Saturday :: Mar 19, 2005

Marching To Petrolea

by pessimist

Two years ago today, King George Warmonger cried 'Havoc!' and let slip the neo-con dogs of war. As is our wont as humans, anniversaries are traditionally the time devoted to reviewing the actions of the pervious period and evaluating the results thereof. Such would be the case if the True Conservatives were doing their job, but they - like the Democrats - have almost universally fallen asleep at the switch.

Since these self-appointed overseers of propriety are too busy with Terri Schiavo and the usage of steroids in sports, I guess it's up to bloggers like me to take on this annual review.

George - your work is less than satisfactory. Your work goals have yet to be met, and the profits you predicted have yet to materialize. We're going to have to let you go. Have your things out of the White House by the end of the next business day.

You disagree with this assessment? Let's look at your goals - and how you fell short.

Nothing 'New' in This War

"We are redefining war on our terms."

So declared an exuberant George W. Bush just two years ago as the U.S. military completed its stunning demolition of Saddam Hussein's regime. The president seemingly had good reason to boast. In its initial stages, Operation Iraqi Freedom surpassed all expectations, affirming the verdict first rendered more than a decade before by Operation Desert Storm: The United States, the greatest power the world had ever seen, had apparently mastered the art of war.

America's armed forces appeared invincible.

Two years later war is no longer doing the president's bidding. In recent weeks, much of the news from the Middle East has been about the movements for democracy and free elections in Iraq and neighboring countries. But the claims that "freedom is on the march" cannot conceal this fact: In Iraq, protracted conflict is draining the lifeblood from America's armed services.

Evidence that U.S. forces are badly overstretched has become incontrovertible. Recruits for the all-volunteer force are drying up. Only the quasi-permanent mobilization of tens of thousands of part-time soldiers allows the Army to meet its day-to-day requirements -- an arrangement that the chief of Army reserves has declared unsustainable. Meanwhile, revelations of GI misconduct accumulate, a worrisome sign of eroding discipline. Worst of all, the casualty list grows ever longer. To the discerning observer, stress fractures in the imposing edifice of American military supremacy have begun to appear.

Two Years Later, Iraq War Drains Military
Heavy Demands Offset Combat Experience

Two years after the United States launched a war in Iraq with a crushing display of power, a guerrilla conflict is grinding away at the resources of the U.S. military and casting uncertainty over the fitness of the all-volunteer force, according to senior military leaders, lawmakers and defense experts.

The unexpectedly heavy demands of sustained ground combat are depleting military manpower and gear faster than they can be fully replenished. Shortfalls in recruiting and backlogs in needed equipment are taking a toll, and growing numbers of units have been broken apart or taxed by repeated deployments, particularly in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.

"What keeps me awake at night is, what will this all-volunteer force look like in 2007?" Gen. Richard A. Cody, Army vice chief of staff, said at a Senate hearing this week.

The Iraq war has also led to a drop in the overall readiness of U.S. ground forces to handle threats at home and abroad, forcing the Pentagon to accept new risks -- even as military planners prepare for a global anti-terrorism campaign that administration officials say could last for a generation.

Stretched by Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States lacks a sufficiently robust ability to put large numbers of "boots on the ground" in case of a major emergency elsewhere, such as the Korean Peninsula, in the view of some Republican and Democratic lawmakers and some military leaders. They are skeptical of the Pentagon's ability to substitute air and naval power, and they believe strongly that what the country needs is a bigger Army. "The U.S. military will respond if there are vital threats, but will it respond with as many forces as it needs, with equipment that is in excellent condition? The answer is no," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

Yesterday, defense officials worried about recruiting announced that they will raise the age limit, from 34 to 40, for enlistment in the Army Guard and Reserve.

Recruiting troubles, especially, threaten the force at its core. But with a return to the draft widely viewed as economically and politically untenable, senior military leaders say the nation's security depends on drumming up broader public support for service. "If we don't get this thing right, the risk is off the scale," said Lt. Gen. Roger C. Schultz, director of the Army National Guard, the military's most stressed branch.

A Tough Sell
Staff Sgt. Spurgeon M. Shelley is on duty in a Marine recruiting station in Lexington Park, Md., in St. Mary's County -- with a mission to persuade young men and women to enlist, and probably go to war. One recent night, after making dozens of fruitless phone calls to high school students, Shelley said his recruiting job is more taxing than combat. "I hear 'no' more times in one day than a child would hear in their entire childhood," he said. "If I had hair, I'd pull it out."

The active-duty Army and Marine Corps, and five of six reserve components of the military, all failed to meet at least some recruiting goals in the first quarter of fiscal 2005, according to Defense Department statistics. The active-duty shortfalls came amid rising concern among Army and Marine officials that their services risk missing annual recruiting quotas for the first time this decade.

Shelley, for example, has signed up four people in nearly six months, despite working 16-hour days. Asked why recruiting is so difficult, he has a quick reply: "The war." As long as the war drags on, recruiting won't improve, he predicts. "I think it's going to get worse."

Increasingly, surveys show that the main reason young American adults avoid military service is that they -- and to a greater degree their parents -- fear that enlisting could mean a war-zone deployment and death or injury. One survey showed such fears nearly doubling among respondents from 2000 to 2004.

Indeed, today's recruiting problems reflect a widespread concern dating from the conception of the all-volunteer force in 1973 -- that a military composed wholly of volunteers would not supply adequate troops for a lengthy ground war. Meanwhile, overseas missions proliferated, even as the military downsized drastically. The Army shrank from 40 active-duty and National Guard divisions during the Vietnam War to 28 when the Cold War ended, and it has 18 now. The military is seeking to rebuild forces, adding temporarily 30,000 Army soldiers and 5,000 Marines.

But the war isn't the only obstacle. Rising college attendance and an expanding job market are giving high school graduates more choices. "It's times like this when unemployment is reaching 5 percent that is a critical level" for undercutting recruitment, said Curtis L. Gilroy, director of accession policy for the Defense Department.

To meet its targets, the Army is considering expanding the use of enlistment bonuses of as much as $20,000. Both the Army and the Marines are adding hundreds of recruiters, who "will have to work very, very hard," Gilroy said.

Growing Demands
As the military struggles to find fresh recruits, there is unprecedented strain on service members and their families. Since 2001, the U.S. military has deployed more than 1 million troops for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 341,000, or nearly a third, serving two or more overseas tours.

Today, an entrenched insurgency in Iraq ties down 150,000 U.S. troops, inflicting upwards of 1,500 deaths so far -- more than 10 times the number killed in the major combat operations that President Bush declared ended on May 1, 2003.

Because of the spreading violence from the insurgency, coupled with a smaller foreign coalition than was hoped for, the U.S. Army and Marines in particular have scrambled to keep a force of roughly 17 brigades in Iraq until now, rather than draw down to eight brigades or even be out altogether, according to previous military projections.

Two years ago, the Army released 2,500 recruiters so they could ship out with tactical units, officials say. The Marines also sent scores fewer people to recruiting school because they were needed for military operations.

An earlier study of troops in Bosnia showed they were initially more likely to reenlist than those who had stayed home, but their renewal rates dropped as the number, length and danger of deployments increased.

As it rounds up troops for deployments, the Army has had to allocate limited equipment. It has shuffled thousands of items from radios to rifles between units, geared up new industrial production, and depleted the Army's pre-positioned stocks of tanks, Humvees and other assets to outfit units for combat. Army stocks in Southwest Asia are exhausted, and those in Europe have also been "picked over," one U.S. official said. Roughly half of the Army and Marine equipment stored afloat on ships has been used up, the official said. Refilling the stocks must wait until the Iraq war winds down, Army officials say.

Meanwhile, a sizable portion of Marine and Army gear is in Iraq, wearing out at up to six times the normal rate. Battle losses are mounting; the Army has lost 79 aircraft and scores of tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

The priority on allocating scarce resources to deployed units means that forces rotating back home -- especially reserve units -- are dropping in readiness. In many cases, they are being rated at the lowest level, C4, because of a lack of functioning equipment, required training or manpower. The Pentagon says that by rotating duties, it maintains enough ready forces and pre-positioned equipment to handle a crisis on the Korean Peninsula and other contingencies.

But U.S. lawmakers are concerned. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said he worries primarily about the U.S. ability to respond if 'some problem should arise on the Korean Peninsula'.

"How capable are we of handling another major conflict?" asked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "It's pretty obvious that it would be incredibly difficult because of the portion of our resources devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan. What if a conflict broke out with North Korea or Iran?"

Feeling the Strain
Of all the military branches, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve are suffering the most, as they provide between a third and half of the troops in Iraq, despite a legacy of chronic shortages in their manning and equipment. Because the Army traditionally undersupplies Guard and reserve units, few had the troops or gear needed when mobilized. As a result, large numbers of soldiers and equipment were shifted from one unit to another, or 'cross-leveled', to cobble together a force to deploy. "We were woefully underequipped before the war started. That situation hasn't gotten any better. As a matter of fact, it gets a little bit worse every day, because we continue to cross-level," Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told Congress this month.

The widespread fracturing of units is making it increasingly difficult for the Army to assemble viable forces from the remaining hodgepodge -- most of which have low readiness ratings, Army figures show. "It's a little bit like Swiss cheese. We've taken out holes in the units," Lovelace said. "Those holes are a lot of times leaders, and they are hard to grow."

Already, the Guard and Reserve have deployed the vast majority of their forces most needed for fighting counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan -- such as military intelligence, civil affairs, infantry and military police -- bringing into question whether the Pentagon's two-year limit on reserve mobilizations is sustainable. "Can we do this forever? No. We can't do this forever at current levels," the Army National Guard's Schultz said in an interview.

In a sign of deeper problems, career citizen-soldiers frustrated by broken units and long, grueling war-zone duties are increasingly leaving the Guard. Attrition among career guardsmen is running at nearly 20 percent, said Schultz, who expects that as many as a third of the members of some units rotating back from Iraq will quit. Recruitment is sluggish, reaching just 75 percent of the target for the first quarter of fiscal 2005 -- meaning that the Guard is unlikely to reach its desired strength of 350,000 soldiers this year. The viability of the Army Guard and Reserve will prove decisive, senior Army leaders say, as they consider in 2006 whether to permanently increase the size of the active-duty Army, and if so by how much.

It also marks a critical test of the military's ability to appeal to the civilian population, not only with bonuses and education benefits, but also with an ethos of self-sacrifice that it considers the bedrock of the all-volunteer force.

Why should anyone want to sacrifice for a lie? Our nation wasn't in the sort of danger it now is thanks to the bungling of 'THE' Donald Rumsfeld's neo-Pentagon during the reign of Koenig Georg Kriegfuehrer. That the costs are so steep is beginning to leak out despite the best efforts of the Illiberal Conservative Media:

U.S. toll in Iraq war starting to hit home
2 years on, the voices of protest rise

BARRINGTON, Illinois - To pierce the still-frozen earth of the corner yard at his Main Street business in this comfortable Chicago suburb, Paul Vogel sometimes needs a drill. Finding a spot to plant another small flag to represent the latest American war death in Iraq has become harder as well, two years after the war began.

Vogel's sea of flags has been spreading since late 2003, when he began planting them. Then there were 480; this week, out in the yard fussing over some that had tipped a bit, he set the total at 1,518. Four of them represent men lost to his son's reserve unit, a bridge-building outfit that spent a year in Iraq without, Vogel said, ever building a bridge.

"People are forgetting the human costs of the war," Vogel said in an interview at the employment agency that he and his wife, Patricia, run in a handsome green Victorian house.
Along with the flags honoring the dead, Vogel has erected a sign that asks simply, "Do you care?"

It is hard for Americans to ignore the war completely. But it is possible for many to watch from a distance, without personal sacrifice. So far about one American in 200,000 has died in Iraq; the Vietnam War killed one in 4,000.

And military recruiters have had increasing difficulty in attracting enough recruits.

Signs of division, over the war and the president who ordered the attack, remain stark and undeniable. Bookstores carry The Right Man, which sings the praises of President George W. Bush. But antiwar activists, even one who said that organizing against the war "can feel like stirring concrete with an eyelash," point to tangible changes: Scores of local communities have voted to demand that U.S. troops come home. Small protests are staged weekly.

For Paul Vogel, every death is a tragedy, and he wanted to make people aware of the war. But affluent Barrington lies in a deeply conservative part of a state that supported Senator John Kerry, the president's Democratic opponent, in the election last year.

"Speaking out in this town, we figured we could be jeopardizing our business," said Vogel, a spare, careful-spoken man with a neat beard. Vogel said his business had not unduly suffered. "But you reach a breaking point. My breaking point came in June 2003 when I went to the funeral of the first man killed in my son Aaron's unit," the 652nd Engineer Company of the U.S. Army Reserves. That man, Sergeant Dan Gabrielson, 39, was a mechanic and father of three before a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into his truck. Vogel attended the funeral and was moved by the grief that tore the sergeant's small Wisconsin town of Spooner.

A concerned Vogel took a highly unusual step: He traveled to Iraq to see his son, quietly arranging the trip with the help of a Quaker group active in relief work, slipping in through Jordan. Aaron was astonished. Paul has a picture of the two standing side by side before curled concertina wire. It was the longest of weeks for Patricia Vogel.

The experience hardened Paul Vogel's opposition to the war, and he began speaking out. He organized a march. His sea of flags kept growing. His efforts have encountered mixed reactions. One day a retired marine came in to Vogel's office to thank him, in tears; two days later, another ex-marine walked in, angrily mouthing obscenities at Vogel.

Dawn Turner Trice, a columnist at The Chicago Tribune, wrote that Americans seemed barely to note when the number of deaths reached 1,500. A worker at the liquor store across the street, who did not give his name, shrugged wearily when asked about the war: "Whatever we say about it, it's not going to do any good."

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll underscored the ambivalence in the United States. Only 45 percent of Americans said that the war had been worth fighting, down from 70 percent at its outset. But a majority also believed that Iraqis were now better off than before the war. More Americans believed that the war had improved chances for democracy in the region than said that it has hurt those chances. Indeed, many Americans, even some who opposed the war, say they are willing to endure in hopes that stability will return to Iraq, terrorists will be scourged and democracy will take root. Few see any other choice.

Some peace activists fault news coverage. "The media isn't doing the job, and this is one reason why people in Europe don't know about the very extensive antiwar movement that exists here," said Joseph Gainza, the Vermont director for the American Friends Service Committee. Gainza helped push for local referendums urging Bush to bring the troops home from Iraq. Forty-nine towns - 86 percent of those that voted - passed such referendums in a state that has sent more guardsmen and reservists to Iraq, per capita, than any state but Hawaii. Eleven Vermonters have died in Iraq. "We're getting a lot of excited phone calls and e-mails from people all over the country, and overseas, too," he said.

Bill Dobbs, a spokesman for the antiwar group United for Peace and Justice, insisted that below-the-radar efforts were working. "Steady, low-profile organizing work has slowly helped to move a huge glacier," he said. "Certainly over half the country believes that Bush's handling of the war has been very bad." His group's Web site lists more than 800 antiwar protests planned for this weekend, more than twice last year's figure, including a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where many military families and veterans are expected to take part.

Flying in from California, where he now studies photography - though as an army reservist, he could be sent back to Iraq at any time - will be Aaron Vogel.

A soldier in Iraq is worth two civilians in America - or so it seems the feeling at the Pentagon is:

US Army asks for longer enlistments as recruitment numbers fall

The US Army has asked Congress to allow it to extend enlistment contracts offered to future soldiers by two years in order to 'stabilize the force' as top defense officials warned that key recruitment targets for the year could be missed.

Army Deputy Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Franklin Hagenbeck told a House subcommittee that yearly recruitment goals for the Army reserve and the National Guard were 'at risk'. "In the manning area, we need Congress to change the maximum enlistment time from six years to eight years in order to help stabilize the force for longer periods of time," Hagenbeck went on to say.

The appeal coincided with the release of a new congressional report that showed that the intensifying anti-American insurgency in Iraq and continued violence in Afghanistan were followed by a distinct drop in the number of volunteers willing to serve in the branches of the military that see the most combat.

The Army reserve and Army National Guard respectively met only 87 percent and 80 percent of their overall recruiting goals in the first quarter of fiscal 2005, according to the study by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. The Air Force Reserve attained 91 percent of its target, the Air National Guard 71 percent and the Navy Reserve 77 percent.

The shortfalls could potentially have a noticeable effect on units operating in Iraq, Afghanistan and surrounding areas because, according to defense officials, reservists and guardsmen make up about 46 percent of the total force deployed there.

Recruitment problems are beginning to dog even active duty units that have not experienced them in a long time. The Marine Corps, whose reputation for efficiency and toughness has always helped it attract ambitious young men and women, missed its goal by 84 recruits in January and another 192 in February for the first time in 10 years, the GAO report said.

"There is no disputing the fact that the force is facing challenges," acknowledged Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Charles Abell.

The obvious cooling off in Americans' interest in military service is observed despite multiplying benefits and financial enticements offered by the Pentagon to those signing up for service. The supplemental measure passed by the House, for example, increases the maximum service member group life insurance benefits from 250,000 dollars to 400,000 dollars.

How much your insurance pays is little solace if you are deceased!

The onetime death gratuity for combat fatalities received by family members is going up from 12,000 to 100,000 dollars.

At 150,000 dollars a pop, reenlistment bonuses paid to experienced Special Forces members are beginning to resemble Christmas paychecks on Wall Street, while one-time cash incentives for brand new recruits went up from 8,000 dollars to 10,000 dollars -- and to 20,000, if they agree to take one of the military jobs deemed hard to fill.

College scholarships, the principle reason why many young people join the military, have been boosted by the Army from 50,000 dollars to 70,000.

And almost eliminated for everyone else!

Still, Army reserve commander Lieutenant General James Helmly warned in January that with lengthy and grueling deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the reserve is rapidly turning into "a broken force" and may not be able to meet its operational requirements in the future.

In case anyone has forgotten, this is why your sons and daughters are in foreign lands:

Secret US plans for Iraq's oil
Iraqi-born Falah Aljibury says US Neo-Conservatives planned to force a coup d'etat in Iraq

The Bush administration made plans for war and for Iraq's oil before the 9/11 attacks, sparking a policy battle between neo-cons and Big Oil, BBC's Newsnight has revealed.

Two years ago today - when President George Bush announced US, British and Allied forces would begin to bomb Baghdad - protesters claimed the US had a secret plan for Iraq's oil once Saddam had been conquered.

In fact there were two conflicting plans, setting off a hidden policy war between neo-conservatives at the Pentagon, on one side, versus a combination of "Big Oil" executives and US State Department "pragmatists".

"Big Oil" appears to have won.

The latest plan, obtained by Newsnight from the US State Department was, we learned, drafted with the help of American oil industry consultants. Insiders told Newsnight that planning began "within weeks" of Bush's first taking office in 2001, long before the September 11th attack on the US.

An Iraqi-born oil industry consultant, Falah Aljibury, says he took part in the secret meetings in California, Washington and the Middle East. He described a State Department plan for a forced coup d'etat. Mr Aljibury himself told Newsnight that he interviewed potential successors to Saddam Hussein on behalf of the Bush administration.

Secret sell-off plan

The industry-favoured plan was pushed aside by a secret plan, drafted just before the invasion in 2003, which called for the sell-off of all of Iraq's oil fields. The new plan was crafted by neo-conservatives intent on using Iraq's oil to destroy the OPEC cartel through massive increases in production above OPEC quotas.

The sell-off was given the green light in a secret meeting in London headed by Ahmed Chalabi shortly after the US entered Baghdad, according to Robert Ebel. Mr Ebel, a former Energy and CIA oil analyst, now a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Newsnight he flew to the London meeting at the request of the State Department.

Mr Aljibury, once Ronald Reagan's "back-channel" to Saddam, claims that plans to sell off Iraq's oil, pushed by the US-installed Governing Council in 2003, helped instigate the insurgency and attacks on US and British occupying forces. "Insurgents used this, saying, 'Look, you're losing your country, you're losing your resources to a bunch of wealthy billionaires who want to take you over and make your life miserable,'" said Mr Aljibury from his home near San Francisco. "We saw an increase in the bombing of oil facilities, pipelines, built on the premise that privatisation is coming."

Former Shell Oil USA chief stalled plans to privatise Iraq's oil industry

Philip Carroll, the former CEO of Shell Oil USA who took control of Iraq's oil production for the US Government a month after the invasion, stalled the sell-off scheme. Mr Carroll told us he made it clear to Paul Bremer, the US occupation chief who arrived in Iraq in May 2003, that: "There was to be no privatisation of Iraqi oil resources or facilities while I was involved."

Ariel Cohen, of the neo-conservative Heritage Foundation, told Newsnight that an opportunity had been missed to privatise Iraq's oil fields. He advocated the plan as a means to help the US defeat OPEC, and said America should have gone ahead with what he called a "no-brainer" decision.

Mr Carroll hit back, telling Newsnight, "I would agree with that statement. To privatize would be a no-brainer. It would only be thought about by someone with no brain."

New plans, obtained from the State Department by Newsnight and Harper's Magazine under the US Freedom of Information Act, called for creation of a state-owned oil company favoured by the US oil industry. It was completed in January 2004 under the guidance of Amy Jaffe of the James Baker Institute in Texas. Formerly US Secretary of State, Baker is now an attorney representing Exxon-Mobil and the Saudi Arabian government.

Questioned by Newsnight, Ms Jaffe said the oil industry prefers state control of Iraq's oil over a sell-off because it fears a repeat of Russia's energy privatisation. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, US oil companies were barred from bidding for the reserves. Ms Jaffe says US oil companies are not warm to any plan that would undermine Opec and the current high oil price:

"I'm not sure that if I'm the chair of an American company, and you put me on a lie detector test, I would say high oil prices are bad for me or my company."
The former Shell oil boss agrees. In Houston, he told Newsnight: "Many neo conservatives are people who have certain ideological beliefs about markets, about democracy, about this, that and the other. International oil companies, without exception, are very pragmatic commercial organizations. They don't have a theology."

A State Department spokesman told Newsnight they intended "to provide all possibilities to the Oil Ministry of Iraq and advocate none".

Kill! Kill! Kill For OIL!

Mapping The Oil Motive

[The Bush administration has publicly advanced a number of reasons for going to war in Iraq, from WMDs to the Iraqi people's need for liberation. Michael Klare reviews the evidence that securing America's source of oil was a decisive factor in the White House's decision to invade—and looks at whether the administration succeeded.]

[Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Petroleum Dependency (Metropolitan Books)]

What role did oil play in the U.S. decision to invade Iraq? If oil did play a significant role, what, exactly, did President Bush and his associates hope to accomplish in this regard? To what degree did they succeed?

These are questions that will no doubt occupy analysts for many years to come, but that can and should be answered now — as the American people debate the validity of the invasion and Bush administration gears up for a possible war against Iran under circumstances very similar to those prevailing in Iraq in early 2003.

In addressing these questions, it should be noted that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a matter of choice, not of necessity.

The United States did not act in response to an aggressive move by a hostile power directed against this country or one of its allies, but rather employed force on its own volition to advance (what the administration viewed as) U.S. national interests. This means that we cannot identify a precipitating action for war, but instead must examine the calculus of costs and benefits that persuaded President Bush to invade Iraq at that particular moment.

On one side of this ledger were the disincentives to war: the loss of American lives, the expenditure of vast sums of money and the alienation of America’s allies. To outweigh these negatives, and opt for war, would require powerful incentives. But what were they? This is the question that has so bedeviled pundits and analysts since the onset of combat.

It is highly doubtful that any one factor tipped the balance toward invasion. A war of choice is rarely precipitated by a single objective, but rather stems from a combination of contributing factors. In this case, many come to mind:

* legitimate concern over Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction

* an inclination to demonstrate the effectiveness of the administration’s “pre-emptive” war doctrine

* increased security for Israel

* the promotion of democracy in the Middle East

* U.S. domination of the Persian Gulf region

* and a thirst for Iraqi oil.

All of these, and possibly others, are likely to have figured to some degree in the president’s decision to invade.

What is difficult is to ascertain is how these factors were ranked in the administration’s calculus. What we can do, however, is to put them into some sort of context, to show how they formed an overpowering nexus of motives that outweighed the disincentives to war.

And here, oil proves essential.

The starting point for such an assessment is the locale for this war: the Persian Gulf region, home to two-thirds of the world’s known oil reserves. For more than 40 years, U.S. foreign policy has been guided by America’s growing dependence on oil supplies from the Middle East. Embraced by both Republicans and Democrats, this policy is known as the Carter doctrine because it was articulated most clearly by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Presidents Reagan, Bush 41 and Clinton have all acted under the banner of the Carter Doctrine: supporting Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), opposing Iraq by liberating Kuwait in 1991, imposing sanctions and no-fly zones between 1991 and 2003. As I described in the December issue of The Progressive, Bush and the neocons used the banner of the war on terror after 9/11 to massively expand American capacity to employ force in the pursuit of global oil reserves.

Setting The Stage For War

When George W. Bush entered the White House in February 2001, Iraq was still under sanctions, and Saddam Hussein remained in power. At this point, Bush ordered two major reviews of American policy: an assessment of the effectiveness of sanctions by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, and a review if U.S. energy policy by Vice President Dick Cheney. Although prompted by separate concerns—the survival of Saddam Hussein in one case, persistent energy shortages in the other — these two reviews both focused attention on developments in the Persian Gulf and together set the stage for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The first review, completed at some point in the late spring, concluded that sanctions had not only failed in their intended purpose of unseating Hussein, but had also strengthened his position by making it appear that the United States was victimizing the poor and downtrodden population of Iraq. To make matters worse, Hussein appeared to be using the United Nation’s “oil for food” program to accumulate funds for the acquisition of arms and illicit weapons technology.

The second review, released as the National Energy Policy on May 17, 2001, also described a worrisome situation: domestic oil production in the United States was in irreversible decline at a time of soaring energy demand, and so the nation was becoming increasingly dependent on imported energy.

But while expressing concern over the dangers inherent in this situation, the authors of the report concluded that the United States had no choice but to increase its reliance on imports in order to fuel the nation’s cars and factories. And because so much of the world’s remaining untapped petroleum lay in the Persian Gulf area, U.S. energy policy would have to concentrate on gaining greater access to these supplies. “By any estimation, Middle East oil producers will remain central to world oil security,” the NEP affirmed. Hence, “The Gulf will be a primary focus of U.S. international energy policy.

The NEP also made it clear that the existing oil infrastructure in the Persian Gulf was inadequate to produce the much higher levels of oil that would be needed to satisfy projected U.S. and international requirements in the years ahead.

According to the 2001 edition of the Department of Energy’s International Energy Outlook, the Gulf countries would have to nearly double their combined output, from approximately 24 million barrel per day (mbd) to 45 million barrels, in order to meet anticipated world demand in 2020 — a Herculean task that exceeded the capacities of many of the region’s prevailing regimes, including those in Iran and Iraq.

Only if U.S. firms were allowed to come in and take over production in these Gulf countries, the NEP hinted, would it be possible to quench the world’s insatiable thirst for oil.
The two reviews thus reached several complementary conclusions: the sanctions regime was in disarray; Hussein continued to pose a threat to Persian Gulf security; the United States needed more Persian Gulf oil; and ways had to be found to insert U.S. oil firms into the region. How, then, to reconcile all of these concerns? In the end, only one option promised to secure all of these objectives: the forcible removal of Saddam Hussein and his replacement by a regime disposed to satisfy U.S. energy objectives.

And so, in late 2001 or early 2002, the administration decided to invade Iraq.

That these various factors were intertwined in the administration’s thinking is clearly evident from the most important speech given by Vice President Dick Cheney on the reasons for war, in an address before the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Aug. 25, 2002. “Should all [of Hussein’s WMD] ambitions be realized, the implications would be enormous,” he declared. “Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror and a set atop 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.” From this perspective, inaction was unthinkable.

Hands In the Honeypot

Having decided to eliminate Hussein, the Bush administration set out to ensure that any successor regime would be predisposed to satisfy U.S. energy objectives.

Ahmad Chalabi, a former Iraqi banker who was being groomed by the Department of Defense to serve as Iraq’s future ruler, was encouraged to meet with representatives U.S. energy firms and arrange for their participation in the postwar rehabilitation of Iraq’s oil infrastructure. “American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil,” he promised after one such meeting. Meanwhile, the Working Group on Oil and Energy—a collection of expatriate Iraqi oil experts assembled by the Department of State—developed plans for the privatization of Iraq’s state-owned oil company and its acquisition by foreign firms. And, to ensure that none of Iraq’s oil assets would be damaged by Saddam Hussein loyalists, the Pentagon assembled a special force to seize Iraqi oilfields at the very onset of hostilities.

And so the Bush administration went to war confidently, believing that it would both eliminate a major threat to Persian Gulf stability and ensure a substantial American role in the exploitation of Iraq’s prolific oil fields. All was set for this favorable outcome in April 2003, when triumphant American forces occupied the Oil Ministry headquarters in downtown Baghdad, blithely ignoring the rampant looting taking place in surrounding areas.

But now, two years later, the situation appears far less promising.

We return, then, to our final question: To what extent did the administration achieve its intended objectives in Iraq?

Mission Accomplished?

Certainly, Saddam Hussein has been removed from office, and his ability to wreak havoc in the Gulf has been eliminated. The Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC) is now in the hands of American-installed technocrats, and some progress has been made toward restoring production to prewar levels.
But it is scarcely apparent that the Persian Gulf is more secure than it was two years ago, or that America’s ambitious oil objectives will ever be realized.
By failing to deploy sufficient numbers of ground troops in Iraq and imposing a modicum of civic order, the United States squandered its initial advantage and opened the space for a virulent insurgency and the emergence of ethnic and religious factionalism. This, in turn, has curtailed Iraq’s oil output and threatened to tear the INOC apart.

Looking at Iraq today, one can see several powerful impediments to the accomplishment of U.S. objectives:

* The insurgency has crippled Iraq’s capacity to export more oil.

When U.S. forces first entered Baghdad in April 2003, U.S. officials confidently spoke of boosting Iraq’s prewar production of 2.5 million barrels per day to 3 mbd in 2004 and 5-6 mbd by the end of this decade. Today, because of persistent sabotage of pipelines and refineries, Iraq is producing less oil than it did before the war—about 2 mbd.

In northern Iraq, insurgents have repeatedly bombed the main export pipeline to Turkey, taking it out of operation for months at a time; in the south, saboteurs have periodically crippled key pipelines and loading platforms, curtailing exports by sea.

The United States has spent billions of dollars to repair these facilities and to enhance security along the pipeline routes, all to no avail.
According to a recent report in Oil and Gas Journal, Iraqi output is expected to remain below prewar levels in 2005 and to begin a slow recovery in 2006 — but only if the security situation has improved by then.

And no one is willing to predict when, if ever, the country will reach the fabled level of 6 million barrels per day.

* Ethnic and religious antagonism between Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites threatens to dismember the INOC.

When invading Iraq, the Bush administration assumed that a U.S.-installed government under Ahmad Chalabi would unify the country and quickly restore central government authority. Now, the country is split into three more or less autonomous regions: a self-governing Kurdish enclave in the north; the beleaguered “Sunni Triangle” in the center; and the clerical-dominated Shiite zone in the south.

Rather than bridge these divisions, the recent elections — widely touted as a victory for democracy — have tended to strengthen the forces of dissolution.
Each community is jockeying for political and economic advantage, with Iraq’s oil reserves as the major prize. The Kurds, with one-fourth of the seats in the new national assembly, are demanding control over the Northern Oil Company (the INOC’s northern affiliate in Kirkuk) as the price for their participation in any future federal system; the Shiites, for their part, seek control over the Southern Oil Company in Basra; and many Sunnis, seeing themselves excluded from the possible division of Iraq’s oil wealth, appear inclined to support the continuing insurgency.

Under these circumstances, foreign oil companies are reluctant to invest in any major projects in Iraq, preferring to wait until the insurgency has been brought under control and the future status of the INOC has been decided—steps that may take years to accomplish.

* Insurgency and ethnic factionalism in Iraq threaten to destabilize the entire Persian Gulf region.

By invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration sought to bring greater security to the Gulf area and thereby ensure the safe production of oil. But while the removal of Hussein has eliminated one serious threat to Gulf security, the ensuing insurgency and ethnic disorder have introduced a whole new array of dangers.

By demonstrating a capacity to stand up to American military might and inflict significant U.S. casualties, the insurgents have emboldened Islamic jihadists in neighboring countries. The resurgence of violent extremism in Saudi Arabia has been particularly striking, with a series of major terrorist strikes in Riyadh and in the oil centers of Khobar and Yanbu. Meanwhile, the various armed bands in Iraq appear to be receiving financial aid from other countries, Iran in the case of the Shiite militias and Saudi Arabia in the case of the Sunnis. And Turkey, with a large and restive Kurdish population of its own, has hinted at full-scale military intervention in northern Iraq if the Kurds establish an autonomous nation in that area.

Given these developments, it is very hard to argue that the Gulf is more secure today than it was in March 2003, before the war began.
When all is said and done, therefore, it appears that the U.S. incursion into Iraq — begun with such high expectations two years ago — has largely failed to achieve its intended purposes.

* No weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq, so the invasion cannot be said to have eliminated a potential WMD threat.

* The danger posed by terrorism is no less severe now than it was in 2003, and in some cases has grown stronger.

* It is true that democracy has made some inroads in Iraq, but it is not al all evident that elections will produce a stable, unified state.

* And it is clear that Iraq is in no position to quench America’s voracious thirst for petroleum.

This assessment has obvious implications for many key aspects of U.S. foreign policy.
For one thing, it casts considerable doubt on the utility of pre-emptive military action as a tool for promoting stability in unsettled regions like the Middle East — a conclusion that deserves close attention as we move closer to a possible war with Iran. Many aspects of U.S. policy for postwar “nation building” also need to be re-examined.
But what is most evident is that the administration’s strategy of using military force to achieve its energy objectives in the Middle East is hopelessly flawed.
Despite all the loss of human life, it appears highly unlikely that the major Gulf producers will achieve the 85 percent increase in daily petroleum output deemed essential to meet U.S. and international oil requirements in 2020, and so we should expect recurring oil shortages and price increases.
Only by diminishing our day-to-day consumption of petroleum and demilitarizing our foreign energy policy can we hope to reduce our exposure to costly oil-supply disruptions in the Middle East and lower the risk of further bloodshed.

Meanwhile, in the Seekrit Hideout of The Best Government Corporate Money Can Buy, ...

Destined for Deficits

Here's a little-known fact symptomatic of everything wrong with the way Congress has dealt with our nation's finances over the past four years. Writers of both the House and Senate budget resolutions were careful to make sure that Congress would not consider budget cuts and tax cuts at the same time.

The House budget resolution requires the Ways and Means Committee to report legislation on tax cuts by June 24. But bills that will enforce cuts in entitlement programs aren't called for until Sept. 16. The Senate reverses the order: spending cuts by June 6, tax cuts on Sept. 7.

Why is this important? Because there are a couple of things our legislators and our president do not want citizens to do:

(1) link the big deficits with the big tax cuts, or
(2) notice that if the tax cuts weren't so big, cuts in domestic spending wouldn't have to be so big.

The nice separation of those dates is just the ticket for obscuring the obvious.

Republican majorities in both houses want to go full speed ahead with tax cuts. But when it comes to domestic spending, they want to change their story entirely: "Oh my, oh my, look at those dreadful deficits! Really, we'd rather not make all these cuts, but we must bring down that terrible, horrible, awful debt."

It's particularly outlandish that Congress is about to extend cuts in taxes on capital gains and dividends at the same time that it's considering big cuts in Medicaid and the children's health insurance program. Tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans can't wait, so we have to cut health services to the poorest.

Overall, the House resolution calls for $106 billion in tax cuts over five years, the Senate some $70 billion. The dividends and capital gains cuts alone amount to $22.8 billion, of which $10.4 billion will go to Americans earning more than $1 million a year. The Medicaid cuts in the proposed Senate resolution amounted to $14 billion over five years. No wonder these guys don't want us to compare their tax cuts with their spending cuts. No wonder that in the Senate, at least, Oregon Republican Gordon Smith was able to persuade enough of his colleagues to join with the Democrats and stage a successful rebellion yesterday against the Medicaid reductions.

The truly shameful thing is that despite the cutbacks in domestic spending, these budgets actually add to the deficit. Why? Because the tax cuts, increased spending on defense and international programs, and the resulting increases in interest costs on the national debt amount to more than all the spending cuts combined.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the proposed House resolution would add $126.9 billion to the deficit over the next five years; the Senate resolution would add $129.8 billion.

You would not know this from all the bragging these politicians are doing about how frugal they are.

The True Conservatives Sneak Onto The Field

But not all of them are bragging. Quietly, sober Republicans are challenging these budgets in bits and pieces.

Smith's Medicaid proposal is one sign.

Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota has taken on the president's cuts in the Community Development Block Grant program.

Five brave Senate Republicans - George Voinovich, John McCain, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Lincoln Chafee - bucked their party on Wednesday to vote for budget rules that would have required any new tax cuts to be paid for with savings elsewhere in the budget. The measure fell just one vote short.

Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware is an old-fashioned Republican who can't understand why his own party wants to leave a legacy of debt.

"Tax cuts and no tax increases are the driving principle of the Republican Party at this point," Castle says, "and if they have to borrow money to do that, they will do it."
Castle is willing to say what many Democrats, for political reasons, are reluctant to utter out loud: that even the Pentagon ought to be challenged on 'the efficiency side'. Castle says that you can believe in a strong defense and still wonder why "we seem to form our budgets without asking defense to contribute to our savings at all."

In other words: if all tax cuts and all defense dollars are sacred, there is no way the budget will ever be balanced.

That's why the congressional leadership and the White House are doing all they can to obscure the choices they are making.

So where's the outrage? Probably next to the outrage supply for this issue:

Where's the outrage on torture?

Of course the United States must hunt down terrorists and find out what they know. Better intelligence means more lives saved, more atrocities prevented, and a more likely victory in the war against radical Islamist fascism. Those are crucial ends, and they justify tough means.
But they don't justify means that betray core American values.
Interrogation techniques that flirt with torture -- to say nothing of those that end in death -- cross the moral line that separates us from the enemy we are trying to defeat.

The Bush administration and the military insist that any abuse of detainees is a violation of policy and that abusers are being punished. If so, why does it refuse to allow a genuinely independent commission to investigate without fear or favor?

Why do Republican leaders on Capitol Hill refuse to launch a proper congressional investigation? And why do my fellow conservatives -- those who support the war for all the right reasons -- continue to keep silent about a scandal that should have them up in arms?

Because they would then begin a process of examination of everything the GOP has done since it stole power back in December 2000. If they were honest, they would then have to act against the Bu$h (mis)Admini$tration.

[The following is adapted from "The Mice on Disney's Board" By Roy E. Disney and Stanley P. Gold. Roy E. Disney and Stanley P. Gold are former board members of the Walt Disney Co. Disney is chairman and Gold is president and CEO of Shamrock Holdings Inc.]

Are terms like "accountability," "transparency" and "independence" merely trendy buzzwords in America, or do they actually stand for something?

These days, it seems to depend. In states with governments that understand the meaning of good governance, these words are real and translate into action. Take Connecticut, for example, whose this month convicted an otherwise celebrated Gov. John G. Rowlands because of unethical or inappropriate behavior on his part.

Or California, where voters showed the door to an equally well-known governor because his multibillion-dollar energy contract strategy had fallen short of projected results.

Then there is the Congress of the United States of America.

For all of pResident George W. Bu$h'$ bleating about his government's dedication to transparency and good governance, his conduct and that of his colleagues in the just-concluded election of an Iraqi government - along with the search for Iraqi WMD and Osama bin Laden - have been nothing short of disgraceful. Their evasions, cover-ups and distortions set a new standard for how an adminstration ought not to act.

When Bu$h announced last Saddam was intended to step down as the Iraqi leader, Bu$hCo directors promised voters "a thorough, careful and reasoned process to select as the next Iraqi leader the best person for the country" — a process, they added, that "should include full consideration of all candidates." And when doubts were raised about how objective and inclusive the search really was, Bu$h piously insisted that he and his fellow neo-cons were conducting it "in good faith, with open minds and without any prior determination or preconditions."

Of course, we've since learned that the search involved only one real candidate — Bu$hCo's handpicked heir apparent, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. By caving in to Bu$h'$ demands on potential successors, by not even attempting to interview a single outside candidate until after its election in February, by refusing to insist that Bu$hCo commit to leaving the country as soon as the new government was named, and by not objecting to the aggressive public relations campaign Bu$h had his minions wage on Allawi's behalf, the Congress effectively endorsed the notion that "the fix was in" and virtually guaranteed that no serious outside executive would be willing to be considered for the job.

And when it was confronted by one serious outside candidate (anti-occuption cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr), Bu$h and his fellow neo-cons made sure to drive him away by refusing to respond to his reasonable request for a prompt cease-fire and not even bothering to try to keep him interested when he decided to bail out of the process.

To add insult to injury, when this search for an Iraqi leader finally reached its predictable end, Bu$h and his colleagues proceeded to obfuscate and dissemble about what they had done. Bu$h'$ comments were particularly reprehensible. Not only did he make a big deal of emphasizing that he had acted only on behalf of only one candidate, he also refused to disclose how many other candidates the board had considered.

So much for transparency and accountability, not to mention candor.

This is hardly the first time that Bu$hCo manipulated and cowed Congress into doing precisely what he wanted them to do. Their willingness to be led around by the nose would be amusing if there weren't so much at stake.

To be sure, we are pleased that our military campaign succeeded in forcing Saddam's departure as Iraqi leader — an event that on its own will immeasurably improve Iraq's future prospects.

Yet at the same time, we are deeply troubled by the utter lack of respect for American voters displayed by Bu$hCo — in particular, its top man.

If America were a corporation, we the shareholders would have a much better chance of immediately ousting Chairman George W. Bu$h, just as Hewlett-Packard recently ousted controversial former chairman and chief executive officer Carly Fiorina over her failed leadership and poor financial results of her major strategic corporate decisions.

Instead, we have been the victims of a soft Bu$hevik coup d'etat, and now have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous neocon misfortunes.

So remember as you notice the prices on your local gas pump increase while you watch, George didn't want it that way when he set out to steal Iraq's oil - he just couldn't make it happen the way he had it all planned. He failed. Just like he did at everything else he ever tried. So much for having a 'C' student become president.

I just hope that none of your family members died for your right to drive a stolen-Iraqi-gas-guzzling SUV.

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