MaryAnn Moore 4/03/2011
Geopolitical Historical Background
Guest Post Written by Tim Fuller
By 2003, most Americans perplexed and traumatized by the attacks of September 11, 2001, were willing to give their Commander in Chief and his administration the benefit of the doubt.Invading Iraq seemed to some an odd play in the new found War Against Terrorism, which had started in Afghanistan. However tyrannical and murderous Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was, the country under his reign was maintained as a secular state;1 with most of his barbarity was performed in the name of power politics, not Allah.
Soon enough, a trickle of dissent toward the Iraqi invasion became a torrent …“ especially as the disorder and violence in the streets of Baghdad began to spiral out of control. Beyond the now infamous ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ rationale, Bush was finding almost weekly new reasons to justify the invasion. One reason that was not part of the Bush rationale, yet rang true with pundits and analysts alike, was the issue of oil reserves in Iraq …“ thought to be second only to that of Saudi Arabia.
This was a simple enough proposition and fit the profile of an administration that was dominated by former oil executives and analysts in its top spots (including Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice and George W. Bush). But Iraq has an inconvenient history of nationalism, expansionism and general chaos that repeatedly threatened the recovery of its oil. It has rarely been able to produce more than a quarter the output of America’s top oil trading partner, Saudi Arabia. But for the eighty years since its discovery, the value of Iraqi oil has always been based more on its potential output than its actual production. A 2008 U.S. government document states: ‘Iraq may be one of the few places left where vast reserves, proven and unknown, have barely been exploited
The current figures that show Iraq with the second largest oil reserves in the world are based on assessments done prior to 1972, when the country’s petroleum industry was nationalized and effectively closed off to foreign interests. More recent peculation has estimated the possible volume of oil reserves in Iraq at between 200 to 400 billion barrels.7 These numbers suggest that Iraq could, under the right conditions, become the largest producer of oil in the world. The landmass known today as Iraq has rarely been peaceful or autonomous. No sooner did the nation lose the shackles of five hundred years of Ottoman domination did it then fall under the imperial aspirations of Britain and Western Europe, who were collectively busy with covert studies of the area’s geology. Oil had been discovered in Kuwait in 18998 and Iran in 19089 and speculation grew soon enough that Iraq, still known as Mesopotamia would be similarly blessed with rich deposits of oil:
“Among the foreign powers the British, seeing Iraq as a gateway to their Indian colony and oil as lifeblood for their Imperial Navy, were most aggressive in their pursuits in Mesopotamia, aspiring to gain physical control of the oil region. During the war, Sir Maurice Hankey, secretary of the War Cabinet, advised Foreign Secretary Arthur Belfour in writing that control of the Persian and Mesopotamian oil was a first-class British war aim”10
Following the First World War, Britain was able to create a new country that could become a key geopolitical component of Mid-East colonization. But with a considerable inattention to tribal areas within the Persian Gulf region, the borders of the new colony of Iraq were splayed across religious and racial divisions leading to the first of many challenges to the new nation and its new rulers.[Gertrude] Bell [senior British political officer in Basra during WWI] was arbitrarily drawing lines on the map to make a new country out of three former Ottoman provinces “ Mosul in the north, Baghdad in the center and Basra in the south. The districts were composed, respectively, of Kurds, Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims, all of whom hated each other and the British even more…
By 1920, the country was in full rebellion, from Shiite tribesmen in the south to Kurds in the north. There were some 425 deaths on the British side and an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 among the Iraqis.â€11 Despite this chaos, the U.S.A. was keen to get involved in the Persian Gulf. The Americans had been well aware of the resource battles going on in the former Mesopotamia and began a focused effort on getting in on the plan.
[There was an] assertiveness on the part of the American government for an “open-door policy” on oil concessions. Advanced by President Wilson, the policy meant equal access for American capital and interests. The policy was in response to reluctance of European oil companies to welcome American companies to the Mesopotamian oil scene.
In a speech from 1919, American President Woodrow Wilson had laid out his doctrine, which would help define the U.S. economic imperialism model for decades to follow:
Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down. Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process. Colonies must be obtained or planted, in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused.
America’s resolve to stake a claim in the Iraqi oilfields led, in 1922, to a 24% share in the TPC, or Turkish Petroleum Company “ a precursor to OPEC, with British, French and Russian and Armenian (and, ironically, no Turkish) interests also involved.14 Even at that time, the Western powers of the day “ in this case, Great Britain, were rationalizing their zealous interest in the seemingly barren lands surrounding the Persian Gulf.
[British Foreign Secretary] Lord Curzon argued that the policy of His Majesty’s Government on Mosul was not in any way related to oil, that instead it was guided by the desire to protect interests of Iraqi people consistent with its mandatory obligations, that his government and TPC had no monopolistic designs on Iraqi oil, and that the Iraqis would be the chief beneficiaries of oil exploitation in Iraq.
In 1924, Curzon was arguing that Britain had Iraq’s interests in mind with regards to its resources, but events of the previous four years said otherwise. Reports from the 1920 revolts detailed some of Britain’s less-than-benevolent actions towards the loyal subjects of Iraq.
Arab casualties numbered in the thousands and Winston Churchill, British Colonial Secretary, is quoted as saying, ‘I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes’¦British technology was able to produce a range of hideous weapons for use against the defenseless Arabs and Kurds: phosphorus bombs, war rockets, metal crowsfeet to maim people and livestock, shrapnel, liquid fire, and delay-action bombs.
And yet, something underneath the flat fields of Kirkuk, Baghdad and Mosul was continuing to inspire two of the worlds most powerful nations to press on in an effort to control land that had not yet produced a drop of oil. But in 1927, in an area north of the Kurdish town of Kirkuk, they had an unexpected discovery.
Black crude and gas gushed violently to the surface with a thunderous sound. It was what the oil hands call a “blowout”: losing control of a live oil well. The countryside was flooded with oil, and a thick pall of gas filled the air. Two drillers lost their lives. It took nine days to bring the well under control. Kirkuk soon became a major oil town.17
With Iran, Kuwait, and now Iraq all attracting foreign investment, an underdeveloped and poor area of the Persian Gulf, now known as Saudi Arabia, was desperate to attract some Western oil concerns of its own. By 1933, an agreement was signed between King Saud and the California-based Standard Oil Company, which gave the U.S. rights to Saudi oil development for sixty years.18 Five years later, in 1938, oil was first struck in the Hasa region, along the shores of the Persian Gulf.19 The Saudi oil deal was arranged not with members of the U.S. government, but with a handful of wealthy private citizens invited by Saud. Only after oil was discovered did the U.S. government officially get involved, but soon enough the Saudi oil deals became the cornerstone of U.S. policy in the Middle East. One American official – George Keenan, was quoted in 1944 stating, “The oil in this region is the greatest single prize in all history.”20
Secretary of the Navy, James Forestell laid the issue out in detail:
The prestige and hence the influence of the United States is in part related to the wealth of the government and its nation in terms of oil resources, foreign as well as domestic. It is assumed, therefore, that the bargaining power of the United States in international conferences involving vital materials like oil and such problems as aviation, shipping, island bases, and international security agreements relating to the disposition of armed forces and facilities, will depend in some degree upon the retention by the United States of such oil resources.21
During WWII, the Middle East became the main source of global oil production and the richest suitor for this production became the U.S.A. By 1951, Britain’s share of oil production in the Middle East had fallen from 80% to 31%; conversely, the U.S. share rose to 60%.22 The period following WWII also saw a political divergence for the Western powers. While Britain was making strides to consolidate its investments in Iraq and Egypt “ concerning itself more with a growing threat of Arab nationalism, the U.S. was adapting its energy policy to keep Middle Eastern governance and oil out of the hands of its new foe, the U.S.S.R.
The dominance of the U.S. in the Persian Gulf began in earnest during the years of the Eisenhower administration. The President himself was a seasoned war commander “ a celebrated five-star general who had an even-handed grasp on the consequences of military action. Eisenhowers Vice-President, however, was keen to utilize the American war apparatus to fight the Soviets and secure the treasure below the grounds of the Persian Gulf region.
Nixon wanted to do something about Iraq. He believed that the foreign policy apparatus and particularly the State Department were being too cautious and the result was Communist gains around the world and particularly in the Middle East. He also wanted a substantive foreign policy role in the administration to bolster his coming presidential bid.
Richard M. Nixon was a senator during the McCarthy trials of the early 1950s, and had a reputation as a fervent anti-communist. Despite his position as Vice-President, Nixon was relatively powerless when it came to foreign policy. Events in the Middle East and the world abroad were pointing toward an apparently inevitable domination by the Soviet Union, which had evolved from an ominous presence in Eastern Europe to a behemoth of industrial and military power. The U.S.A. was not only contending with the apparently overwhelming Soviet threat, but was busy trying to put out fires throughout the Middle East. Coupled with this was the continued participation of a Great Britain that, though largely stripped of its wealth and imperial power, remained influential within the region. In 1952, Gamal Abdel Nasser spearheaded a coup that saw the fall of the British-friendly monarchy under King Farouk. Britain was dealt another blow in 1956 when Nasser nationalized the strategically crucial Suez Canal. As it had done five years earlier in Iran, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) devised in 1958 plans for the Iraqi military to oust Egyptian President Nasser and return Farouk to power. But the Iraqi army marched no further west than Baghdad and chose instead to violently overthrow King Faisal II who, like Farouk in Egypt, had maintained friendly relations with Britain.24 This proved to be yet another tangible threat to American strategic plans in the Middle East. The U.S. had been assuming most of the economic and military roles left in the wake of Britain’s post-war collapse. The nationalist regime in Baghdad, it was thought, would open the door to Soviet control of the region. In an eerie precursor to what was to become known as the Bush Doctrine, the U.S. was caught in a fight-or-flight issue of survival.
It appeared that only preemptive intervention could prevent Iraq from falling under Soviet Communist domination. In the shadow of Sputnik and armed with an alarmist Special National Intelligence Estimate on the future of Iraq, the intelligence community, the State Department, the Pentagon, and activist interventionist elements in the Eisenhower Administration argued about the necessity of preemptive intervention to avert disaster. The intervention never happened; the Communist threat disappeared; and Iraq continued on its fractious, brutal road careening between instability to dictatorship.
Historically, the events of 1958 and 1959 had significance beyond the upheaval. In October of 1959, a young member of the Arab Socialist Baath Party named Saddam Hussein was one of six men chosen to assassinate Iraqi President Qasim. The CIA supported the Nasser backed attempt to oust Qasim and seemed concerned only that a fervent anti-Communist element “ the Baath Party “ would be the replacement. The plot failed, and Hussein escaped to exile in Beirut and later in Cairo with the help of Egyptian intelligence agents. Despite the failure, the CIA continued to support Hussein by paying for his apartment and putting him through a training course.26 Four years later, in 1963, the CIA-backed Hussein and the Baath Party in Iraq achieved their goal of overthrowing President Qasim.
Noting that the Baath Party was hunting down Iraq’s communists, the CIA provided the submachine gun-toting Iraqi National Guardsmen with lists of suspected communists who were then jailed, interrogated, and summarily gunned down, according to former U.S. intelligence officials with intimate knowledge of the executions. Many suspected communists were killed outright the mass killings, presided over by Saddam, took place at Qasr al- Nehayat, literally, the Palace of the End.
Though the failed 58 coup first brought Hussein into prominence with the CIA, the successful coup of 63 raised his profile considerably. Hussein was made head of the new regimes intelligence authority, a position that lasted less than a year before the Baath Party itself was overthrown. Hussein jailed for two years, but re-asserted his position in 1968, when the Baath Party again gained control following yet another coup. Now Hussein was Vice President of Iraq and deputy head of the Revolution Command Council. In 1970 Hussein agreed to a peace agreement with the Kurdistan Democratic Party a move that was to give Baghdad control over the vast oil reserves of the Kurdish north, and, in 1972, allow for the nationalization of Iraq’s oil industry.28 By 1972, Richard Nixon who had wanted to invade Iraq in 1958 to counter the overthrow of the Western-friendly monarchy had returned to American politics with a vengeance, winning the Presidential election for a second term. In 1973, on the heels of both the Soviet-backed Iraqi oil nationalization effort and the OPEC oil embargo, Nixon revisited his tactical plan to invade the Middle East.
President Richard M. Nixon was prepared to act more aggressively than previously thought to secure America’s oil supply if the embargo, imposed by Arab nations in retaliation for America’s support for Israel in the 1973 Middle East war, did not end. The declassified British memorandum said the United States considered launching airborne troops to seize oil fields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, but only as a “last resort.” The seizure of the oil fields was “the possibility uppermost in American thinking when they refer to the use of force,” the memorandum said.The document did not rule out the possibility that Washington would consider pre-emptive strikes if Arab governments, elated by the success of the oil weapon, began issuing greater demands.29
Among Nixon White House staffers during this time were future Bush administration kingpins, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Iraq had cut off diplomatic ties to the U.S. as a result of American support for Israel in the Six Day War of 1967. But in 1979, the game changed again when Saddam Hussein used the unanswered threats of ongoing Shia revolts throughout the Gulf as an excuse to seize control of the Baath Party and assume sole control of Iraq. Once again, the U.S. responded by renewing relations with Hussein “ partly to compensate for their loss of influence in Iran following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and to try to regain an elusive stake in the Iraqi oil fields 30. In the midst of the lengthy hostage crisis, that saw Iran seize 53 American embassy staff, U.S. President Jimmy Carter laid out a Middle East policy that continued to make oil the paramount concern. In his State of the Union address in January of 1980, Carter said,
“Let our position be absolutely he clear. An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”31
It is ironic in retrospect to think that the man who, for Republicans, symbolizes all the worst aspects of liberalism, would be the first President to state, in public and without reserve, what the U.S. policy in the Middle East had been for at least thirty years previous.Variations on this Carter Doctrine have been put into action by subsequent administrations, every one of which has used some form of military action to attack and thus defend U.S. energy interests in the region. Since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, however, U.S. military policy in the Persian Gulf has been almost exclusively focused on Iraq. It is understandable why the U.S. might be willing to defend the source of almost 50% of its oil supply, Saudi Arabia. Production costs from other U.S. suppliers are much more expensive, ranging from $5.00 per barrel for oil from Malaysia to more than $20.00 per barrel for North American produced oil 38. The Bush administrations focus on energy security in the Gulf region has been a poorly kept secret since before the Iraq invasion in March 2003. Vice-President Dick Cheney (in 1999, as CEO of Halliburton, the worlds largest oil services company):
Producing oil is obviously a self-depleting activity. Every year you’ve got to find and develop reserves equal to your output just to stand still, just to stay even. For the world as a whole, oil companies are expected to keep finding and developing enough oil to offset our seventy one million plus barrel a day of oil depletion, but also to meet new demand by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from? The Middle East with two thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies. Energy is truly fundamental to the worlds economy. The Gulf War was a reflection of that reality. 44
The problem with a U.S. foreign policy that treats oil as an essential part of its security strategy is that, at some point, it will be challenged. If this happens, the U.S. will be forced to enlist its military to defend its energy resources. At best, this will result in merely the death of any number of enemy combatants and at worst, the death of American men and women. For over one hundred years, the U.S. has used oil to power its dominant engine of economic progress, which has, in many ways, allowed its citizens to enjoy a better standard of living and improved health.
MaryAnn Moore Originally Published April 4 2011
The current shift is being driven by two larger trends still in motion, the revolution in the Arab world, and the impact of the Japan earthquake on the current nuclear industry, along with pre-existing trends of green/alternative energy, the increasing prices of energy, and the development of momentum in alternative technologies and conservation.
The largest producer of oil, the Saudi Arabia Dynasty, have planned their future to deal with the aftermath of having much less oil to depend on for wealth. Interestingly enough they have asked for funding from the UN’s climate change fund, to reset their course on renewable energy sources. They plan to harvest their future domestic energy needs from the sun with solar technology. Meanwhile, China has over $54 billion dollars invested in renewable energy, and has announced a 20 year plan for Thorium Molten Salt Reactors to meet domestic energy needs. President Obama has announced a resourcing of America’s energy needs from the North American region, and those in the energy field such T.Boone Pickens, and George P Mitchell, have looked towards optimizing energy extraction from their own backyard.
The ‘Pickens Plan’ looked at wind power turbines on the ‘wind corridor’ between Canada and the USA, and also focused on the conversion of automobiles to natural gas; while George Mitchell and his company Devon Energy used light sand fracking to optimize the extraction of natural gas in hard shale rock with techniques such as horizontal or angled drilling. This natural gas could also be used for the production of electricity, with a lower carbon imprint than coal. In the auto industry, Magna’s Frank Stronach, is now focused on the development of an electrical car and with his history in the automotive industry he is likely to have an impact on this growing industry where he already has a relationship with Ford in the development of the ‘Focus’ electric car. Japanese car manufacturers have long focused on energy efficiency, and the eventual transition to an electric vehicle. Toyota, the largest producer of hybrid electric vehicles with the ‘Prius’, have developed a plug-in version. Chevy has the ‘Volt’, and even luxury electric sports cars are making an appearance. G.E. has announced plans to build the largest solar panel factory, aiming to become a global player in the industry. G.E has already signed agreements to supply solar panels that would generate a total of 100 megawatts of power to customers. G.E. to facilitate this objective has purchased PrimeStar Solar, with a factory that set an efficiency record in converting sunlight to electricity.
Global industrial energy consumption has increased by 21% since 1990, with the bulk of the growth of non-OECD emerging countries, and mainly in China. Contrasting this is a survey or 21 IEA developed countries, where energy efficiency improvements reduced energy consumption by 21%. The trend is reversed in the household sector where energy consumption was higher in OECD developed countries at a 22% increase since 1990 (to 2005), versus an 18% increase in non OECD countries. In energy use in the household sector, space heating-the largest portion, increased by only .04% since 1990-2005, while appliances drove the demand increasing consumption by 57% from 1990-2005.
In transportation ( both passenger and freight), global energy use increased by 37% since 1990, and grew most quickly in non-OECD countries. The demand for energy was driven by road transport which rose 41%, and road transport accounts for more than 89% of overall transport energy increases. Freight energy use increased 27% since 1990, and was driven by an increase in truck transport which rose by 34%, as measured by tonne/kilometer of haulage. The vehicles primarily use oil products, specifically diesel. Passenger transport energy use increased 24% from 1990, and cars accounted for 87% of overall passenger energy use. The energy of cars being provided by oil products specifically gasoline. Increases in actual passenger activity rose the most with air travel, then cars. Over all passenger activity increased 30% from 1990-2005, as measured in passenger/km.
In the service sector, global energy use increased by 37% from 1990-2005, and increased mainly in the non-OECD countries where the increase was 53% versus a 32% in OECD countries. Electricity is the primary energy type used for lighting, office equipment, and HVAC. There are however large differences between countries in what is used and for what, with OECD countries using electricity and natural gas, while oil being used instead with the OECD Pacific region, Mexico, and China. China also uses coal heavily, along with South Africa. Biomass is used with India. In Russia 50% of demand is met by district heating. In Canada and the USA, energy use has been rising faster than floor space, increasing the energy intensity of the sector.
Oil in North America
Oil in North America often offers the allure of energy independence with the revulsion of environmental impacts. One of the largest possible sources with 173 billion recoverable barrels, the Tar Sands in Alberta Canada, has long been viewed as a double edged sword. Extraction depends on a costly, environmentally insensitive process whereby open pits are dug to get the surface ‘finds’, the ‘paydirt’ is transported to nearby separation plants, and the tarry sand is crushed and diluted until the bitumen is skimmed off. It requires energy, lots of water, and leaves behind ‘tailings’, residue sand, some unclaimed bitumen, water, clay particles and contaminants. Extraction of deeper reserves requires pumping water/steam to melt the bitumen and make it easier to suck it up to the surface. This uses natural gas, and can affect the water table. It has the reputation of ‘dirty oil’, although it is hard to think of the industry as clean by any stretch of the imagination.The oil would have to be piped to refineries in the American Midwest, for the specific processes required. Other offshore sources that have been looked at include deep sea drilling in Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, and to the Arctic Ocean, which is melting and opening up more. The Gulf’s oil spill disaster with the Deep Water Horizon Rig has made a lasting impact on that option.In fact, the process as a whole can make one wonder if we have not sold our souls for the opportunity to put gas in our cars. The environmentalists say ‘kill the Tar Sands’, and we will have clean energy developed to meet our needs.
With a range of possibilities before us, we have the ability to use a strategy that would leave the world with more energy than we need, that was cost efficient, and environmentally sensitive. We could plug in our electric cars to our batteries charged with solar panels, in the very near future, recharge our car and drive off. The technology is here. Thorium powered reactors could run our societal energy needs, along with ocean tide/hydro electric generation, and wind turbines/solar farms. We can transition from an unhealthy dependence on foreign oil, to an intermediate stage, to cleaner energy sources. We can keep our money for ourselves rather than giving it away, and squandering our limited natural resources.
‘The Choice for Japan – Silence or Conversation’ April 5 2011
Japan has been plagued by their stoicism and silence. They have declined some of the advice from the IAEA, and some offers of help from other countries. The issue of nuclear safety and problems have been a chronic problem since they have gone full steam into nuclear power. In a country that has few natural resources to power their large economy, this made sense, but to a country that lies in one of the most earthquake ravaged zones in the world, it does not. The current and past incidents at the Fukushima nuclear power plant have been well documented. Both successive Japanese governments and the Electric producing companies like TEPCO and Kepco, have tied their collective futures to the nuclear industry. Japan has the third highest number of plants, and the world’s largest nuclear reactor, for a country that is an island. Even with this number of plants Japan barely meets its energy demands, and the loss of the Fukushima reactors leaves Japan in roving blackouts. Only the locals who have to live by these plants get a voice of sanity heard, at times, amongst the kamikaze’s who willingly risk all, in the name of economic success. TEPCO most recently has offered the local town by Fukushima several hundred thousand dollars, enough for $12 per person, for their inconvenience. Workers at these plants over the years have not had proper dosemeters, proper equipment, and even had a process where they mixed uranium by hand in steel buckets, a process which led to 2 workers being killed by the ‘unintended criticality’ they caused, and the contamination of 400 nearby residents. After surviving the horrific Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese have lived with nuclear accidents on a smaller scale for years. It is as if their fate had been tied, unwillingly, to the power of nuclear fission. It is difficult to see how they would react differently, with the Earthquake and Tsunami to take the blame. It is shameful, as one day the ‘unintended criticality’ may contaminate a much larger region, kill many more, and still the stoicism and silence would go on, no doubt, in a culture dominated still by saving face, honour, and sacrifice. In this way, the Japanese government and power companies close their eyes, not only to a dangerous future, but to safer options available.
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