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It’s All About the Oil — and Not Just for the U.S.


Joshua Marshall devoted a series of posts yesterday to this Reuters story:

President George W. Bush would like to see a lengthy U.S. troop presence in Iraq like the one in South Korea to provide stability but not in a frontline combat role, the White House said on Wednesday.

The United States has had thousands of U.S. troops in South Korea to guard against a North Korean invasion for 50 years.

. . . "The Korean model is one in which the United States provides a security presence, but you've had the development of a successful democracy in South Korea over a period of years, and, therefore, the United States is there as a force of stability," [White House spokesliar Tony] Snow told reporters.

He said U.S. bases in Iraq would not necessarily be permanent because they would be there at the invitation of the host government and "the person who has done the invitation has the right to withdraw the invitation."

As Marshall initially commented, "Korean history would suggest that (A) a fifty year occupation, (B) lack of democracy and (C) a hostile neighbor were deeply intertwined . . . the US military presence in Iraq will never be as relatively bloodless as the US military presence in Korea since it has no external threat it's counterbalancing against." (Well, at least not an external threat to Iraq, if you know what I mean.)

Josh then elaborated that "there's only one goal that makes sense of [the Bushite] strategy. . . . to permanently dominate the cluster of oil fields in southern Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran," before being reminded of a key point by a reader:

While it's tempting to try to find some method to the madness of the last few years, you won't find it in a 50-year plan to control the oil supply of the Middle East. That's a pipe dream that didn't survive the occupation.

To which Marshall responded:

To a degree I agree the whole 'control the natural resources of the region' idea didn't survive 'first contact', to paraphrase the US Army line about military planning. But denial is a useful thing. And a lot of the flailing about of recent years, actually most of it, has been an effort to find some way to sustain the original vision.

That's exactly where we've been for the past few years. I don't think I ever used this phrase in a post, but in a brief email exchange with Billmon in 2005 I referred to it as an "iron butt" strategy — just as various Iraqi factions are trying to wait us out and grab for power as we leave, Dick Cheney and his ilk think we can wait them out (even though they live there!) as long as the American public can be numbed to the ongoing death toll.

It's not that the chaos in Iraq is an intentional mechanism by which the U.S. neocons/hawks sought to impose their will on the country (or region's) resources, but from their perspective it's a tolerable fallback position to keep Iran anyone else from gaining control until they can figure out a way to turn events back in their favor. And if all it costs are the lives of American soldiers, hey, that's cheap as far as they're concerned.

The main obstacle to Cheney's colonial dreams, though, is that the Iraqis aren't a bunch of helpless pre-industrial natives; they kind of like the idea of controlling all that oil, too (and the wealth it implies).  That's a key reason to why the resistance to the U.S. designs on Iraq has been so fierce — all the factions, not to mention the neighboring countries, know what's at stake and have no intentions of rolling over.

The factions' unwillingness to share Iraq's oil loot is also why nearly all observers agree that a U.S. withdrawal would, at least temporarily, increase the carnage among the remaining combatants, not to mention why the post-invasion Iraqi political process has resembled a Quentin Tarantino-Michael Bay remake of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (with Saddam Hussein and Dick Cheney in the Jimmy Durante and Spencer Tracy roles, respectively).

For example, you know that oil law the U.S. has been so hot and heavy to get the Iraqis to pass?  It turns out that after months of massaging, the ltext of the law doesn't guarantee Western oil companies anything; it just doesn't exclude the possibility that they may get some lucrative deals.  Oh, and during those months, billions of dollars' worth of oil is unaccounted for, with one of the prime suspects being the Shiite militias/political parties that make up the government.  I don't think they're about to pass a law that gives them a worse deal than what they're getting off the books now. 

The Americans aren't the only ones who can play realpolitik, you know. 

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Swopa has been sharing prescient, if somewhat anal-retentive, analysis and garden-variety mockery with Internet readers since 1995 or so, when he began debunking the fantasies of Clinton-scandal aficionados on Usenet. He is currently esconced as the primary poster at Needlenose (