Swans Commentary » swans.com January 15, 2007  



Oil, The Elites, And The Commons


by Gilles d'Aymery





(Swans - January 15, 2007)  Opponents of the current Bush administration's policies who take to heart the famous words of iconoclastic muckraker I.F. Stone -- "If you want to know about governments, all you have to know is two words, 'governments lie.'" -- too often ignore that powerful people can be quite sincere and honestly believe in the policies they formulate and implement. Generation after generation, these people have used brute force and the abundance of cheap resources to create material wealth, which though unequally shared is undeniable. While the United States economy has been in relative decline since the 1950s the U.S. remains by far the wealthiest country on earth. Why then would these people change policies -- the acquisition of resources through coercion -- that have worked so well for so long? And why would the American people want to change course when it has in its majority benefited from these policies, especially when no other course, say a specific programmatic agenda, is presented to them? To ignore these facts, to keep howling against systemic policies, to revel in focusing one's attention and energy on the darkness, the ulterior motives of our decision makers (the powers that be), without offering any positive alternatives and solutions to the challenges the country and the world confront are a distinct failing of our imagination and proof of our lack of intellectual and political credibility. What is more and more urgently needed is to break with the conceptual framework that creates enemies out of people one disagrees with -- actually mirroring the attitude of those powerful people -- and come up with practical solutions. We must confront the issues, not the personalities.

The farewell speech that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld delivered at the Pentagon on December 15, 2006, was a remarkable illustration and a powerful reminder that we err in intensely focusing on some imagined dark side of human nature. Watching him speak I could not be more impressed by his sincerity and authenticity. He was not lying. He was not making it up, or spinning his own PR. The man truly believed in what he was saying. The obligation to defeat the enemy, past, present, and future, through military means, to defend civilization as we know it and our way of life -- ancient memes repeated by all hierarchies within history. The need to face our perceived vulnerabilities through more defense spending; in Rumsfeld's words,

Ours is also a world of many friends and allies, but sadly, realistically, friends and allies with declining defense investment and declining capabilities, and, I would add, as a result, with increasing vulnerabilities. All of which requires that the United States of America invest more.

Today it should be clear that not only is weakness provocative, but the perception of weakness on our part can be provocative as well. A conclusion by our enemies that the United States lacks the will or the resolve to carry out missions that demand sacrifice and demand patience is every bit as dangerous as an imbalance of conventional military power.

This is a time of great consequence. Our task is to make the right decisions today, so that future generations will not have to make much harder decisions tomorrow. It may well be comforting to some to consider graceful exits from the agonies and indeed the ugliness of combat. But the enemy thinks differently.

Under the President's leadership, this country made a decision to confront the extremist ideology of hatred that spawned a worldwide movement, and to take the fight to the enemy. The alternative was inaction and defense -- a pattern that history has shown only emboldens the enemy.

Mr. Rumsfeld has gone into happy retirement but his successor Robert Gates functions within the same framework. He is not thinking in terms of a lighter military footprint. To the contrary, he made clear, for example, that the naval buildup in the Persian Gulf was not necessarily a response to Iran's perceived provocations.

I think the message that we are sending to everyone, not just Iran, is that the United States is an enduring presence in this part of the world. We have been here for a long time. We will be here for a long time and everybody needs to remember that -- both our friends and those who might consider themselves our adversaries.

Not just Iran... And Mr. Gates, like Mr. Rumsfeld, thinks that we need to enlarge the military in order to meet the future challenges of "those who might consider themselves our adversaries." It would be easy to dismiss Mr. Gates as another dark horse who will benefit from war profiteering, but it would be plainly mistaken. He had a millionaire's job as the head of Texas A&M. He did not have to quit a position he enjoyed tremendously, at a very substantial financial sacrifice. He did it out of his beliefs in what needs be done to keep the US ship ahead of the competition, and that entails what it always has: Force and coercion, and abundant energy.

This is neither new nor different thinking. In the heart of the Cold War, I.F. Stone wrote that, "There was an increased reliance at home and abroad on suppression by force and an increasingly arrogant determination to 'go it alone' in the world."

Neither is it Republican thinking. In a December 24, 2006 Editorial, "A Real-World Army," The New York Times, considered to be the voice of the liberal establishment, asserted:

Military reality finally broke through the Bush administration's ideological wall last week, with President Bush publicly acknowledging the need to increase the size of the overstretched Army and Marine Corps.

Larger ground forces are an absolute necessity for the sort of battles America is likely to fight during the coming decades...

...Over time, bigger ground forces will mean more sustainable troop rotations, fewer overseas deployments of the National Guard and better battlefield ratios of American to enemy fighters. That is the least America owes to the men and women who risk their lives to keep us all more secure.

So, from Mr. Rumsfeld's "increasing vulnerabilities" to Mr. Gates's "those who might consider themselves our adversaries," and the "battles America is likely to fight during the coming decades" in the judgment of the New York Times editors, we can easily deduce that the policies of yesteryears are firmly projected into the future, because in their estimation these policies worked; and they can clearly prove through a large numbers of statistics that they have benefited the American citizenry in its majority. In turn, that same citizenry keeps voting for the very same people as no other alternative is offered.

And why shouldn't they, since these people and the policies they have implemented have brought us -- in America and Europe -- amazing material wealth and extraordinary scientific discoveries that include the Internet, which we use with abandon to pillory them.

The preservation of secured sources of abundant energy has long been a priority of the American elites and their European counterparts. The Euro-Atlantic Community or "Axis" -- the First World -- has pursued similar policies for over 100 years, through either soft or hard power. The abundance of energy is the indispensable lubricant to run our economic engines. Until the 1970s, energy was cheap and plentiful, but in spite of a few ups and downs in the market, experts were forecasting the end of abundance. We were imperceptibly entering an era of energy scarcity. No sooner had the Soviet Union joined the dustbins of history did the Euro-Atlantic Axis take a strong stance to secure the energy realm of the future. It began with the first Gulf War and the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, and it led to the scenario that befuddles us now.

Energy policies are not driven by quarterly profits. Rational people in the corridors of power take a much longer view -- 20, 30 years at a minimum. Having long espoused the ideological core of the capitalist system -- private property, free markets, free trade, collective defense mechanisms, representative democracy -- they enact policies of coercion that have been working for ages. They assiduously have attempted to secure the most strategic area of the planet: The Middle East and Central Asia (Eurasia). Between 1990 and 2004, they tried to bring Russia with her extraordinary energy resources into their privatizing and "occidentalized" paradigm. By destroying Yugoslavia they cleared the way, or the corridors -- the "New Silk Road" -- to the East as far as the borders with China. They are fast at work to bring the Black Sea region under the control of the Euro-Atlantic institutions by competing strenuously with Russia, as this paper, "The 'Soft War' for Europe's East" (Hoover Institution, Policy Review, June-July 2006), authored by the ubiquitous insider Bruce P. Jackson, or the November 2006 Strategic Briefing from the Henry Jackson Society, "Europe needs a new 'Russia Policy' based on principles and power," clearly demonstrate.

The journey in Iraq and our forthcoming escalation to Iran must be seen in this context. Look at a geographical map. Iran and Iraq are the last two countries that must be brought under control in order to secure the so-called Greater Middle East for the next two or three decades, until we work out alternatives to petroleum depletion, and to keep China at bay. (Syria is of no real strategic importance, as it has no oil; we'll offer up regime change as a gift to our friendly vassals in the region.) There is little divergence among the players in Europe and in the United States. The elites have common objectives but differ on the tactics. Hence the much maligned French, and to a lesser degree Germans, tagged as "Old Europe" by Mr. Rumsfeld -- hard power versus soft power. The current US administration elected the former course of action. Old Europe considered the latter more appropriate. Both, however, strive for the same construct: The Euro-Atlantic dominance of the energy market for the foreseeable future.

Whether Peak Oil is crushing upon us -- a matter of speculation, both intellectually and financially, or that is officially denied or ignored by the likes of British Petroleum or the US Energy Information Administration statistical reviews -- is rather inconsequential. Europe and Northern America keep their eyes on the prize. Our way of life depends on it.

It should be noted at this point that there have been a few changes globally when comparing policies that worked in the past (assuming one only takes into consideration the past benefits to the Western people and ignores the trail of destruction occasioned by said policies over much of the rest of the world). Ironically, in the same December 24 issue of The New York Times, just below the Editorial cited supra was another one entitled "Ocean Rescue." Here are two short excerpts:

...One report after another over the last few years . . . . has documented the degradation of the world's oceans and predicted a catastrophic decline in important fish species if nothing is done to regulate fish harvests and control pollution.

Just last month, a paper published in the journal Science warned that the progressive unraveling of marine ecosystems up and down the food chain could lead to the "collapse" of all commercial species, possibly by the middle of this century.


Scientists are increasingly coming to believe that the carbon dioxide that humans are pumping into the air -- the same carbon dioxide that is responsible for global warming -- is also changing the chemistry of the oceans. . . . The result is acidification, a process that is already damaging tiny corals and that many scientists believe could wreak havoc on the delicate oceanic food chain.

According to the US International Energy Outlook 2006,

World carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase steadily in the IEO2006 reference case, from 25.0 billion metric tons in 2003 to 33.7 billion metric tons in 2015 and 43.7 billion metric tons in 2030. Carbon dioxide is one of the most prevalent greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and anthropogenic (human-caused) emissions of carbon dioxide result primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels for energy.

So we are riding a path to a train wreck of incalculable proportions, but all we can do is shout our opposition to imperialism, capitalism, and the powers-that-be, which include the Citadel, its gatekeepers, and, to add insult to injury, each other, the moment we deviate from the ideology du jour. We repeatedly ignore the elephant in the War Room -- oil -- characterizing Bush and his predecessors' wars as failed policy, disastrous, etc., when they have actually achieved exactly what they were designed to do -- material wealth. Thus we continue to fight the wrong battle and our peaceful efforts continue to fail. We are ignoring to our peril that those in power have provided a tremendous ride for a long while to most of us, the majority of people in the West. We are not offering any solutions beside slogans. No new paradigm. No new narrative. No real alternative.

Sanity deserves better from the commons.


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Internal Resources

The 1991 Gulf War Rationale - Gilles d'Aymery (February 2003)

Creative Destruction: From Iraq To Iran - Gilles d'Aymery (April 2006)

The Rape of Iraq

Patterns which Connect


About the Author

Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.



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Published January 15, 2007