Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Remind Me Again Why We're in Iraq

The Bush administration has decisively proved itself unable -- even with the aid of charts, mendacity and persiflage -- to describe what victory in Iraq would look like. Yet with oil remaining, and likely to stay fixed, above $50 a barrel, BushCo might be forgiven for thinking, in its usual muddled way, that it has now won the war after all. If the logic of going into Iraq was to drive up the price of oil for the benefit of US oil multinationals, then it has been completely vindicated.

Carola Hoyos' story beneath the main headline on the front page of today's Financial Times tells the tale: Kuwait May Open Up to Foreign Oil Groups.

Kuwait said on Monday it would not be able to meet its oil production goals without the help of international energy companies, raising the prospect that the oil majors could get access to its oilfields almost 30 years after the industry was nationalized. ...

[Kuwait] has already attracted interest some of the world’s largest energy groups, including the UK’s BP and ExxonMobil and Chevron of the US. ...

If [the Kuwaiti Parliament] agrees to allow foreign oil companies to once again exploit Kuwait’s oilfields, Saudi Arabia will be isolated as the region’s only country to bar international oil companies from its fields. Mexico has also yet to invite foreign companies in, although technical challenges may force the country's next government to follow Kuwait’s lead. ...

The [proposed Kuwaiti] contract would give foreign oil companies only limited control and would not allow them to book the reserves with financial regulators such as the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Though these are drawbacks, they are outweighed by the possibility of eventually tapping more of Kuwait’s 100bn-barrel oil reserves [the world's fifth largest] at a time when fewer big fields are being found and access to Saudi Arabia and Iraq remains out of the question.

What will happen afterward in Iraq is plain as a pikestaff to all but those in the White House bubble and their henchmen, underlings, and hangers-on. The pithy headline over Martin Woollacott's byline in today's Guardian, The Region Will Wrest Back Control When the US Stumbles Out of Iraq, cannot be bettered as truth, as prophecy, as inevitability.

At a deeper level, the social and political limits to America's raising, maintaining and employment of its military power have been well demonstrated in the past two years. The US will not be throwing its armies around again in the Middle East any time soon. Its reputation has suffered and its diplomacy has been damaged, not only by Iraq, but by its failure to do much more than trail after Ariel Sharon on Israel and Palestine. Its inability to influence Israel can be seen as a special case of its inability to shape events more generally in the region. So the country that has been the most important outside force in the Middle East for the past 50 years, and that has been unchallenged there by any other outside power since the fall of the Soviet Union, could well be less interested, and almost certainly will be less effective, in the region in the future.

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