The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Strategic Planning: The US in the Persian Gulf

It would be rather unsurprising if the recent history of the United States regarding its foreign policy in Iraq and the rest of the Persian Gulf were not somehow tied to US/China/Russia relations? Of course, I’m speculating a great deal. But there is a plausible connection between the evidence and insider testimony of the Bush Administration’s obsession with the oil-rich region from the very beginning in January 2001.
Such an assertion cannot be proven by the currently available documents. Bush Administration changes, via executive orders, to the Freedom of Information Act may completely submerge the record of US foreign policy deliberations from Bush’s two terms into the labyrinth of bureaucratic boxes on top of boxes of scraps and scraps of paper (and now digital files) akin to the closing scene of the Indiana Jones adventure, Raiders of the Lost Ark. What we do know, from such people as former National Security Council members Richard Clarke (in 2001, the chief of counter-terrorism) and former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neil, is complemented by available public records, often filled with more questions that are not known than with what is known. Another source of insight is provided by The Cepia Club’s very, very low-skill, but still informative Project 6–Cepia Games.
Let us look at what we do know, disregarding former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s recent quote that the Iraq War was completely about oil:
First, Richard Clarke, in his memoirs about the first year of the Bush Administration’s lack of concern over terrorism, says that the first real concerns of the Bush National Security Council dealt not with the implied threat of Al Qaeda, but with Saddam Hussein. The were massive unresolved policy issues of Iraq remaining from the 1991 Gulf War. O’Neil concurs with that observation in his memoirs. (Remember, it takes two witnesses according to the US Constitution to convict someone of treason. Two separate witnesses on the administration’s obsession with Iraq should be sufficient for lesser accusations).
Obviously, the Iraq situation was unsatisfactory from the US perspective. Because of UN sanctions, enforced by the US, since 1991 Iraq had not produced all its oil for the world market (except regarding the “Oil for Food [and medicine]” program). Some estimates run at about 20% of Iraq’s existing infrastructure potential were provided. In addition, because of sanctions, Iraq had suffered a deficiency of foreign direct investment or oil profits contributing to increasing its oil production/transhipment potential. By 2001, 10 years of a normal free-market mechanism increasing Iraq’s humongous PROVEN oil reserves had not happened. As long as Saddam Hussein was in power, remained a regional threat (even the reduced threat he was after 1991) and as long as it could never be verified whether Iraq did or did not possess a mass destructive weapons program, no such increase or improvement in Iraq’s oil producing industry would occur. If the mess was resolved, Iraq could at least double its pre-1991 oil production and transhipment capacity, helping the world oil demands.
In early 2001, oil and alternative energy had not yet become the public concern it has eventually become in the last six and a half years. Policy-makers and economist, however, most likely clued in on the issues and concerns–until the oil runs out or is no longer needed to fuel economic growth.
Upon becoming Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney headed an energy task force within the executive branch. Prior to the 2000 Presidential campaign, Cheney had been CEO of Texas-based Haliburton, a large and profitable firm that, to borrow a phrase, did not produce and sell oil; it made producing and selling oil better for others. Almost all of the records–who participated, the agenda, the discussion, and the conclusion–of the task force were and still are withheld from public, and one presumes, media scrutiny.
Seen from the hindsight of history and game-theory, may reveal what would have been the likely the likely topics of concern.
First, under-investment in the world-wide oil production, transportation, and refining capacity since the mid-1980s and the era of “cheap” oil, particularly within the US and its orbit of influence, had not foreseen the incredible needs of energy consumption demanded by the 1990's “globalized economy.” The First World (the US sphere of influence) had lulled its energy strategy into complacency. Second, the former communist world (the communist sphere of Eastern Europe, China, and other communist countries) had suddenly become voracious economies based on markets that began integrating into the world economic matrix, bringing with them 1/3 of the world’s population and their demand for higher living standards that implied “consumer-driven” energy consumption. In addition, the former Soviet Union’s financial-economic reordering had temporarily stalled Russia’s and Central Asia’s contributions to a modernized oil producing infrastructure.
Another main topic of the energy task force might have concerned the developing, undeveloped and underdeveloped “south” of the globe that not only required a larger share of oil consumption. Many of these countries suffered political nightmares of authoritarian rule, civil wars and social upheavals. Most of the world’s known oil reserves (those discovered under the surface of the earth) came from these countries. This manifested the primary problem of adding political/military-economic expense to harvesting the oil. The problem presented by this paradox was also mixed in with the illusion of “cheap oil.” With no real profit to be made from increasing existing capacity, oil-producing nations decided to forgo their own investment of the existing profits into their infrastructure. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Nations, a near-monopoly of these “southern” tier nations, had to assume it was in their interest to keep capacity low or put into recess excess capacity in order to manipulate a higher price for their often sole developed economic resource. And as narrow-product economies, the oil producing nations leave quite a large proportion of their populations either without votes, or jobs, or occupations (“idle hands without voice in societies make terrorists” theory).
Finally, and briefly, there is the problem of one day running out of oil before alternative fuels and methods are found or fully developed to take its place. The energy task force had to at least consider this possibility, if not have privy information as to the real state of world oil reserves, proven and otherwise.
Now, enter China and Russia.
China for a decade now has doubled its oil consumption to fuel its marketizing economy, an economy based on industry, and workers, which both require oil, etc. to fuel its growth and placate its citizens “growth of expectations” of economic development. China has prudently avoided serious trouble in its foreign policy in the oil producing and potential producing countries. Instead of, as the US does, assert its power and dominance over lesser powers, China has coddled, funded, armed, and engaged in “receptive” diplomacy with these keys to its economic future. One such country China has made extensive links with is Iran. Without the US in play, Iran would be the major power in the Persian Gulf basin, site of the world’s largest proven and potential oil reserves. Whether as a access point, directly via the military or indirectly through diplomacy, Iran serves China’s foreign policy purposes very well, and vice versa. Iran has oil (and natural gas, which can now be liquefied and transported). China has investment money. Iran has international problems and a “chilly war” with the US going back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the 1980s in Lebanon. China has weapons to sell. Iran is recognized as a state-sponsor of regional (perhaps global terrorism) and is suspected of developing nuclear weapons. China has a veto in the United Nations Security Council and a growing and capable military. Anyway one looks at it, China and Iran have long-range, direct and indirect, mutual or compatible interest. Both challenge the US, China globally, and Iran in the Persian Gulf.
Since World War II, the US early on recognized the importance of the “greatest prize” in political-economic history presented by dominating the Persian Gulf area and its oil. The Gulf has always held the fate of US wealth and comfort in its tenuous soil. Again, going back to the energy task force, the group must have recognized this as the one most consistent theme of US foreign policy that predates the Cold War, endured it without change (except a higher commitment in 1979 after the loss of Iran as an ally), and also has transcended the demise of communism. China, its relative closeness to the area, geographically, and the developing cooperation and alliance with post-Soviet Russia, must have presented some dilemma to US strategic planners, at some level, at some point, since the late 1990s.
Let’s go back to the beginning of this essay. It would not be surprising if the Bush Administration obsession with Iraq, including the day after 9/11/2001. somehow centered around a strategic way, a wedge, or some other aggressive political/military and economic coup d’etat to upset the balance power of the Persian Gulf, insert itself more firmly, and benefit from direct strategic, permanent control of the Gulf.
Invading Iraq in 2003, when the US was supremely powerful military and morally in the war on terror, and when Iraq was far too weak to resist conventionally, has provided one thing that was lacking prior to the US buildup in late 2002: a military occupation and strike force in the Persian Gulf. At this point, and until removed by America’s own decision or forced out by a war, the US now has strategic permanence in the area. Yes, the US had bases in the area, including Saudi Arabia, going back to World War II, without interruption. However, except for one year in 1991, and until 2003 to the present, the US had no compelling reason to place such an overwhelming political/military vice on the region. Whether over half-hearted allies like Saudi Arabia or over sworn enemies like Iran, the US, by strategic necessity, can justify what amounts to a military-run empire on the very ground which fills the American thirst for greed and gluttony, that is economic supremacy, now over 1/4 of the world’s oil.
While this may be speculative and entirely fanciful as analysis, it is sort of a feasible, and, from the US, an entirely desirable strategic plan. What has the war wrought, regardless of the hindsight strategy set out here? At present, the US is firmly in the Persian Gulf on a political basis from which Chinese and Russian diplomacy cannot maneuver it out. It has a military expeditionary force for all intents permanently blocking Chinese, and, Russian, access to the area. Finally, the US has raised to the old Cold War level of nuclear threats and brinkmanship, with only Russia as a possible and worthy adversary, any attempt to overcome US supremacy.
It just might be that the Chinese and Russians might have wanted to think of it first. Whatever happens from here in the Persian Gulf might define the final act of the era of independent nation-states in human history. The consequences of the situation, or this possible strategy, could be that monumental.

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