Is it all about oil?
December 8, 2002 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Is it all about oil? Daniel Yergin (The Prize) discusses Iraq's oil after Saddam. I found it highly informative and somewhat surprising. He emphasizes the small role that Iraq will play in the oil market. By the time production ramps up in five years, Iraq will still be a second tier producer, grouped with Norway and Mexico. Not exactly the petro bonanza some predict. There are more predictions by this veteran oil-watcher.
posted by ednopantz (52 comments total)
Good Post. An interesting article.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 10:48 AM on December 8, 2002

A skeptic speaks on the alleged Caspian Oil riches and the Hydrogen Gambit - From the Wilderness
(Disclaimer: I have no idea if this article is credible.)
posted by sheauga at 11:06 AM on December 8, 2002

So it's not completely about Iraq oil, but Persian Gulf oil. A minor difference.
posted by destro at 11:09 AM on December 8, 2002

Then again, regardless of whatever amount of oil is added to the world markets, it wont last forever.
posted by iamck at 11:36 AM on December 8, 2002

Ted Rall's "essay" has been debunked by many people. Here is just one example (part 1, part 2)
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:29 PM on December 8, 2002

Why is it knee jerk opinion of liberals that our only strategic interest in Iraq is oil?

Post Desert Storm 2, the Iraqis will be ecstatic to throw off a psychotic dictator and with our help, establish a democratic government - the only one in the region. Which might lead the already moderate Iranians to democracy as well. Before the wall fell in Berlin, we would have never dreamed the Warsaw Pact could fall apart so fast. Maybe the same thing can happen in the Arab world.

Every human wants to be free - their individual rights secured, their government derived from the people, freedom of religion and the separation between mosque and state, education available to all.

Isn't that our real interest in Iraq?
posted by Zombie at 12:32 PM on December 8, 2002

posted by mikojava at 1:24 PM on December 8, 2002

Nice try though.
posted by Bearman at 1:35 PM on December 8, 2002

Why is it knee jerk opinion of liberals that our only strategic interest in Iraq is oil?

Why is it knee jerk opinion of conservatives that we have absolutely no strategic interest in Iraq regarding oil?

The "liberals" may be a tad cynical, but I prefer that to the false naivete of the conservatives' pose.
posted by rushmc at 2:20 PM on December 8, 2002

The oil arguement is summarized well in this article (previously discussed here) which claims that only control of Iraq's proven reserves can allow the U.S. to meet its estimated oil needs in the next couple of decades.

An alternative view: it's all about empire (previously discussed here).
posted by homunculus at 2:25 PM on December 8, 2002

Then again, maybe it's all about smallpox.
posted by homunculus at 2:34 PM on December 8, 2002

Xquz, there were two parts listed to the "debunking", part 1 dealt with faulty source, part 2 dealt with flawed logic, a bit more than just bad sources. As for Spinsanity, the blogger never debunks Spinsanity, just Rall's claim that Spinsanity is the realm of "conservative pundits". The point wasn't that Spinsanity is a bad source, just that it is not conservative.

And really if you want to talk about Spinsanity, a source you surly could not call part of the Vast-Right-Wing-Conspiracy™, here is what they had to say about Rall:

Universal Press Syndicate syndicated columnist Ted Rall's newest column twists these facts into a smear of President Bush and the US government. It is a regrettable sequel to his notorious comment last month as part of a diatribe against President Bush and the "imperial presidency [he] is shoving down our throats": "It may have seemed meaningless at the time, but now we know why 7,000 people sacrificed their lives -- so that we'd all forget how Bush stole a presidential election."

Consider Rall's account of recent history in Afghanistan:

As Central Asian expert Ahmed Rashid describes in his book Taliban, published last year, the U.S. and Pakistan decided to install a stable regime into place in Afghanistan around 1994-a regime that would end the country's civil war and thus ensure the safety of the Unocal pipeline project. Impressed by the ruthlessness and willingness of the then-emerging Taliban to cut a pipeline deal, the U.S. State Department and Pakistan's ISI intelligence service agreed to funnel arms and funding to the Taliban in their war against the ethnically Tajik Northern Alliance. As recently as 1999, U.S. taxpayers paid the entire annual salary of every single Taliban government official, all in the hopes of returning to the days of dollar-a-gallon gas.

However, Rashid's book - generally considered the authoritative account of the rise of the Taliban - tells a different story. There is no evidence of the supposed US-Pakistan decision. In fact, there is much evidence of indecision in US policy up to and after 1994, rather than some plan to "install a stable regime". There is similarly no evidence that State Department (or the US government in general) helped provide arms or funds to the Taliban. Rashid explicitly notes that while there were rumors that the CIA supported the Taliban directly during the 1990s, he found no evidence of this.

The third claim - that American taxpayers paid Taliban government salaries - is based on Rashid's account of Pakistan allocating $6 million for this purpose in late 1998. But Rall is simply dissembling when he implicates the US in this. Rall provides no evidence that Pakistan used US aid for the salary funds and additionally fails to make an explicit argument that it would be fair to assign responsibility in this way.

To understand just how weak Rall's case is, consider that he argued that the US has oppressed Afghanistan in his previous column, claiming that "[w]e've been at war with Afghanistan for years" and that "[t]his New War is merely an escalation of genocide by trade sanction." How the US could be both "at war with Afghanistan for years" and paying the salaries of Taliban government officials "[a]s recently as 1999" is never explained or even acknowledged.

Rall goes on to call bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, bizarrely, "an Egyptian group" (in fact, it is transnational, and not all the hijackers were Egyptian) and falsely labels the Taliban "[Washington's] former client":
When an Egyptian group whose members had trained in Afghanistan hijacked four airplanes and used them to kill more than 6,000 Americans on September 11, Washington's patience with its former client finally expired.

From there, the column devolves into more unsupportable allegations and smears:

Finally the Bushies had the perfect excuse to do what the U.S. had wanted all along: invade and/or install an old-school puppet regime in Kabul. Realpolitik no more cares about the 6,000 dead than it concerns itself with oppressed women in Afghanistan; this ersatz war by a phony president is solely about getting the Unocal deal done without interference from annoying local middlemen.

There is simply no indication that the US wanted to invade Afghanistan prior to the attacks of September 11. In fact, its neglect of the region is one of the historical facts upon which almost everyone (US critics included) agrees. Rall also makes the absurd suggestion that the war is "solely" about an oil deal, trivializing the overriding motive of the attacks - going after Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and the regime that harbors bin Laden. Oil may be a factor, but Rall's argument is ridiculous. Finally, note the insinuation that US policymakers don't care about the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks or the oppressed women of Afghanistan.

For more on how flawed Rall is, read this.

But really all that aside, I guess I would trust a guy who has a Ph.D. from Cambridge, and has won a Pulitzer Prize for the book on his studies about oil, than a comic who believes in conspiracy theories.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 2:35 PM on December 8, 2002

On a purely methodological note, doesn't it seem somewhat specious to quote actions performed under previous, in fact ideologically opposed, administrations such as the Clinton one as being done with the intent of profiting GWB et al? Considering that American government undergoes a significant, if not necessarily sweeping change, every four years, can any action more than four years old (eight in the case of second-term presidents) really be under their purview?

As well, I recall a Christopher Hitchens article on Slate, I believe, that asked the question "If the war really is all about oil, does that mean we should not fight it if as a consequence we kill Saddam Hussein and replace the totalitarian government with a more democratic one?" [a crude paraphrase, admittedly] Does anyone have any thoughts about that?
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 2:52 PM on December 8, 2002

My point being: surely there must be someone besides Rall that reflects your point of view better, that you could reference. Rall is a discredit to your ideological persuasion, as much as people like Lott are to mine.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 3:23 PM on December 8, 2002

Ted Rall is a Pulitzer-nominated cartoonist and columnist with a degree in World History from Columbia

He's still an alarmist twit, supplying conspiracy theories tailored to impressionable middlebrow college students who don't want to research anything on their own.

d00d, Wellstone's plane was sabotaged!

posted by dhoyt at 3:43 PM on December 8, 2002

QED: homunculus cites a Nation (!) article with the X Files plot that Iraq's reserves are the only way we can keep the SUV conspiracy rolling. No blood for oil! US military action is imperialist!

How about Kosovo? You're favorite Nation contributor, Noam Chomsky, was so against American intervention there that he actually defended Milosevic when the only thing that stood between him and genocide was US air power. He's practically saying the same thing now about Hussein.

We're going to get Hussein, and the Iraqis are going to get their freedom. To claim that it's about oil is simplistic and cynical.
posted by Zombie at 3:52 PM on December 8, 2002

The knee-jerk "its all about oil" reaction is attractive because it is comforting. It takes a complex reality and reduces it to a simple narrative of good vs. evil.
posted by ednopantz at 3:54 PM on December 8, 2002

Don't worry too much Zombie, this will all over about March-ish...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 3:58 PM on December 8, 2002

I agree with Zombie-- if we hadn't sent our bombers and tanks into Berlin and Moscow, the wall never would have fallen. Same with our airstrikes and campaign in Spain to remove Franco. If it wasn't for our pre-emptive wars against the Iron Curtain, those people would still be in chains.
posted by chaz at 4:40 PM on December 8, 2002

Zombie: to claim that an inevitable effect of an American invasion of Iraq will be the liberation of the people of Iraq is simplistic and naive. It depends on the military objectives of the invasion. As the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz team has made clear it has no intention of making a case for war to the American people, we'll have to divine the military objectives from what actually happens.

If we storm across the border, race for Baghdad, chase Hussein around for a while, kill him, then leave once we realize that Desert Storm was a hell of a lot cheaper because the rest of the world paid for it, the freedom of the Iraqi people is far from guaranteed; the results of the power vacuum would be catastrophic, plunging Iraq into civil war.

Even if we stick around and set up a provisional government a la Afghanistan, there's no telling what the long term impact on the average Iraqi will be. Look at Afghanistan, whose own internal security capability will not be capable of taking on the personal armies of the warlords who staff the cabinet for some time now. Afghanistan will take decades of investment to get right.

The U.S. military is not the one-stop freedom shop of the Marshall Plan years. Their job has been simplified. They blow shit up and kill people as efficiently as possible. Their mission is purely military, and they're no longer interested in providing services outside that core competency. And Baghdad is not Paris, or Kuwait City for that matter. The corrupt government is not one of a foreign invading power, and there is no exlied government to return. No one group has a clear mandate to lead a post-Hussein Iraq. Without central government, Iraq isn't cohesive enough as a nation to hold up against threats to its soverignty, internal (Kurdistan) or external (Iran, Israel, and everyone else Hussein has earned the mistrust of over the past couple of decades). Which leaves us with the option of installing yet another Noriega - a "transitional" dictator who we can boss around and who may or may not put the interests of his people first.

No, it's not all about oil. Nor is it all about freedom. Nor is it all about America's internal security. The tendency of the current administration to try to frame issues and make policy decisions based on such black-and-white simplifications is what makes the prospect of this looming war so frightening.
posted by Vetinari at 4:42 PM on December 8, 2002

Ted Rall writing about oil has about as much credibility as Barbara Streisand writing about foreign policy. (Oops, forgot, some people do think she has credibility).

I'm amazed this absurdly simplistic notion is even still around. Good grief, even the oil industry doesn't think it's "all about oil". (They know full well it makes no freakin' difference to them who's in power).

The truth is that if Hussain is found in material breach, but the UN Security Council refuses to go to war, that will be "all about oil". China, Russia, and France (all with veto power on the SC - and the three countries, interestingly enough, that were most adamant about not having any military threats in the current SC resolution) have all signed large contracts with Saddam - and if sanctions are lifted (and he's still in power) stand to make a good amount of coin.

Of course, it wouldn't play very well to Rall's normal constituancy to say that the US was actually the one acting on principle, and that a country like France might actually support allowing a brutal dictator to remain in power for the sake of its oil interests.

(PS. Geraldo Rivera also went to Columbia, also won all sorts of awards - for journalism, not comic strips, and also was "over there" ... but I wouldn't put a lot of stock in his analysis of the oil business either).
posted by MidasMulligan at 4:50 PM on December 8, 2002

The knee-jerk "its all about oil" reaction is attractive because it is comforting.

That is probably the most baseless, ignorant, and hypocritical statement I have ever read on Metafilter.

Maybe ednopantz's comments don't apply specifically to you, XQU, but they do apply to plenty of anti-war dilletantes. The "it's all about oil" reaction is also attractive because it's fashionable. I'm not even convinced it's completely erroneous, but you have to admit: as a slogan it's attracted more than its share of dopes.
posted by dhoyt at 5:07 PM on December 8, 2002

By the way, the histrionics of your "How dare you..." and "That is the most .... I have ever read on Metafilter..." statements don't exactly help your viewpoints sound less shrill.
posted by dhoyt at 5:17 PM on December 8, 2002

so, when did you guys first start caring about the liberation of the people of Iraq? sometime in august?
posted by mcsweetie at 5:21 PM on December 8, 2002

so, when did you guys first start caring about the liberation of the people of Iraq? sometime in august?

A better question is "when are you going to start?"
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 5:26 PM on December 8, 2002

and speaking of shrill viewpoints...

A better question is "when are you going to start?"

clearly, anti-war is anti-Iraqi.
posted by mcsweetie at 5:31 PM on December 8, 2002

Have you ever been to an anti-war rally?


These are the people who have the greatest amount of evidence for their cause, and the last people to be associated with reducing the debate to simplistic terms.

Hardly. They must throw "Peace" rallies different were you live. All I see are the same baseless arguments again and again. And it is normally a collection of everything, and nothing specific.

On preview: mcsweetie, flattery will get you no where...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 5:33 PM on December 8, 2002

I'm aware there are plenty of well-informed folks at peace rallies, I've been at or around a few in my day. That's why I said "plenty" are dilettantes, certainly not "all".
posted by dhoyt at 5:36 PM on December 8, 2002

The Liberal Quandary Over Iraq
Interesting piece in the NY Times Magazine about the marriage between liberal ideals and military force. Higlights the transformative effect of the Kosovo war as an example:
People who from Vietnam on had never met an American military involvement they liked were now calling for U.S. air strikes to defend a multiethnic democracy against Serbian ethnic aggression. Suddenly the model was no longer Vietnam, it was World War II -- armed American power was all that stood in the way of genocide.

OK, that's interesting, but echoing the "caring about Iraqi freedom" angle, check out this para describing a teach in against war:
Then the last panelist spoke. He was an Iraqi dissident named Kanan Makiya, and he said, ''I'm afraid I'm going to strike a discordant note.'' He pointed out that Iraqis, who will pay the highest price in the event of an invasion, ''overwhelmingly want this war.'' He outlined a vision of postwar Iraq as a secular democracy with equal rights for all of its citizens. This vision would be new to the Arab world. ''It can be encouraged, or it can be crushed just like that. But think about what you're doing if you crush it.'' Makiya's voice rose as he came to an end. ''I rest my moral case on the following: if there's a sliver of a chance of it happening, a 5 to 10 percent chance, you have a moral obligation, I say, to do it.''

posted by ednopantz at 6:28 PM on December 8, 2002

Vetinari: I think you're underestimating the Iraqis. They're some of the most moderate, progressive Arabs. They still have liquor stores! I'll bet they are so sick and fucking tired of Hussein they'd welcome Israeli army if it kicked him out.

XQUZYPHYR: you're an idiot. And you used mastabatory incorrectly in a sentence.
posted by Zombie at 6:44 PM on December 8, 2002

A better question is "when are you going to start?"

steve: Not to make a grand argument about it, but the people who oppose war now are also the most likely to oppose the sort of foreign adventuring on behalf of stability and at the expense of democracy and human rights that bolsters future Saddams.

They may not have a good answer to how to deal with Saddam right now, but that doesn't mean that they don't care about the people he's repressing.
posted by claxton6 at 7:15 PM on December 8, 2002

Zombie: I'm not underestimating Iraqi civilians at all. If there is a credible organization (or potential organization) that subscribes to the idea of self-government by the people, that the citizenry would accept as legitimate, I'd love to hear about it, as it would convince me there is an element of liberation to the war. If not, though, the progressive populace will see the tyranny of Hussein replaced by the chaos of civil war as the unifying force of Hussein-as-enemy is removed.
posted by Vetinari at 7:36 PM on December 8, 2002

The U.S. military is not the one-stop freedom shop of the Marshall Plan years. Their job has been simplified. They blow shit up and kill people as efficiently as possible. Their mission is purely military, and they're no longer interested in providing services outside that core competency.

Vetinari, you may wish to read about phase four of our operations in Afghanistan {free reg link, sorry}, which look a lot less like "blowing shit up" and a lot more like nation-building, although the administration is playing it down for appearances.

By February, the Pentagon is expected to announce that the war in Afghanistan has entered a "post-combat" phase in which the focus of U.S. forces would be on rebuilding the war-ravaged nation and bolstering the status of President Hamid Karzai's government.... The teams of Special Forces civil-affairs specialists who operated alongside their military counterparts already have left. They are being replaced by reservists who are professionals in fields such as water supply, agriculture and engineering....

Before one leaps to the conclusion that a war in an oil-rich region is merely about imperialistic resource grabbing, one should understnad the Open Door Policy in relation to the history of US trade policy, which from the earliest days of the republic was a key aim of nearly every administration. In the 19th century, "free trade" did not merely mean exports and imports free of tariffs, but imports and exports free of interference and exclusivity agreements.
posted by dhartung at 8:58 PM on December 8, 2002

the people of Afghanistan were so happy to have Karzai as their leader that they've only tried to asassinate him twice in the last year

were the gunmen assigned their task by referendum? Tell us more, XQUZYPHYR.

Pseudoephedrine: I'd agree that the question of whether or not it's "about oil" is itself unimportant. Does it matter that the sun doesn't give a crap whether or not it provides Earth with heat and energy?
posted by shoos at 9:15 PM on December 8, 2002

XQUZYPHYR: you're probably right about the warlords not being really fond of Karzai, but I haven't seen evidence that he is not at least generally semi-popular among the average citizen. About the "working for the oil company" claim, can you point to a single source indicating that Karzai worked for Unocal besides that one article in Le Monde (which itself had no supporting evidence)? I think the claim was frogshit.

Unocal, by the way, was involved in a proposed gas, not oil, pipeline in Afghanistan, and it withdrew from the project in Aug. '98.
posted by shoos at 12:21 AM on December 9, 2002

I also recall seeing (in several places over the last I-dunno-how-long) that Karzai was a consultant for Unocal in the past, and have often wondered why it isn't used to make some point or other in discussions like this more often...a cursory googling doesn't bring back much that seems reliable, though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:36 AM on December 9, 2002

No one on this thread seems aware (or has made reference to, at least) the Bush Administration's analysis of US energy policy - Via the "Cheney Report" ---- It's not as if these guys -Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld- don't telegraph their intentions IN PRINT far in advance...

(By Michael T. Klare, from "The Progressive" (June 2002) - "Since its inception, the Bush Administration has launched two great foreign policy initiatives: a global war against terrorism, and a global campaign to expand American access to foreign oil. Originally, each possessed its own rationale and mode of operation. As time has passed, however, they have become increasingly intertwined, so that today the war on terrorism and the struggle for oil have become one vast enterprise.""The underpinnings of the Bush foreign policy can be found in the national energy policy paper of May 17, 2001, known as the Cheney report."" This report became infamous for two reasons: Cheney wouldn't release the names of the people he consulted for it, and the report recommends drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But these controversies distracted attention away from" "the gist of the report, which is spelled out in chapter eight, "Strengthening Global Alliances". There, the report recommends that the President make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy."

"The report says the United States will become increasingly reliant on foreign oil. At present, we obtain about half of our petroleum from foreign sources; by 2020, imports will account for two-thirds of U.S. consumption, the report predicts."
"From this, it draws two conclusions: The United States must maintain good relations with Saudi Arabia and other oil producers in the region, and the United States must diversify oil suppliers around the world. "Middle East oil producers will remain central to world oil security, it says, but "our engagement must be global." This means developing close ties with major suppliers in all oil-producing areas, including the Caspian region, Africa, and Latin America, which the report calls "high-priority areas."

"The Administration was already poised to act on this policy when Arab hijackers struck New York and Washington on September 11. These plans were then put aside, as the White House concentrated its attention on efforts to immobilize Al Qaeda and to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. By December, however, the Administration was ready to focus again on the security aspects of growing U.S. dependence on imported oil.

The primacy of oil is clear in several places, most obviously, Saudi Arabia. Though fifteen of the eighteen hijackers were Saudi, though Osama bin Laden himself is Saudi, though the Saudis practice Wahhabism and finance some of the most reactionary madrassas around the world, the Bush Administration is in no position to break relations with the kingdom. Saudi Arabia possesses 25 percent of the world's known oil reserves. And, as the Cheney report notes, "Saudi Arabia, the world's largest exporter, has been a linchpin of supply reliability to world oil markets." It seems Washington has embraced the current Middle East peace initiative by Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia as a way not only to break the Sharon-Arafat logjam but also to shore up the reputation of this crucial ally.

Or look at the U.S. military training operation in the Republic of Georgia, which is just getting under way. Ostensibly, the aim of the operation--which will involve the deployment of several hundred U.S. Special Forces advisers--is to enhance the capacity of Georgian forces to fight terrorists and other insurgents along its border. While this is certainly one of the operation's objectives, it is also evident that Washington seeks to reduce the threat to the vital pipelines that will carry oil from the Caspian Sea across Georgia to ports on the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Although the main pipeline is still under construction, U.S. officials are clearly worried that it will become a major target for the various ethnic militias that operate in the area.

"The Caspian Sea can also be a rapidly growing new area of supply," the Cheney report notes. "Proven oil reserves in Azerbaijan and Kazakh-stan are about twenty billion barrels, a little more than the North Sea." One find in Kazakhstan, it adds, is "comparable to Prudhoe Bay," the giant oil field off the north coast of Alaska. Its recommendation to the President: "Ensure that rising Caspian oil production is effectively integrated into world oil trade." One way it is doing this, in the wake of September 11, is to establish permanent bases in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

A similar situation is developing in Colombia. The United States has increasingly involved itself in Colombia's civil war, first on the pretext of fighting the war on drugs. (Both the leftwing guerrillas and the rightwing paramilitaries are involved in the drug trade, but the United States shows little interest in the paramilitaries.) Increasingly, the Bush Administration is seeking to aid the Colombian military directly in its war against the guerrilla groups--often described as terrorists by U.S. and Colombian officials. In the latest incarnation of this effort, the United States will help the Colombian military to protect the pipeline that delivers oil from Occidental Petroleum's Cano Limon oilfield to refineries and terminals on the coast--a pipeline the rebels have often sabotaged.

Several factors are facilitating the merger of the anti-terror and oil-supply missions. The first is geography: Many of the world's largest reserves of oil are located in areas that are unstable or rent by internal divisions of one sort or another.

The second is growing U.S. dependency on imported oil. As domestic reserves are progressively depleted, the United States will become increasingly reliant on oil derived from sources located abroad. At the same time, world demand for oil, especially from the developing nations, will grow, the Cheney report notes, which could push prices higher. "Growth in international oil demand will exert increasing pressure on global oil availability," it notes.

With the American public fixated on the threat of terrorism, however, the Administration is understandably reluctant to portray its foreign policy as related primarily to the protection of oil supplies. Thus the third reason for the merger of the war against terrorism and struggle for oil: to provide the White House with a convenient rationale for extending U.S. military involvement into areas that are of concern to Washington primarily because of their role in supplying energy to the United States.

For all of these reasons, the war against terrorism and the struggle for oil are likely to remain connected for the indefinite future. This will entail growing U.S. military involvement in the oil-supplying nations. At times, such involvement may be limited to indirect forms of assistance, such as arms transfers and training programs. At others, it will involve the deployment of significant numbers of U.S. combat troops.

The Economist, September 12, 2002: ("On the Oil") - "AMERICA'S chief interest in going after Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein, is doubtless to save the world from his actual or potential weapons of mass destruction. Another large consideration, secondary as it may be, has attracted less attention than it should have: the effects that would follow from the opening up of the country's enormous reserves of oil.Iraq's reserves are the second-biggest in the world, after Saudi Arabia's (see table). At present, thanks to UN sanctions and Mr Hussein's attempts to evade them, the country is producing a fraction of its potential. If it were to produce oil at a rate to match its reserves, say some geopolitical strategists, it could end Saudi Arabia's domination of world oil markets.

That would not come too soon for the United States. America is by far the world's biggest oil-user, burning up a quarter of the total consumed. Its imports have risen in recent years, to more than half its total consumption. Since Saudi Arabia is the chief supplier of those imports..."

posted by troutfishing at 9:31 AM on December 9, 2002

Sticking to the Karzai issue...

It's no problem (per se) that the site is heavily left-leaning. The problem is that the source behind their assertion that Karzai worked for Unocal was an article on some Qatari web site. It was not written by the BBC. Not that Qataris can't have reputable publications, but... My suspicion that the Karzai-Unocal story was an utter fabrication is growing by the hour.

Unocal itself (see link at bottom of page) explicitly states that it remains uninterested in getting back into the Afghanistan pipeline project. And the thing is going forward anyways. After all those bombing sorties, special forces missions, and maneuvering of Karzai into power. . . poof. . . Unocal's out of it? They must be pissed!
posted by shoos at 9:32 AM on December 9, 2002

Troutfishing: so what's new? The US likes oil and wants to keep its supply safe.
You might try linking rather than copying-and-pasting.
posted by shoos at 9:55 AM on December 9, 2002

massive cross-continental media fabrication conspiracy

The problem is that it is not massive, but that it is miniscule, and apparently unsubstantiated.

There's two or three different sources stating this in this thread alone

There are two: the Le Monde article that I pointed out and the Qatari article (via Indymedia) that you pointed out. The burden of proof is on their respective authors, since all they did was to make the claim flat out. No dates, no details, no followup, nothing. Nobody has anything except the statement itself. Given that Afghanistan has been front page news every day for the past 15 months, don't you think that there might be a little more coverage of this apparently important story than a mere three or four sentences in two articles?

perhaps it would be fair if you at least slightly shifted some burden of proof to your views now.

Which of my views are you referring to? That I have serious doubts about the veracity of the Karzai-Unocal story? I'm not the one who made that claim, or the one who brought the issue up in this thread.
posted by shoos at 10:55 AM on December 9, 2002

A better question is "when are you going to start?"

A better question still: Why care selectively, elevating Iraq above the many other places in the world with equal or worse political conditions for their citizens? There must be something that causes one to focus "like a laser" on Iraq; if not oil, then what?
posted by rushmc at 11:07 AM on December 9, 2002

Why care selectively, elevating Iraq above the many other places in the world with equal or worse political conditions for their citizens? There must be something that causes one to focus "like a laser" on Iraq; if not oil, then what?

Because we are unable to do anything this immediately in any of the other places.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:17 AM on December 9, 2002

How do you figure? The same commitment (militarily, etc.) applied to virtually any other spot on the globe would produce similar results, good and bad. The only reason we are on the verge in Iraq and not somewhere else is because it has been the focus of our attention for some time now and they haven't.
posted by rushmc at 2:47 PM on December 9, 2002

The same commitment (militarily, etc.) applied to virtually any other spot on the globe would produce similar results

Where do you get this? The other countries I hear "Why not ...?" are North Korea, China, and Iran.

North Korea: North Korea has no way of supporting itself, like Iraq has oil. They are on the verge of an economic collapse because communism does not work. The Chinese learned this, and are attempting to reform their country from lessons taken from Hong Kong... The North Koreans need the West (and Japan) so that the government doesn't fall on to itself. We supply them with aid, so in forth they have to negotiate with us to get that aid. They need us too much to kill us. Their bid to build a nuclear weapon is to gain an advantage at the negotiation table, not to use it. As well as they are with in missile range of the South Korea and Japan. Millions of civilians would be kill right off the bat at the start of hostilities.

China: China is a nuclear power. Do you want to go to war with them? Like the North Koreans communism is not working for them, they too need the rest of the world for trade, and have too much to lose but being a "loose cannon". Trade is the key here.

Iran: All I can says is that if you have been reading the news lately, you can see a revolution is coming by itself in Iran. A presence of the United States on Iran's doorstep will only help this along.

The problem is that Saddam thinks he holds all the cards. He has nothing to gain and everything to lose. If the US doesn't buy his oil, someone else will. That oil can keep him and his family funded for a very long time. He needs no external resources. Furthermore, as he showed the world in the late 80s (Iran) and again in 1991(Kuwait), he would like to increase his share at the negotiation table, but gobbling up the rest of the middle eastern oil supply. What incentive does he have to not invade his neighbors and take their oil? Concern about causalities in the Iraqi Army? Hardly. It is only a matter of time before he invades someone again for their oil.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 3:32 PM on December 9, 2002

Now you're trying to change the subject, Steve_at_Linnwood. Let's stick to what we were discussing so as not to muddy things up and lose that point, eh? Your original statement suggested that people ("liberals," presumably) should begin to care about the liberation of the Iraqi people. This is not a issue of which countries it would be strategically beneficial for the U.S. to attack, which have nuclear weapons, etc; rather, it presupposes that there is a moral good inherent in using our overwhelming military power to "liberate" populations around the world and promote democracy (often known as "nation-building" and widely decried by most Republicans and other isolationists).

My question to you was what are the inherent characteristics of Iraq and its situation that should compel us to consider it first in line for such actions, strictly from the altruistic viewpoint that you are arguing? If we are judging nations not on their strategic value to the U.S. but on the conditions of their people, then N. Korea, China and Iran are certainly not the only candidates one would consider helping.
posted by rushmc at 4:20 PM on December 9, 2002

I was responding to what countries were viable to liberation via military action. I do belive that was the intent of your original question, no?
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 5:40 PM on December 9, 2002

Let me clarify, not strategically beneficial for the U.S. to attack, but strategically possible. There are other means to help other peoples, but military occupation of a government that is a threat to the security of our country and the people of that country is the most expedient.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 6:35 PM on December 9, 2002

Unless, of course, they have nukes or are otherwise able to defend themselves in a meaningful way.
posted by rushmc at 7:24 PM on December 9, 2002

...and have something to gain from a meaningful partnership with western democracies.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 7:47 PM on December 9, 2002

To end a very, very stupid argument: And one further thing both [Khalilzad and Karzai] have in common is that in 1996/97 they advised American oil company Unocal on the US$2 billion project of a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline. -- Asia Times (which, one hopes, is a sufficiently credible jounalistic source to pass muster).

As for the remainder of the thread, everyone would do well to review the complex cause fallacy. There is one narrative: The US (under the non-oil-connected, Democrat Clinton) pursued better relations with the Taliban, which jibed with the desire of Unocal to build a pipeline; Unocal sought consultants-cum-lobbyists with strong connections to US and Afghan politics; endless negotiations, and increased hostilities, caused Unocal to quit the project, removing any incentive the US could use to induce better behavior by the Taliban; the 1998 embassy attacks end any incentive the US has to play that game, leading to three years of a hands-off policy covering two administrations; the 9/11 attacks drastically changed American interests in Afghanistan, forcing us to choose sides regardless; and when the dust died, people who had a) fewer Taliban ties, b) strong royal and tribal ties, and c) American business and political ties were pretty much the desired profile for the leader. In the Karzai government, with its multinational imprimatur and American muscle, the Afghan pipeline now looks like it could be profitable. The Afghan government, more than ever, requires income.

Indeed, just about the only people, anywhere on earth, who didn't think that building this natural gas pipeline was important were the Taliban. They seemed to think it was more important to their nation and people to harbor a second-rate Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his orange-suited army of nitwit mass murderers ready to bite the hand that could feed them.

Did you all think that the natural gas was just going to sit up in Turkmenistan forever? As long as it's there, it's begging for a pipeline. That natural gas is like a ball at the top of a hill, just waiting for the right breeze to start it rolling. If conditions improved even an exceptionally tiny amount, that pipeline was going to be revived, because it makes sense for everyone: Turkmenistan and Central Asia; Afghanistan; and whoever builds it -- at this point, a consortium that doesn't seem to include any US companies.

Which is really the punchline here that makes any conspiracy theory look as dumb as a box of rocks: the guys leading the conspiracy don't actually get anything out of it, unless you're willing to really, really, really, really, really fudge on who the "guys leading the conspiracy" are. (Bush, Clinton, who cares? Unocal, or India, who cares? It wuz a konspeerassy, I tellya!) And willing to really, really, really, really play down any other possible motivations, such as preventing the unmolested continuation of terrorist training bases.

I mean, it's not like anyone in Washington has anything to be concerned about regarding terrorism. What have terrorists ever done in Washington, anyway? Leave the Pentagon a burning, smoky hulk? Only in the comic books. It MUST be the natural gas oil. Remember, too, to always say oil, because "natural gas conspiracy" sounds like a cover-up for a fart.
posted by dhartung at 8:12 PM on December 9, 2002

To prolong a very, very stupid and interesting argument,

On one hand, you have a few media outlets, such as the Asia Times and Le Monde, saying, without ever mentioning sources, that Karzai was a consultant for Unocal. On the other hand, you have representatives of Unocal itself asserting that Karzai was never employed by the company, either directly or indirectly (while freely admitting, however, that Khalilzad was in fact a consultant). I think the question remains unresolved.

There's a good summary of the story here.
posted by shoos at 12:34 AM on December 10, 2002

Points taken, shoos. I did not know that nearly all mentions vector back to one unsourced instance. The Unocal interview seems credible.
posted by dhartung at 10:55 AM on December 10, 2002

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