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The desert "consumeth"

By Saul B. Wilen
web posted April 24, 2006

Babylon, nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, once was the cradle of civilization. What is now Iraq contained ancient Mesopotamia, a significant piece of the "fertile crescent." The desert over time consumed these civilizations. The history of the Middle East has been a continuing series of conflicts, invasions, occupations by foreign armies and dominations by outside influences. And then, the turning point in modern Middle Eastern history came when oil was discovered, first in Persia in 1908, later in Saudi Arabia in 1938, in the other Persian Gulf states and also in Libya and Algeria. The Middle East, it turned out, possessed the world's largest readily accessible reserves of crude oil. This was to become the most important 20th century industrial world commodity, and western oil companies were there to establish pumping and exporting, and provide management so most of the oil could go to support their industrial development particularly the rapidly expanding automobile industry. In the process the oil states became immensely wealthy enabling their rulers to consolidate and hold their power in exchange for a stake in the profits by maintaining continuing western domination over the region. Oil wealth had the negative effect of inhibiting movement towards economic and political growth, or social progress, which might have emerged in the Arab world.

Addicted to Oil

The west was hooked, and in short order became "addicted to oil." The east (China and India) followed suite and with globalization, rapid economic growth and industrialization has come an insatiable thirst and need for energy.

During 2002 the Bush Administration, led by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, developed the plan to invade Iraq, remove Saddam Hussein from power, and liberate the Iraqi people who would then be free to pursue their own destiny. This was a plan based on the tenets of pre-emption, unilateralism, regime change, nation building and oil self interest. As time progressed and events unfolded, so did the professed reasons for both the invasion and the three year occupation, which of course was not anticipated. The Bush administration presently claims that the invasion and "liberation" of Iraq was to plant the seed of democracy in the desert of the Middle East and have it sprout all over the region. American troops were required to remain to create the stability for democratization to occur. This requirement now seems to be necessary far longer and is necessary for the unforeseeable future with any withdrawal decisions to be made by "…some future (U.S.) president." Once again in the history of the Middle East there is a new western army of occupation with plans to stay.

Success by the United States in transforming Iraq into a prosperous and stable democratic state would produce positive consequences for the region. The consequences of failure would also be far-reaching. Political progress in Iraq is much slower than expected, and has been drastically complicated by an unanticipated (by the American administration) and growing insurgency that has now brought Iraq to the verge of civil war. The series of successful and free elections through December 2005, transferred power to a legitimately elected government.. Yet, more than four months after this Parliamentary voting, Iraq has not formed a coalition government.

Oil, the Driving Force

Oil, "black gold" has progressively over the past century been a major driving force for events in the Middle East and this remains true today. Oil dependency and increasing energy requirements by the industrialized nations of the world plus the fears of instability on the part of oil producing and oil reserve controlling countries have contributed to the increasing price of crude. A barrel of crude has now reached the record level of greater than $70. Profits from this upward spiral have left Arab countries with a surplus in excess of $500 billion. Oil futures contracts are now trading at above $70 a barrel. This indicates that traders believe prices will remain high for an extended period of time (years).

Gasoline prices continue to rise due to increasing demand, the international competition for the existing supply and decreased of inventories. The profit orientation of the oil and gas industry, the opposition by the oil and gas industry to mandatory conservation programs and market concerns about instability in the Middle East particularly Iran (a major oil producer) and of other oil producers, also play a role in the price consumers pay at the pump. Venezuela, the fifth largest oil exporter in the world is another unstable player in the oil market place. It is a major U.S. market oil supplier. Threats by the Venezuelan government leader to blow up oil fields are destabilizing elements contributing uncertainty and price increases due to potential supply disruptions. Market predictions in the United States are for gasoline prices to increase to $3 to $3.25 per gallon and stay at that level. This is a clear message, which highlights the need to create American energy independence.

The Desert Takes Its Toll at America's Expense

The financial costs for the war in Iraq continue to mount. $94 billion is anticipated for 2006 according to the newest Congressional Research Service report. Over two years the monthly cost has risen from $5 billion, to $8.2 billion to about $10 billion presently. This fiscal year there have been two emergency spending bills, which authorize $122.4 billion more for the war.

Of particular note is the added cost for repairing, rebuilding and replacing equipment destroyed by three years of combat. But, of major significance is the toll taken by use of this equipment in a desert environment, which results in markedly increased maintenance needs. Equipment wears out five times faster in a desert environment than from normal operational use in more conventional environments. The cost this year will be between $26 billion and $30 billion.

The administration and Congress have proposed putting off equipment maintenance to reduce costs. This is both counterproductive and dangerous and will increase the risks to our military personnel putting their lives in even greater danger from faulty equipment. It would be the height of hypocrisy for American politicians to proclaim on one hand the commitment to supporting our troops, while on the other hand endangering their lives with inadequately maintained equipment.

Solutions

This is the time for America to make the difficult choices requiring personal, corporate, governmental and national sacrifices to help guarantee long-term success. It is time for the development and implementation of a comprehensive and forward reaching federal energy policy and of a realistic fiscal policy incorporating restraint and planning to progressively reduce deficits and the national debt.

The definitive solution requires institution of the components now and the ongoing commitment by all Americans to progressively adhere to the program until energy independence is achieved. Required are increasingly greater fuel efficiency for vehicles and industrial utilization of fuels, progressive decrease of unnecessary fuel consumption of all types, the aggressive development of alternative fuels and the creation of vehicles to operate with them.

Public policies, statutes, standards, procedures must be consistent at all levels, federal, state, regional and local, and include:

  • creating energy independence through the development and implementation of "green" technologies supported by energy conservation, energy regulation and a significant gasoline tax in order to pay for the processes that will stimulate companies to innovate in the areas of energy alternatives and efficiency;
  • mandating fiscal restraint including a balanced budget with pay-as-you-go requirements, the total elimination of "pork"/earmarks and a policy directing deficit and debt reduction over a realistic and specified time period with expanded collection of tax revenues being first applied to decreasing debt;
  • discarding the economic and political philosophies based on "business as usual" and staying firmly committed to an American society that benefits all of its citizens;
  • understanding that America is a leading consumer of energy but no longer the innovator of energy technology or the leader in environmental innovation; and
  • Americans tolerating the sacrifice of high energy prices if they believe that the extra costs are going to renew America and their sacrifice is being shared by all levels of American society.

Perspective

In today's "global economy" things are seldom what they seem – sometimes less, sometimes more, but always different. Laying bare America's vulnerabilities clearly exposes its addiction to oil, an addiction to foreign capital and an addiction to the "myth" of security. These are all fueled by the fear rhetoric repeatedly spun tightly since 9/11. A multi-edged sword hangs by a thread over America's economic survival and future.

Since March 2003 the desert of the Middle East has been consuming young American lives and American resources at a rate far exceeding the benefits. Vulnerable Americans and their families at home have been deprived of programs and support they require and deserve. Sacrifice is the necessary element in the solution process. Valiant military service men and women have sacrificed their lives and the functions of their bodies and minds in their efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is time for the United States to reassess its priorities.

Dr. Saul B. Wilen is CEO of International Horizons Unlimited (IHU) [(210) 692-1268], a national consulting and resources consortium based in San Antonio, Texas. IHU develops "educational processes that support prevention strategies for solving problems." Dr Wilen is a recognized authority in prevention strategies, problem solving, systems dynamics, and informatics. He directs IHU terrorism prevention and strategies development initiatives. He is the Executive Director of Deficit Watch ®, a non-profit authoritative monitor of government and other deficits. Dr. Wilen teaches research at the School of Business, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas.

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