The third reason has certain appeals both on the hard left and within the Muslim community. To entertain this theory, we need to distinguish three groups, which many critics confuse, the Israeli government, the Israeli people and anyone with Jewish connections. The three are not the same, except many in the third category will tend to sympathise with policies and actions of the first, but that is not a given. Beyond doubt many of the key instigators behind the US/UK invasion had close ties with the Israeli government. I need not name names as this ground others have covered extensively. I'd consider this alliance little more than a marriage of convenience, but the inevitable Iraqi insurgence and growing instability hardly benefit ordinary Israelis of any faith. Not only does the conflict lead to greater migratory pressure to Israel's neighbours, but it fuels the civil war against Israeli occupation of the Palestinian terroritories. Some variants of the "They did it for Israel" theory claim Israeli business interests have their eyes set on acquiring vast quantities of real estate in a dismembered Iraq in alliance with Iraqi Kurd leaders. Now why would Israel want to extend its borders to include territory inhabitated by a largely hostile population in which Jews would be a very small minority? More likely is the thesis that Israeli military and business ventures acts a proxy for a wider axis of US, UK and other global interests. That Kurdish and Shiite distrust of the traditionally Sunni-dominated Iraqi regime has been manipulated is beyond dispute, but to extend its borders Israel would need an army much larger than the 200,000 odd US and UK troops currently stationed in Iraq. Israel is currently one of the most dangerous places in the world for practising Jews. Indeed many Russian Jews prefer Germany and most Iranian Jews have turned down large financial incentives to relocate to the Promised Land.

There are two ways to analyse power structures. One is simply to look at the ethno-religious composition of the world's elite and assume they act in the best interests of poorer members of their respective groups. However, a quick look at the world's leading bankers, oligarchs, multinational CEOs, corrupt politicians and other power brokers may reveal the over-representation of some groups and the other under-representation of others, but the gulf between this group and the rest of the world is several orders of magnitude greater than that between middle class Western Europeans and ordinary Ethopians. This elite comprises both the likes of Alan Greenspan, cited above, and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia as well as the CEO of Russia's Gazprom, Japan's Sony Corporation and India's Mittal. They owe no more allegiance to their countryfolk than is strictly necessary for public relations purposes.

However, there is another reason some prefer this Israeli connection theory to the much more obvious oil motive. They fail to believe the resources on which our high-consumption economy with a record human population are becoming scarcer, thus threatening civilisation as we know it. Many politcally correct utopian dreams rely on continous growth to accommodate unrestrained immigration to high consumption countries while others countries catch up with Western European living standards. Currently such a lifestyle depends on fossil fuels and the only realistic alternative that could hope generate anywhere near the same capacity remains the nuclear option. Faced with hard ecological facts, many leftists enter a state of denial, which in its extreme form may even lead them to refute the evidence linking human activity with climate change. Why? Because if we have to rethink our model of development and adapt to much lower levels of aggregate consumption, then, as Richard Heinberg puts it so succinctly, the party is truly over. While it's easy just to urge a reduction in consumption in wealthy regions, the obvious consequence is that the earth record population of 6.5 billion human beings risks rapid implosion. What is certain is that the more the wealthy few continue to indulge, the greater the resultant die-off.

Another analytical error common on the wishful-thinking left is the notion that the US/UK invasion of Iraq has somehow failed. This could only be true if we assume they wanted to bring about a stable and notionally democratic Iraq. They need the spectre of a civil war between rival ethno-religious groups, of an emboldened Al Qaeda and of the involvement of a Islamic Fundamentalist Iran to justify their continued presence. Indeed with the passing of the Petroleum Act and agreements for permanent US bases on Iraqi soil, the US presence there is very much for medium to long term.

They didn't do it for oil, but....

That leaves just one theory. It comes as no surprise that in BBC and CNN discussions on Iraq, oil is seldom mentioned in this regard. The Israel theory suits them fine, because they can then paint opponents as paranoid antisemites, who'd blame Israel for everything from global warming to cultural decay. They no longer entertain the first theory, preferring a mix of ill-defined geostrategic (national security) motives and selfish altruism. Many intellectuals in the public eye have long recognised this reality, but tend to qualify any oil motivations in terms of strategic control, i.e. "They didn't invade Iraq because of oil, but o gain a foothold in the Middle East so they stabilise the region in line with interests of US and UK multinationals." This is like saying "My wife doesn't work as a nude model for the money, but to stabilise our joint financial situation.". However clever such obfuscatory reasoning may appear, gaining control of oil producing regions is the same as grabbing oil, even if you do not use it yourself, but sell it to your competitors. Right now the US economy can source most of its oil from Mexico, Canada, Coolombia, Venezuala and Nigeria, but sooner or later without control over Middle East and Central Asian fossil fuel reserves the US economic model will flounder. Believe me if they could solve the problem by converting thousands of square miles to rapeseed plantations for bio-diesel or 4 metre tall Miscanthus elephant grass, they would. What peak oil deniers fail to recognise is the concept of EROEI or Energy Returned On Energy Invested. If you need to invest immense energy and reallocate vast swatches of farmland to grow fuel crops, it becomes little more than a temporary fix. The same applies to the nuclear option, it requires huge investment and hard-to-obtain uranium. It may be feasible for advanced countries like France with cosy deals with Uranium exporters like Niger to generate 80% of their energy this way, but if we used atomic power to replace fossil fuels we'd soon run out of uranium that can be easily isolated, all this without considering long-term storage, radioactivity, security and potential catastrophic accidents.

What if the US hadn't invaded Iraq?

In the short term the invasion of Iraq has cost the debt-ridden US economy dear. An estimated 250 billion US bucks squandered on one military venture could theoretically save millions of lives if diverted to third world aid. With over 300 US soldiers dead and certainly hundreds of thousands more Iraqis slaughtered, the left falls into the trap of considering this venture a failure. It may seem odd that just as the US prevented Iraq from selling its oil in Euros, the US dollar has fallen from €1.30 in 2001 to just €0.71 in September 2007, while the currency of resource-rich and sparsely populated Canada has gained significantly and for the first time in 30 years is about to overtake the nominal value of the US dollar. At the same time Russia is rising from a financial abyss. Suddenly world leaders from China, France, India to the United Kingdom, are courting Vladimir Putin and turning a blind eye to his government's human rights abuses, which actually pale into insignificance when compared to the true horrors of recent US military crimes or those of the former Soviet Union. What's more former Russian Oligarchs are fuelling the artificial property boom in London with their untold billions. Why? what's going on? How can supposedly advanced countries like the UK and US be at the mercy of Russia, Canada, Venezuela, Iran and Saudi Arabia? Could it be because the immense financial wealth of the City of London and New York Stock Exchange will soon be worthless unless it can be translated into the commodoties we need to drive our high consumption lifestyle? Just think by 2010 Russia will be the primary provider of gas to UK homes. These countries hold the keys to the survival of the global economy because they are only ones remaining with a substantial surplus of material resources, but they comprise only a tiny fraction of the world's population. The big consumer nations, China, India, USA, Japan and the European Union will vy for these prized resources. If the US had not acted promptly to prevent its competitors from striking favourable deals with Iraq, it would have lacked the necessary military might in the region to prevent Saudi Arabia and Iran doing the same. The mounting chaos in Iraq provides a pretext for the long-term presence of US troops next door to Iran and Saudi Arabia with troops already stationed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. Anyone denying the oil motive is guilty of the worst pedantry to avoid admitting the obvious. The US and UK have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians to acquire control of liquid black gold to maintain, at least temporarily, their economic power. That makes New Labour politicians not just liars, but as they were no doubt aware of the true reasons for the invasion, guilty of greed, death and destruction.

Bird and Fortune couldn't have put it more succinctly

Power Dynamics

Rewriting History

A few months after Coalition forces successfully secured control of Baghdad and toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein in Fardus Square before the world's media, Tony Blair referred to way future historians will remember the liberation of Iraq. It is certainly possible to construct a version of history in which the US and UK armed forces liberate a country condemned to years of tyranny by a murderous despot and then proceed to build the foundations of a new liberal democracy extending both wealth and freedoms to the majority of ordinary Iraqi citizens, but sadly hampered by a growing insurgency fuelled by the forces of intolerant Islamic fundamentalism and funded by external powers. Fox News succeeds fairly well at convincing a large section of the American viewing public that whether or not the Coalition forces ultimately succeed in defeating Al Qaeda, they are a force for good, but to do so they have to suppress glaring facts on the ground, not least the ninety years of Anglo-American intervention in the Middle East, overthrowing democratically elected governments, installing despots and arming client regimes, and more important a medium term plan to seize control of the largest concentration of the world's remaining cheap oil and gas reserves. Fox News's rewriting of recent history differs little from that deployed in the Stalinist Soviet Union or in the short-lived Third Reich, except for their reliance on private capital rather than a state monopoly to ensure the masses only receive filtered information and all dissent is methodically sidelined and ridiculed.

Some may recall the debate within the self-defined liberal left on the free speech we should afford to rightwing political extremists. Broadly speaking we may distinguish the Voltairean position preferred by the likes of Noam Chomsky with the militant anti-fascist position preferred by the ideological hard left, but intriguingly also by a number of national governments. The latter position, popularised as no platform for fascists, has two variants, one relying on the state to ban neo-fascist views and the other relying on militant antifascists to silence any murmurings of fascistoid historical revisionism, e.g. staging demos outside David Irving's lectures. I discussed this in Free Speech and Hate Speech, analysing the thorny issue of the intellectual freedom of Nazi holocaust deniers or revisionists (as nobody admits to denial). The subtle point many on the left fail to gauge is that historical research and debate does not need state protection, indeed as soon as the state outlaws certain versions of history, effective debate ceases. Thus currently it is illegal to call into question the official version of the Nazi holocaust in Germany, Austria, Poland, France and Israel, but apparently in Turkey and Israel it's fine to downplay the extent of Armenian holocaust. Naive leftists would extend the interpretation of the French Gaissot Law to outlaw denial of the 1918-19 Turkish slaughter of 1,500,000 Armenians (that's the usual estimate, but the Turkish government revises this down to 300,000), the victims of slavery (as many as 50 to 60 million) and the victims of Stalinism and Maoism (also in their tens of millions). As the Armenian case exemplifies, truth does not need state protection as long as historians on all sides of the debate with different cultural biases are allowed to continue their endless research and debate. When dealing with tragedies on the scale of the afore-mentioned massacres one can never be very exact with numbers, 100,000 soon becomes 1 million and 10 million can soon become just a few hundred thousand.

Out of the blue the neolaborite Guardian reports on Amaresh Misra's "War of Civilisations: India AD 1857" claiming the occupying British administration was responsible not for just a few hundred thousands deaths during the Indian Mutiny, but a deliberate policy for the eradication of as many as ten million Indians, a forgotten holocaust occurring 88 years prior to the Nazi Shoah, but seldom taught in modern British schools. Now let's have a quick reality check. Ask a random group of 20 British teenagers of their understanding of the Nazi holocaust and then ask the same question to 20 Germans in the same age group. Surprisingly most will give fairly similar answers, though I'd hazard that the German group would be a little more precise in their rendition of the official facts. Now ask the same teenagers what they know about the Indian mutiny and with one or two possible exceptions you'll meet with blank faces. Why? Because the history of British colonisation is mainly written either by British academics or by the descendants of a highly anglicised Indian ruling elite, educated in English-medium schools. To limit the death toll atributed to British loyalists to just 100,000 (the orthodox figure usually cited in history books) is tantamount to revising the horrendous murder count of the 1994 Rwandan democide by only considering official death certificates or possibly corpses counted by Red Cross personnel, both of which are undoubtedly much lower than the usual estimate of 800,000 to a million. Anyone visiting the country in the aftermath of the slaughter could not fail to appreciate the scale of the atrocities, whatever the exact composition or ethnic identity of the perpetrators and victims might have been.

Two key factors tend to muddy the waters when in comes to the historical truth of human death and desctruction. One is time itself. The further back in history a mass slaughter is buried, the harder it is to prove the exactitude of rival claims. The second is the powers of persuasion and social control. Most of us who have grown to like much of modern North American culture, myself included, may struggle with the notion that elements of the US ruling elite are responsible, either directly or indirectly, for millions of killings.

Let's fast forward to the controversy over varying Iraqi body counts. Figures range from 650,000 as estimated by the Lancet October 2006 household survey to just 70,000 as estimated by Iraqi Body Count on the basis of press reports and other official sources. The former survey used the same cluster survey method deployed in Rwanda and not dissimilar at all from the population sampling techniques used to obtain figures for other mass slaughters of the last two centuries and much more accurate than wild exaggerations of enemy atrocities sometimes used to justify intervention, most notably during the 1999 Kosovo airstrikes when a UK government minister announced as many as 100,000 Kosovans had been gone missing and feared dead at the hands of Serb security forces, without any scientifically valid surveys on the ground to back up the claim. Later estimates fail to show more than 3000 deaths during the conflict. Yet when our rulers are responsible for mass murder, we are expected to believe only the lowest estimates.