Tuesday, August 15, 2006

An enabler of the path of least resistance

New York Magazine has published a series of eighteen "what ifs" on what the world (or just New York) would be like if Islamic terrorists had not decided to park planes in the upper floors of the World Trade Center.

Amongst the entries is Andrew Sullivan's take, which he linked to on his site. He may have a future in science fiction. Here's my take on his must-read post in an email I just sent to him:
As I read your "what if" this morning, I couldn't help noticing that oil wasn't mentioned once, except as a nod to your gas tax. I found this disappointing but illuminating.

I've spent a lot of time in the last couple of months -- first through my (dilettante) interest in Nigeria, and later through my broader interest in global oil pricing -- grappling with the effects that the Iraq war and other supply disruptions have had on global oil markets. I have come to realize how completely dependent we Americans are on oil, not just in terms of the import ratio, but in terms of how utterly disastrous another major disruption (on the order of the Iraq invasion) would be for our economy, or worse if we were suddenly to lose a grip on those oil fields upon which we have increasingly come to depend.

We reached peak oil / gas in the US in the early 80's. Since then, we have been scrambling to find a strategic place for ourselves that guarantees steady (if not increased) supply for the foreseeable future. The oil majors understand this clearly. They know that if they decided today to rely solely on current drilling operations, their production capacity would steadily drop to zero. Without continued exploration, their volume shrinks, as do their profits, which becomes a problem not just for ExxonMobil or Royal Dutch Shell shareholders, but also for anyone who wants to buy oil.

Given how obvious this is, it amazes me how little credence those on the left are willing to give oil majors when they say that exploration is an issue of national security as well as of profit, and how little public recognition those on the right, especially neocons like yourself, are will to give to the fact that our involvement in the Middle East is not simply to impose militarily our brand of democracy but is primarily the result of our need to secure oil resources that in the future are likely to become increasingly non-fungible (that is, not freely traded on oil markets). We have no way of knowing for sure if we are reaching Global Peak Oil, but the oil industry knows that its days are numbered (even ExxonMobil is involved in developing renewables).

It is puzzling to me how silent you are on the issue of oil. I doubt very much that Islamist groups would be in a position to threaten Israel if there were no oil in the Middle East. There would be no Saudi millionaires funding madrases in Pakistan or Arab strongmen giving aid to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. If mideast economies were more diverse, there would be less corruption, and less opportunity for social unrest and religious extremism. Instead, the West is the Great Scapegoat. We buy their oil, we insert ourselves into their economies through "free" trade, and we show no signs of letting up. There are smart, liberal people living in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq who see quite well how the system works, and that the West is not without blame, as shown by the history of our involvement, with the British, in Iran and Iraq since we overthrew Moussadegh's in 1953's Operation Ajax.

But none of this is found in your blog: no discussion of Iran's strategic importance for our long-term petroleum security, no discussion of the underlying premise of the neoconservative world vision that democratization is a great goal but the steady flow of oil with the US controlling the spigot is even better, no discussion of how exercise of our military power on a Small Earth can make things worse, not better.

Am I wrong about any of this? Could be. But at least I'm trying to understand things at the level where they matter. I am trying to have a "serious" discussion about the Middle East. To me, though you have admirabily recognized your errors and your role as an Iraq War collaborator, you have failed to examine the principles behind your reasoning in the lead-up to the war. Your "what if" proves this, and clearly outlines what a superficial thinker you have become. To you, our impending oil doom is solvable with a gas tax (ha!) and there is no link between our need for oil and Hezbollah's rocket attacks on Israel. To you, the problem of Islamism is that "these people" are intolerant, not that we have put them in an economic position where those ignoble few are more likely to break ranks and put airplanes into the World Trade Center.

It is in this context that I have become very angry at your dismissal of the anti-war crowd (you have the emails from me to prove it). Your dismissal reflects both a tendency to discount all arguments that are not made on your (pro-war) terms, and your inability to see what lies at the root of the traditional arguments that have been made against the Iraq War. You have dismissed them for so long (and you have seen enough leftist idiots make fools of themselves trying to make them) that you have forgotten what they are. But now that an attempt has been made by the Administration to exercise a worldview that is consonant with your own -- an attempt that failed -- it's time you re-evaluated more than just your take on the war's execution, but also your position on what's best for this world from here on out.

Don't forget oil.

1 comment:

jhaygood said...

excellent stuff. keep it up.