In one of my earliest blog posts ever–one I’ve lost somewhere–I grappled with why the Bush Administration would choose their Iraq adventure in the face of Peak Oil and climate change.
Why, at the time the US enjoyed its greatest relative power, after Dick Cheney had fought his earliest battles to dodge congressional oversight with his energy task force to study declining readily explotable oil and its alternatives, would the Bush Administration expend America’s hegemonic power in an illegal invasion of Iraq?
This post, asking whether the US refuses to do anything about climate change because it will affect the US relatively less than it will affect other countries, reminded me of that post I wrote years ago.
What if the leaders of the United States — and by leaders I mean the generals in the Pentagon, the corporate executives of the country’s largest enterprises, and the top officials in government — have secretly concluded that while world-wide climate change is indeed going to be catastrophic, the US, or more broadly speaking, North America, is fortuitously situated to come out on top in the resulting global struggle for survival?
What prompted me to this dark speculation about an American conspiracy of inaction was the seemingly incomprehensible failure of the US — in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Earth is heating up at an accelerating rate, and that we are in danger of soon reaching a point of no return where the process feeds itself — to do anything to reduce either this country’s annual production of more atmospheric CO2, or to promote some broader international agreement to slow the production of greenhouse gases.
The conclusion to that 8 year old post–one I still think is valid–is that in the face of both Peak Oil and climate change, Cheney committed the US to doubling down on the source of its hegemonic power in the belief that by retaining hegemonic power for this period of transition out of oil and into alternatives, it would retain hegemonic power thereafter.
Rather than invest the trillion dollars squandered on Iraq (or even the hundreds of billion they had to know it would cost) to make the US energy self-sufficient and lead the world in climate response, Cheney instead chose to seize the largest source of readily exploitable oil, in the process providing an alternative swing producer to the Saudis, whose citizens and funds attacked us on 9/11 (and remember, Iran was teed up to be overthrown next). By choosing the oil route, I figured, Cheney also chose the route that supported relative unilateralism rather than the cooperation that a real climate change response would and ultimately will require.
So I don’t so much think the US has decided it will ride out climate change better than other nations as I think it is intent on retaining its hegemonic position of power, which has been built since 1945 on cheap oil. Sure, the US also seems to have grown comfortable with Neo-Feudalism in the last decade, meaning the elite will happily live in their compounds protected from the instability that climate change will and already has unleashed. And the Global War on Terror will morph unnoticeably into a global counter-insurgency to protect those Neo-Feudal bastions.
But ultimately, I think, this country’s elites have decided they must retain their grasp on power no matter what. And that power rests on oil.
And don’t get me wrong. While I think Cheney fully understood the alternatives presented by this choice and made it for the rest of us, I’m not saying Democrats generally or Obama specifically are innocent. Consider Obama’s unwavering focus on energy independence, which he often cloaks in a false concern for climate change. US power is currently built off a death embrace with the Saudis. But as news reports increasingly–if prematurely–tout, we’re headed for Saudi-level targets of production. That will free us from the troubling demands the Saudis make, shore up our currency, but also keep us precisely where we are, relying on cheap oil to drive our economy and power. That is the goal of Obama’s energy choices, not replacing coal with less-polluting gas. And that explains why Obama just started selling off the rest of the Gulf for exploitation.
It’s crazy, I know. But I sincerely believe there are top secret discussions that insist if we just keep hold of power during what will undoubtedly be a chaotic fifty years, then we can fix whatever mess we’ve caused in the interim. If we can just get the oil while the getting is good, I think they believe, we can adjust to what comes later. Even if the Chinese and Koreans and Europeans will have been eating our lunch in developing new technologies, I guess they believe, we’ll be able to seize them back when the time comes.
The alternative, of course, one Dick Cheney surely recognized during his energy task force, would be to invest instead in a Manhattan project of alternative energy and to dissolve our power into the cooperative structures that will be needed in the face of climate change. That was not, and remains not, a viable option for a top American national security figure.
And so we–and the rest of the world–will melt as a result.
The Independent reveals what we’ve always known: the Iraq War was about oil. Or rather, there were significant discussions in Fall 2002–the period when the US and UK were busy lying us into war–about who would get Iraq’s oil. (h/t Susie)
The article describes BP’s judgment that Iraq was “the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there” and “more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time.”
Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf because the oil giant feared it was being “locked out” of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: “Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis.”
The minister then promised to “report back to the companies before Christmas” on her lobbying efforts.
The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq “post regime change”. Its minutes state: “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.”
After another meeting, this one in October 2002, the Foreign Office’s Middle East director at the time, Edward Chaplin, noted: “Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in [Iraq] for the sake of their long-term future… We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.”
Whereas BP was insisting in public that it had “no strategic interest” in Iraq, in private it told the Foreign Office that Iraq was “more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time”.
But the article doesn’t comment on why BP might be so concerned that the US would lock BP (and Shell and British Gas) out of Iraqi oil development.
Perhaps this might explain it:
From the beginning, it was clear that Cheney was running the show, chairing meetings of the task force — comprised of about a dozen Cabinet officers and senior officials — in his ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Much of the task force’s work was done by a six-person staff, led by its executive director, Andrew Lundquist, a former aide to Republican Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski of Alaska. In 2000, Lundquist was the Bush campaign’s energy expert; Bush nicknamed him “Light Bulb.”
Today, Lundquist is a lobbyist and has represented some of the companies who appeared before the task force, such as BP, Duke Energy and the American Petroleum Institute. He did not return phone calls for this article.
Cheney appears to have played a more behind-the-scenes role in the task force’s deliberations, the document indicates, listing only a handful of meetings with the vice president. Those included a previously reported meeting with Lay, who died last year; a meeting with officials from Sandia National Laboratories to discuss their economic models of the energy industry; and two sets of meetings with lawmakers. Cheney had other meetings, such as with John Browne, then the chief executive of BP, that were not listed on the task force’s calendar. [my emphasis]
So in addition to the March 22, 2001 meeting that a bunch of BP folks had as part of the “official” Energy Task Force meetings, BP’s CEO John Browne had his very own meeting with Cheney during the Energy Task Force discussions. And among other things the Task Force was discussing were Iraq’s oil fields and the companies already trying to develop them.
Now, frankly, it wouldn’t take a smarty pants to worry about Americans seizing Iraq’s fields. Only very naive people believed the Iraq War was not about oil. But BP, which–aside from a number of Canadian companies–was almost the only nominally foreign company to be included in the Energy Task Force discussions (two Shell people had a meeting after the report was substantially finished), almost certainly had its own reason to worry about Americans looting Iraqi oil after regime change.