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The Road Already Taken
How the British colonialists tried to run the Middle East.

James Reston Jr, Washington Post

Book review: KINGMAKERS: The Invention of the Modern Middle East
By Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac
Norton. 507 pp. $27.95

… [Under the principle of indirect rule], the British Empire sought to control a vast region of disparate, warring tribes by appointing and then “advising” Arab leaders and kings. This policy of “rent a sheik, buy an emir” was a mixed success at best, as the troubled experience with King Faisal of Iraq and King Saud of Saudi Arabia shows. The colonials faced a succession of Arab revolts and insurgencies in which their clients seemed to switch sides at will.

But indirect rule possesses an inherent contradiction, as Meyer and Brysac point out. “Though New Imperialism was justified as an agent of modernization, the British perpetuated existing hierarchies resistant to fundamental change. Moreover, since sultans and emirs owed their offices to foreigners and infidels, they forfeited their legitimacy, too often becoming demoralized or dissolute.” How apt to the current American circumstance. If indeed the United States is going to establish some 50 permanent bases in Iraq and remain in that country for the next 100 years, the agents of American indirect rule might keep this warning in mind.
(6 July 2008)

Peak Oil and Energy Imperialism

John Bellamy Foster, Monthly Review
The rise in overt militarism and imperialism at the outset of the twenty-first century can plausibly be attributed largely to attempts by the dominant interests of the world economy to gain control over diminishing world oil supplies.

… At the time U.S. troops reached Baghdad peak oil was already a specter looming over the globe. Today it is present in all establishment discussions of the world oil issue. Peak oil is not the same as running out of oil. Rather it simply means the peaking and subsequent terminal decline of oil production, as determined primarily by geological and technological factors. The extraction of oil from any given oil well typically takes the form of a symmetrical, bell-shaped curve with extraction steadily rising, e.g., by 2 percent a year, until a peak is reached when about half of the accessible oil has been extracted. Since oil production for an entire country is simply a product of the aggregation of individual wells, national oil production can be expected to take the form of a bell-shaped curve as well. Geologists have become adept at estimating the point at which a peak in national production will occur. These methods were pioneered in the 1950s by oil geologist M. King Hubbert, who achieved fame for successfully predicting the U.S. oil peak in 1970. The eventual peak in oil production is therefore sometimes known as “Hubbert’s peak.”

… The peak oil debate, which has often been fierce over the past decade, has now narrowed down to two basic positions. One of these is that of “early peakers” (usually seen as peak oil proponents proper). These analysts argue that peak oil will probably be reached by 2010-12, and may have already been reached in 2005-06. The alternative position, represented by “late peakers,” is that the world oil peak will not be reached until 2020 or 2030.19 Hence, there is a growing consensus that peak oil is or will soon be a reality. The chief question now is how soon, and whether it is already upon us.

… Yet, heavy levels of fossil fuel, and particularly petroleum, consumption are built into the structure of the present world capitalist economy. The immediate response of the system to the end of easy oil has been therefore to turn to a new energy imperialism – a strategy of maximum extraction by any means possible: with the object of placating what Rachel Carson once called “the gods of profit and production.”44 This, however, presents the threat of multiple global conflagrations: global warming, peak oil, rapidly rising world hunger (resulting in part from growing biofuel production), and nuclear war-all in order to secure a system geared to growing inequality.

In the face of the immense perils now facing life on the planet, the world desperately needs to take a new direction; toward communal well-being and global justice: a socialism for the planet. The immense danger now facing the human species, it should be understood, is not due principally to the constraints of the natural environment, whether geological or climatic, but arises from a deranged social system wheeling out of control, and more specifically, U.S. imperialism. This is the challenge of our time.
(July-August 2008 issue)
Long article on peak oil, from a socialist viewpoint. I only had time for a quick skim, but it looks as if John Bellamy Foster has done his homework on peak oil. -BA

Crude Oil Falls After Iran Signals Confidence in Nuclear Talks

Grant Smith and Nesa Subrahmaniyan, Bloomberg
Crude oil fell after Iran’s foreign minister expressed confidence in talks with western governments on the country’s nuclear program.

Discussions are “in a new environment with a new approaching perspective,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in an interview with CNN yesterday, adding that “new approaches” are possible in Iran’s relations with the U.S. Oil reached a record $145.85 on July 3 on speculation any attack on Iran may disrupt exports from OPEC’s second-biggest producer.
(7 July 2008)
Contributor Scott Chisholm Lamont writes:
This back and forth could go on for some time, with the effect of keeping a level of pressure on prices for a prolonged period. Just another tidbit to add to the stew.

Zakaria: Oil prices make it hard for U.S. to pressure Iran

… CNN: Is the situation with regard to Iran getting more serious?

Zakaria: Well, the efforts of the United States and Europe to put Iran in a box, because of its refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment, are facing two problems. First, it will be very difficult to get a new round of even stiffer sanctions through the United Nations. Second, with oil at $140 a barrel, the Iranian regime is likely to be impervious to economic pressure.

CNN: Is there any sign of a shift in Iran?

Zakaria: One can read tea leaves. It is interesting Iran hasn’t rejected the new offers from the United States and Europe. It is also interesting to see the return and rise of Ali Larijani. He is the senior Iranian political figure who was sacked by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as national security adviser.
(5 July 2008)