Thursday, June 09, 2005

Blood and Oil, by Michael T. Klare

American author Michael T. Klare has written extensively on war, arms production and politics. Some of the titles of his other books give a good idea of where he’s coming from. Try these on for size: American Arms Supermarket; Supplying Repression:U.S. Support for Authoritarian Regimes Abroad; War Without End: America Planning for the Next Vietnams.

The statistics in this book alone are mind boggling, making it clear that American involvement in the middle-east, whether it be politically or economically, can only increase dramatically over the coming years. Going by the statistics alone, it seems that we are just at the beginning of our democratic ‘make-over’ of the middle east.

For example, the American Department of Energy projects that U.S foreign consumption of oil will rise from 55 percent in 2001, to an estimated 58 percent in 2010, 66 percent in 2020 and 70 percent in 2025. Now couple that with dropping domestic production, from 5.7 barrels per day in 2001 to a projected 4.6 barrels per day in 2025. Having looked into the future, now look into the past. After World War two, American reliance on foreign oil was 20 percent of total consumption. In 1973 this figure crossed the 30 percent mark, the 40 percent mark in 1976 and 45 percent in 1977. Then in April 1998 foreign dependency on imports reached the 50 percent mark.

Of course everyone knows where most of the world’s oil is concentrated. That’s right, the middle east. The top five runs thus, in barrels by the billion. Number one, Saudi Arabia with 261.8 billion barrels of proven reserve and 25 percent of the world total. Iraq comes in at number two, boasting 112.5 billion barrels and 10.7 percent of world total. Then the United Arab Emirates, 97.8 billion barrels and 9.3 percent. Four is Kuwait with 96.5 billion barrels and 9.2 world total. And finally fifth is Iran with 89.7 billion barrels and 8.6 percent of world total.

Cynics will holler from the sidelines that it’s as clear as day that the only reason the U.S wants stability and democracy in the middle east is so that they may have unfettered access to oil, until there’s not another drop left. While idealistic true believers assert that the invasion of Iraq is a high-minded and moralistic enterprise, determined to rid the world of tyranny and despotism.

Klare does not take such a black and white position as this, although throughout his book he does argue that oil and conflict have a habit of turning up at the same place at the same time. Here Klare writes of the decision to go into Iraq, thereby junking Colin Powell’s pre-September 11 idea of ‘smart sanctions’, meant to tighten restrictions on high-tech goods with potential military applications.

‘Why did the president choose to abandon the Powell plan and seek the forcible ouster of Saddam Hussein? No single factor can account for this momentous decision. Security considerations were certainly an important part of the equation: White House officials were obviously worried about the continuing buildup of Iraq’s military capabilities and the threat they posed to regional stability. But, as I have argued, security was directly tied to the safety of the Persian Gulf oil supplies and thus to the prospects for increased output. So long as Saddam Hussein remained in power, the Gulf would never be entirely stable, and the United States would never be able to boost Iraqi petroleum production.’

The most fascinating part of this oil dilemma is the peculiar relationship between the U.S and Saudi Arabia, a love that dare not speak its name. That a world leading democracy supports such a creepy regime, arming it to the back teeth, is amazing. The Roosevelt administration got the ball rolling, using the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 to start arming the kingdom (it gave the president authority to sell, exchange, lease or otherwise transfer military goodies to any country the president deemed vital to the country’s defence). In Roosevelt’s own words, ‘The defence of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defence of the United States.’

In February 1945, Roosevelt flew to Egypt, meeting King Ibn Saud aboard the USS Quincy, an American cruiser anchored in the Suez Canal. Among Ibn Saud’s entourage were Bedouin bodyguards, households slaves, and the royal astrologer. The discussions between these two entirely different leaders went on for some five hours. No records were kept, and no other Americans were present, so what was discussed remains a mystery. Yet ever since the two nations have been locked in a strange marriage of convenience. The U.S gets oil, and in return the kingdom receives arms.

The author explains how critical the relationship has been to the growth of the U.S as a major economy:

‘Without the oil that Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf producers supplied, the United States and its European allies could never have achieved the spectacular economic growth they posted in the post war era. Nor could Washington have sustained the great armies, navies, and air forces it deployed in every theatre of possible confrontation with the Soviet Union and its allies.’

However, with this spectacular economic growth came a price. The defence of the kingdom:

‘At the same time, however, this Saudi oil imposed a significant strategic burden on American leaders. Saudi Arabia’s forces were no match for those of its more heavily armed neighbours, and so it fell to the United States to ensure the kingdom’s defence, as well as the safety of its oil fields and pipelines and the sea-lanes that connect the Gulf to markets abroad. Moreover, President Roosevelt had made a promise, implicit or otherwise, to defend the Saudi government itself – which meant, in practice, the Saudi royal family. And because the royal family periodically came under attack from its own subjects, the United States became mired in Saudi Arabia’s internal affairs, primarily through its aid to the monarchy’s police and internal-security forces.’

The Reagan administration alone sold 8.5 billion dollars worth of arms to the kingdom, a sale passed by a none too happy Congress.

As I said at the beginning, none of this is going to get any better in the future, unless the U.S, and the world, can wean itself off oil its dependency. Something which seems unlikely. The book lists figures showing how the Gulf region will be producing an even bigger proportion of the world’s oil supply in the future, from 27 percent in 2000, to 36 percent in 2025. Add to that even more alarming figures about how much oil the world will need to produce to keep up with consumption. World oil production would have to grown by 60 percent between 1999 and 2020 in order to meet projected consumption needs of 119 million barrels per day, according to the International Energy Outlook. Output in the gulf would have to increase 85 percent to meet this demand. One wonders what the political, cultural and economic outcome will be in twenty years.
And this is just one aspect of the oil dilemma. Then there are the other oil producing areas, many of which are political hotspots. Don’t forget China either, with its burgeoning economy. It will want its slice of the pie too.

What’s the answer to all of these headaches? Pretty simple: wind back oil use and dependency. Whether it can or will be done is another matter.

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