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August 06, 2006

Peak Oil, Lebanon, and Iran Iran  Palestine/Middle East  Peak Oil

I have always thought that Peak Oil is the Rosetta Stone of Bush/Cheney foreign policy. As I wrote a year and a half ago:

They believe Peak Oil's coming, and they mean to control the world's oil-producing regions before oil shortages get underway in earnest. Examine it from a Peak Oil perspective, and suddenly everything they're doing looks like part of a coherent (if misguided) overall game plan.

Juan Cole has a long post up today making the case (or at least examining its plausibility) that Israel's destruction of Lebanon is part of that Peak Oil game plan. Having occupied Iraq, the big prize that remains is Iran. Excerpts:

The wholesale destruction of all of Lebanon by Israel and the US Pentagon does not make any sense. Why bomb roads, roads, bridges, ports, fuel depots in Sunni and Christian areas that have nothing to do with Shiite Hizbullah in the deep south? And, why was Hizbullah's rocket capability so crucial that it provoked Israel to this orgy of destruction? [...]

Moreover, the Lebanese government elected last year was pro-American! Why risk causing it to fall by hitting the whole country so hard?

And, why was Condi Rice's reaction to the capture of two Israeli soldiers and Israel's wholesale destruction of little Lebanon that these were the "birth pangs" of the "New Middle East"?

Cole quotes a European reader of his who wrote:

When I was in Portugal I also watched a presentation by a guy who works for the ministry of energy in that country, a certain [JFR].

He started his presentation with the growing need for oil in China and India. He stressed that China wants to become the 'workshop' of the world and India the 'office' of the world. both economies contributed combined some 44% to world economy growth during 2001-2004. He compared the USA, Japan, India and China to giant whales constantly eating fish. They had no fish near them so they started to move. He explained that the Persian Gulf is the 'fish ground', the 'gas station' of the world. [...]

JFR explained to the astonished audience that Iran was the most valuable country on the planet. They have one of the biggest holdings of gas and oil reserves in the world. second in gas, second in oil. On top of that they have direct access to the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Caspian Sea what makes them a potential platform for the distribution of oil and gas to South Asia, Europe and East Asia. JRF called Iran 'the prize'...

The disaster in Lebanon actually was also part of JFR's presentation. He explained that the US government is 100% convinced, fanatically and completely convinced, that both, Hamas and Hizballah are creatures of Iran and that Iran uses them to undermine US goals in the region...

The presentation got kind of freaky then. He said the US government wanted to stop state-controlled Iranian or Chinese (or Indian) companies from controlling the oil. JFR says the US Government is convinced that this battle will decide the future of the world. It sounded like he was talking about 'the one ring' in lord of the rings. he who controls Iran controls them all.' [Emphasis added]

It's often said that actually controlling the oil-producing countries is unnecessary since oil is a fungible commodity. Why do you need to control the oil fields if you can just buy oil on the open market? Cole:

[T]he "fungibility" (easy exchange) of oil is less important in the new environment than it used to be. US petroleum companies would like to go back to actually owning fields in the Middle East, since there are big profits to be made if you get to decide when you take it out of the ground. As Chinese and Indian competition for the increasingly scarce resource heats up, exclusive contracts will be struck. When I floated the fungibility of petroleum as a reason for which the Iraq War could not be only about oil, at a talk at Columbia's Earth Institute last year, Jeffrey Sachs surprised me by disagreeing with me. In our new environment, oil is becoming a commodity over which it really does make sense to fight for control. [...]

Jeffrey Sachs is right. Oil is fungible only after its out of the ground. The name of today's game is control of reserves, not markets. Example: china's deals in Latin America, US development of non-Nigerian African resource, etc." [Emphasis added]

I would add that the fungibility argument assumes orderly markets in a peaceful world. My guess is that Bush/Cheney et al have looked into their crystal ball and concluded that the oil-importing nations of the world are going to end up in a fight to the death for the oil that remains. When the world's at war, oil's fungibility doesn't count for much. (During WWII, for example, Germany couldn't just go out and buy the oil it needed. Lack of oil, as much as anything else, insured Germany's defeat.) Bush/Cheney may well have concluded that the US and China are on a collision course. Should it come to that, control of the world's oil will be decisive.

So Iran is the prize, and Lebanon is a preliminary bout. As I've noted before, Israel's pounding of Lebanon can be viewed as an effort to secure the Americans' flank in preparation for an attack on Iran. The threat on the flank was and is Hezbollah. Cole:

In the short term, Iran was protected by [an] ace in the hole. It had a client in the Levant, Lebanon's Hizbullah, and had given it a few silkworm rockets, which could theoretically hit Israeli nuclear and chemical facilities. Hizbullah increasingly organizes the Lebanese Shiites, and the Lebanese Shiites will in the next ten to twenty years emerge as a majority in Lebanon, giving Iran a commercial hub on the Mediterranean.

Cole doesn't seem to anticipate a US attack on Iran in the near term. Let's hope he's right, but the ferocity of Israel's assault certainly suggests that the US may already be starting to move. Cf. Condi's comments about "birth pangs" of a "New Middle East".

Some observers (see, for example, Xymphora) look at all this and say it's got nothing to do with oil: the Israelis, and their American neocon supporters, are pursuing their own agenda, trying to safeguard or enlarge Israeli power. But nothing is ever about just one thing. The Israelis have their own axe to grind; that doesn't mean it's only about Israel. Similarly, lots of private companies are making a fortune off of war; that doesn't mean it's only about profits. And so on.

How seriously you take the oil motivation ultimately depends on how seriously you take the implications of Peak Oil. Or, rather, it depends on how seriously you think Bush/Cheney (and the Pentagon, the CIA, etc.) take the implications of Peak Oil (and the likelihood of an eventual conflict with China). My guess is they take it very seriously indeed. Everything they've done, everything they're doing, points that way.

Posted by Jonathan at August 6, 2006 05:45 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb