Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘iraq’

Memo to the Palin Camp

September 5, 2008 · Leave a Comment

I’m going to share something with you that I learned from former Secretary of State Warren Chrisopher:

You see, Mr. Chrisopher taught a class I was in at UCLA called “International Hot Spots.”  It was a competitive 20 person seminar in which we debated US foreign policy in a number of important geopolitical situations around the world.

One day in class, we were discussing the history of Iran and Iraq, and the US government’s subversive role in their border conflict.  The debate was intense, and we were really laying into one another, before Mr. Christopher stopped us abruptly:

“I need to tell you all something before you continue.  Some of you in class are pronouncing the names of these countries incorrectly, and it completely subverts your argument and makes you appear unknowledgable.”

He cleared his throate and enunciated the next words VERY clearly.

“It is not I-raq and I-ran.  It is Ear-raq and Ear-ran.” He tugged on his ears, to emphasize the point.

Someone needs to pull on Sarah Palin’s ears, because she’s grating mine.

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Sing it Through the Hills

July 21, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Sing it far, and sing it wide!

SPIEGEL: Would you hazard a prediction as to when most of the US troops will finally leave Iraq?

Maliki: As soon as possible, as far as we’re concerned. U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes.

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Must Read

July 1, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Seymour Hersh – “Annals of National Security:  Preparing the Battlefield”

Here are some gems:

A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.”

Scary stuff, especially when you consider where Cheney’s priorities lie:

Weariness with the war in Iraq has undoubtedly affected the public’s tolerance for an attack on Iran. This mood could change quickly, however. The potential for escalation became clear in early January, when five Iranian patrol boats, believed to be under the command of the Revolutionary Guard, made a series of aggressive moves toward three Navy warships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz…The crisis was quickly defused by Vice-Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. naval forces in the region[...]   But a lesson was learned in the incident: The public had supported the idea of retaliation, and was even asking why the U.S. didn’t do more. A former official said that, a few weeks later, a meeting took place in the Vice-President’s office. “The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington,” he said.

Cheney is looking for his Gulf of Tonkin.  How does the brass feel about that?

The White House’s reliance on questionable operatives, and on plans involving possible lethal action inside Iran, has created anger as well as anxiety within the Special Operations and intelligence communities.

Like I said, a must-read, and a good primer for the regional conflict.

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Revelation

June 5, 2008 · 1 Comment

Remember when scholars were calling Bush “Wilsonian,” as if he had some grandiose dedication to letting freedom and democracy reign across the Middle East?

Yeah, not so much.

A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in November.

Sir, I’m not sure you have a strong grasp of what the word “vindicated” means.

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A follow-up and recommendation

April 9, 2008 · Leave a Comment

As a follow-up to my last post, and as a general suggestion, I really recommend Foreign Policy’s “Seven Questions” series.  If you want to hear people who really know their shit (and start all of the discussions that are later crafted into talking points for pundits), FP.com is the source.

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That’s a Whole Lot of Money

April 9, 2008 · 1 Comment

Joseph Stiglitz has estimated the cost of the Iraq war to be $3 trillion dollars by 2017.

These cost estimates include:

  1. disability and compensation for veterans (1.7 million troops have been deployed to date, with 70,000 wounded or diseased and 120,000 having already sought mental health care);
  2. replenishing the military to its normal level of soldiers and equipment; and,
  3. repaying the debt (with interest) that was raised to pay for this war, which has been fully funded by borrowing.
  4. lost economic contributions of those who went to war
  5. the withdrawal from the economy of family members who quit work to care for loved ones injured in the war
  6. the cost to allies and to Iraq

Now, projecting cost estimates for a destructive exercise like war over long-term periods (including well into the future) can prove to be a debatable task, especially when you’re accounting for opportunity costs (i.e. the lost economic contributions of those who went to war) and significant unknown variables (price of oil, nature of military commitment).  We can’t even agree on civilian death tolls in that country, which should be a far easier task in simple accounting.   So it’s no surprise when such attempts are dismissed or attacked for their methodologies in arriving at such an absurdly large figure.

Most importantly– and this is where journalism tends to do the public a great disservice, I think– is that the figure of a trillion dollars (let alone three trillion) is an entirely unrelatable figure for our democratic republic, which is financing the operation.  (Note:  credit the New York Times for their efforts… although presenting the figure as “what else could we have spent this money on?”, while useful in explaining scale, widens the scope of the issue beyond “why are we spending this much on this particular effort?”)

$3 trillion may not be an “accurate” figure, but I’m willing to give the former chief economist of the World Bank the benefit of the doubt in his estimates. I haven’t read the report and am not sure if the valuation is in present dollar terms (although I assume it is, including future interest payments).  Keep in mind then, that the following calculations are going to be (very) fast and loose… it’s not intended as an exercise in social science, only one in wrapping your arms around the scale of what has transpired:

Our government spends $16 billion per month on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (excluding incurred interest), putting the annual figure at something around $200 billion.  The IMF estimated the nominal GDP of the World’s Economy in 2007 to be $53.35 trillion, $13.8 trillion of which is generated by the United States.  This means that as a share of the world’s economy, government spending on Iraq and Afghanistan amounted to 1.5% of the US’ GDP.  And for what?

Some might argue that Keynesian deficit spending is necessary during a recession, but what percentage of the spending are we recapturing in our economy?  How much of that $16.6 billion per month can we actually count toward our own GDP?

What about the premium costs that war and instability have created in the pricing of oil?

What about the costs to our sluggish economy of higher energy prices?  Higher priced commodities (including food), all around?

The Bush administration initially estimated the reconstruction costs of Iraq in the $50-$100 billion dollar range, with only $1.6 billion required to rehabilitate the oil industry.  Oil revenues would help the reconstruction “pay for itself.”  Now projections suggest that this estimate was off by a scale of over 30 to 60 times the actual cost?

Can you imagine investing in a company where the CEO took on an extremely risky project, estimating tremendous (and long-term) returns, and then misses the capital expenditure by 30 to 60 times the projection?  And not only that, but the business model on which he hopes to rely on for future revenues is extremely volatile, and universally accepted as out of date and in dire need of overhaul within the next 10 years?

Now we find ourselves in a situation where on the one hand,  our country should be trying to develop new utility-scale energy sources (other than fossil fuels), and on the other hand, we’re entirely dependent on a global market for oil to recuperate the massive expenditures for the invasion, occupation, and reconstruction of Iraq.

I believe that’s what’s called “between Iraq and a hard place.”

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You Mean, a State of 1.3 Million Shouldn’t Influence a Country of 300 Million?

January 10, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Kevin Drum finds this gem from the exit polls:

Why would voters who disapprove of the war overwhelmingly support McCain? Are they reacting to the fact that McCain is constantly claiming that he “disapproved” of the conduct of the war? Has McCain’s uber-hawkishness not gotten a lot of play? Or what?

Why indeed.  And this after some pretty convincing arguments that people in New Hampshire take their sacred right to first primary very seriously. 

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Douchechill!

January 3, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Via Paul Krugman:

Rupert Murdoch, said on the eve of the invasion of Iraq:

The greatest thing to come out of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil. That’s bigger than any tax cut in any country.

Via Overheard in New York:

    Rupert Murdoch, at conference If you wanted to stalk a young girl, it’d be much easier to do on Facebook than MySpace.   

    Conference attendee: Douche chill…

–Grand Hyatt Hotel

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Dropping Knowledge: Stating the Obvious

November 26, 2007 · 1 Comment

oil map of world

One thing I’ve learned studying IR Theory is that most decisions at their core are based on the theory of structural realism. That is to say, at a minimum all states make decisions to ensure their survival, and that states with greater capacities will seek to increase their capabilities (also known as “power maximization”). Great powers constrain each others’ maximization pursuits, resulting in what is known as a “balance of power.”

In today’s world, the key to power is oil. This point tends to get vastly understated in the discussions we have about current affairs. For example:

1. When we talk about the rising cost of oil (which is now flirting with $100 per barrel), we tend to neglect two important facts: first, that the price elasticity of demand for oil is extremely inelastic. That is to say, it doesn’t matter how much oil prices drop or rise, the quantity demanded remains the same. As President Bush said in this years’ State of the Union Address: “Our nation has an oil addiction.” And it’s not just our country, although we’ve got it the worst. It’s a global addiction.

Second, addiction by its very definition implies lack of control. Which brings us back full circle to the original point: whomever controls oil, controls the world. From the perspective of industry, this is because the factors of production of almost every sector include components that are sensitive to oil prices. These price sensitivities can have a direct impact on cost, as in manufacturing, or an indirect impact (via transportation costs), as in technology. And every sector has varying degrees of energy costs. So the more sensitive an industry is to oil prices, the more power whomever controls the oil supply has over that industry.

From the perspective of the consumer, rising oil prices are also felt directly (at the pump and airport), and indirectly, by both a constrained budget set (more money spent on gas means less for movies, clothes, etc.) and by the increased prices for consumer goods (the costs of which are passed along by producers). You know what they call the combination of rising prices, low interests rates, and decreased purchasing power? Inflation.

2. If I lost you above, I shouldn’t have. Go back and read it again. I’m just stating the obvious here. The first point was meant to establish just how important of a position the global control of oil is to whomever can secure it. Take a look at the map above. You see how little oil Europe has? China? The US? India? The less oil a country has, the more it is willing to give up to get oil. The more globally integrated oil is within consumption and factors of production, the more dependent consumers and producers become on oil.

Now take a look at this map. Notice how many US military bases are in the Middle East? You think that’s a coincidence?

3. The logical “next steps” everyone seems to recognize, especially given the environmental considerations of oil, is the pursuit of “alternative” sources of energy. There is of course some game theory to this though. Even if there were a cost-effective substitute for oil (and there most certainly is not, at least yet), the transition costs of adopting that alternative source across sectors would be enormous. And the countries that undertook such an enterprise would be buried by the “cheaters” who continued to use oil (and at an even lesser price due to drop-out of demand). No, oil is a fixed commodity, and unless we find some form of global governance to ration it (highly unlikely), it seems the race is on to squeeze the orange and horde the juice before its all gone in the next 25 years or so.

In the meantime, there is evidence to believe that the financial markets are grossly distorting the price of oil by placing a premium on the political risks associated with its extraction. Based on global supply and demand, it is argued that the price should not be any higher than $60 per barrel. Speculative trading creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, where oil rises to $100 because traders spread unsubstantiated rumors that China and India are insatiable, or Nigeria/Venezuela/Iran are unstable. The consumer ultimately suffers here for the reasons mentioned previously, including inflationary risks, and even risks of recession.

All of this information is extremely relevant when we consider the following foreign policy “debates.”

1.)  Iran and Nuclear Energy– Notice how much oil Iran has?  Notice how much they consume?  It would be economically advantageous if they were to consume nuclear energy and maximize foreign oil sales.  When hawks argue about Iran “obtaining nuclear weapons,” they’re really pushing an agenda that says “Iran holds the potential to leverage and balance the oil oligarchy, and once they obtain nukes we can’t foment a regime change.”

2.)  “Democratizing the Middle East”– The so called “Bush Doctrine” is a fanciful liberal justification for a realist policy.  Oil rich countries really only have two options:  1) illiberal autocracies (Saudi Arabia) or 2.)  illiberal democracies (Venezuela).  The distribution of wealth obtained from a natural resource is complicated in state systems because the citizens of the state feel entitled to the financial windfalls in some form or another.  Elites must either find their power base internally (by implementing fiscally irresponsible, short-term, socialist programs) or externally (by charging rent to the United States in return for a strong military presence or other forms of foreign “aid”).

3.)  Iraq — With the above point in mind, the US objective has become to contain the sectarian violence within the confines of Baghdad.  Let politics play out on a political stage, but keep the pipelines flowing in the fringe regions.  A true power-sharing constitutional government isn’t possible as long as the US is present: because the emergent elites are reliant on the US for security provision, they will never have popular support, and vice versa.  Not to say the US prefers a disorganized central government, only that it benefits from one.  Our presence is justified for as long as there is insecurity.

So that was my Thanksgiving dinner conversation with my parents to justify my expensive Ivy education.  No solutions provided, only a survey analysis.  My stepmother thinks that Hillary will have solutions to these problems.  I introduced her to Mark Penn, the next Karl Rove.  She’s no longer so optimistic.

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Dropping Knowledge: Rentier States

October 15, 2007 · 2 Comments

“Dropping Knowledge”… where I laymenize an important aspect of social science.

A rentier state is a government that derives all or a significant portion of its national revenue from the rent of its indigenous resources to external clients.  It is a term most commonly applied to oil rich countries (such as Saudi Arabia), which grant access and management of its petroleum deposits to the United States (or the UK, Russia, etc.) in return for a “rent.”

Rentier states are inherently undemocratic.  You see, the geo-political distribution of natural resources makes certain areas extremely profitable, by random chance.  If the states themselves lack the privately developed technology and infrastructure to efficiently extract and distribute their resources, they must (or are otherwise coerced to) outsource such activities.

The thing is, democratic societies detest foreign management of domestic resources (see: Venezuela, Bolivia), and will take steps to “socialize” their industries, directly tax the exports instead of charging rent to foreign entities, and redistribute the wealth domestically, for a much bigger return.  But democratic management of a single resource economy naturally entails a heck of a lot of fighting over “who gets what, and why.”  And government industries are never as efficient as private industries in terms of production, so global trade organizations (OPEC) get antsy when a member state isn’t hitting its productive capacity.

The most efficient governmental arrangement for single-resource economies is therefore the rentier model… small, authoritarian leaderships (Saudi royal family) that placate domestic population by subsidizing EVERYTHING (except, generally, higher education, since educated elites tend to challenge authority).  The tax costs “flow” through the rent charged to Americans for pumping out oil and establishing military bases in the region for security purposes, and no taxes are levied domestically.  The royal family invests the majority of its staggering financial resources back into US securities, which solidifies the dollar and keeps oil demand and prices high.

This brings up a couple important issues:

1)  Some “experts” like to state that Islam is incompatible with democracy.  Bush is actually right when he says this is false (just look at Indonesia).  It’s actually more likely that democracy cannot exist without a diversified economy.  The less access there is to economic opportunity, the less people are involved in the management of the economy.

2)  Democracy is about sovereignty, about the population making decisions based on the Wilsonian principles of self-determination.  If you look at Iraq, you have two major obstacles:  the first is the introduction of a political power struggle between rival populations (Sunni and Shia).  Sunnis are keenly aware of their minority position in Iraq and refuse to participate in a political framework that is illegitimately stacked against their interests.   Shias are a minority within the greater Muslim world and subscribe to a cultural narrative based on resistance to oppression and illegitimate authority.  Even if Shia leadership wanted to achieve stability under the watchful eyes (and guns) of the US, they would continue to be undermined by Iran, which has no interest in seeing a successful secular Shia-dominated democracy as a neighbor, because that would intensify domestic pressures for reform.

The second obstacle to self-determination is that clearly, the preferred interest of Iraqis is American withdrawal, if not now (in the short-term), certainly in the medium- and long-terms.  Iraqis are well aware that the Persian Gulf war resulted in the construction of permanent bases in Saudi Arabia.  And Secretary of Defense Gates has stated publicly that the US “has historically had a strong presence in the region, and we will continue to have a strong presence in the region, and it’s important for our friends, and those who might consider themselves our adversaries, to recognize that.”

The US would prefer for the political outcomes of Iraqi democratic elections to be friendly governments that actively engage in rentier relationships to assuage the masses and ensure their positions of power.   But the Iraqi population will never recognize a pro-US business government as legitimate.  We live in an Age of Information where covert regime changes or puppet governments are really, really hard to achieve.  In the meantime, as instability and civil war rage on in Iraq, the US is quietly consolidating four major bases around the strategic oil regions in the country.

3)  That last point is the most telling.  For all of the gum flapping that goes on about “the principals of liberal democracy” and “freedom,” we tend to get distracted from the realist perspective — that control of Iraq means control over the second largest oil reserve in the world.  Always keep in mind that oil is a finite resource whose price rises with scarcity.  It’s one thing for Saudi Arabia to sell oil at (relatively) competitive prices now… it’s another thing entirely for the US to be rationing the last drops of oil in 20 years, at monopoly prices (don’t forget about Alaska!).  That means the potential for wealth and global power… power over everyone who is addicted to oil… is assured to whomever controls Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news to some, but that means the business and military pressures are too great on the executive branch of the US government to expect a withdrawal anytime soon, unless Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul magically win their primaries.  The US army/state department did not spend billions of dollars on bases and the world’s largest embassy to come home any time soon.

4)  With all of this in perspective, it’s important to recognize why Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize.  The real “Inconvenient Truth” isn’t necessarily that global warming is a real threat per se… I mean, that was already pretty obvious.  It’s that oil consumption is behind global warming, and that oil demand makes actions like the war in Iraq profitable.  By raising awareness about an ancillary (but still primary concern) of global climate change, Gore is indirectly calling for the necessity to research and develop alternative sources of sustainable energy that would compete with coal, oil and natural gas, making those resources’ price demands more flexible, and reducing the profit incentive of military control and domination of them.  Hence the “Peace” rationale in the Nobel Peace Prize.

The thing is, alternative energy sources are nowhere nearly as profitable as oil, even given the tremendous extraneous costs of financing strategic military bases around the world to protect the investments.  And the transition costs to adopting alternative energy sources would be tremendous in every sector, so oil companies can continue to pass the costs incurred from political instability and deeper, harder to get to reserves (i.e. the melting North Pole) onto the consumers.  I’ve read somewhere that the McKinsey Global Institute did an analysis of gasoline consumption in America, and found that demand wouldn’t significantly falter until the price went past $5.00 per gallon.  (I’m couldn’t find the exact report via a Google search, but hey, it’s midterms… give me a break).

The key of course is then electing leaders who are seriously committed to implementing policies of consumer regulation that prevent us from letting our aggregate demand get the better of us.  Individual conscience in the US is (generally) against empire, against war, against destruction of the environment, against global injustice.  But we speak with our wallets, we make demands through our purchases and consumption, and global suppliers react accordingly, even if the outcomes violate our individual consciences.

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