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Iraq: The Thirteenth Hour

Immanuel Wallerstein (blog), Fernand Braudel Center
The Iraq Parliament on November 27 voted 149-35 to ratify the Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States. As the vote was being taken, the Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Salih, is quoted as saying: “I remind you that in Iraq things have not happened at the eleventh hour, but at the thirteenth hour.” In other words, the key moment is yet to come.

… What’s in the pact? The key elements are a requirement that U.S. forces leave all cities and towns by June 2009, and leave Iraq entirely by December 2011. In addition, all

U.S. military action must now be coordinated in advance with the Iraqis, and the United States may not use Iraq as a base to attack neighbors (that is, Syria and Iran).

Why did Bush agree? He had no choice. The alternative was for U.S. forces to be illegal after Dec. 31, 2008 and turn the whole issue over to Obama. The U.S. government was so frightened of U.S. congressional reaction to the details of the pact that they refused before the vote to release an English-language version of the pact. They did not want U.S. public discussion of the pact before the Iraqi parliament voted.

The terms of the pact contain some vague language and the U.S. military says it’s counting on its ability to interpret the language in ways that it prefers. It is said that Bush has thereby gotten a better deal than Obama’s 16-month withdrawal plan. But this is not true at all. It is in fact worse.

… So al-Maliki has all the chips, and Obama will have none. Obama will have to accede gracefully to the Iraqi demands. These demands will escalate, not become less, as the months go by.

And, by the way, the Ethiopians (U.S. surrogates in Somalia) have just announced that they will pull out their troops by the end of 2008. And President Karzai of Afghanistan has just announced that he wants a formal pull-out date for U.S. and NATO forces there. The general feeling in the region seems to be that talking tough to the United States is not only possible. It pays off. The thirteenth hour is approaching.
(1 December 2008)

‘2025’ Report: A World of Resource Strife

Michael Klare, Foreign Policy in Focus
A new report by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) on the emerging strategic landscape, “Global Trends 2025,” has attracted worldwide attention because it forecasts a future environment in which the United States wields less power than it does today and must contend with a constellation of other, newly ambitious great powers. “Although the United States is likely to remain the single most important actor,” the report notes, “the United States’ relative strength — even in the military realm — will decline and U.S. leverage will become more constrained…”

… Far more striking and original, I believe, is the report’s emphasis on the role of climate change and resource competition in the world of 2025 and beyond. Until now, these issues have appeared solely on the margins of U.S. strategic and intelligence studies. Now, for the first time, they have moved front and center.

“Resource issues will gain prominence on the international agenda,” the NIC report notes. “Unprecedented global economic growth — positive in so many other regards — will continue to put pressure on a number of highly strategic resources, including energy, food, and water, and demand is projected to outstrip easily available supplies over the next decade or so.”

The likely future availability of energy and water receives especially close attention. Oil, in particular, is seen as being at risk of failing to meet anticipated world requirements: “Non-OPEC liquid hydrocarbon production — crude oil, natural gas liquids, and unconventionals such as tar sands — will not grow commensurate with demand. Oil and gas production of many traditional energy producers already is declining…Countries capable of significantly expanding production will dwindle; oil and gas production will be concentrated in unstable areas.” The bottom line: global oil supplies will be inadequate to satisfy demand, and importing nations will be forced to consume less and/or speed the production of alternatives.

Water scarcity is seen as an equally significant problem:

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, the author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy

(Metropolitan Books, 2008), and a Foreign Policy In Focus columnist. Klare’s previous book, Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum has been made into a documentary movie — to order and view a trailer, visit
(2 December 2008)

Syria hit by double blow on oil prices and falling supplies

Anna Fifield in Damascus, Financial Times
The decline in crude prices has taken oil-producing nations by surprise, but few will be hurt as much as Syria, which is grappling with rapidly falling supply. The double blow has huge implications for the economy.

“Energy is a problem,” says Nabil Sukkar, an economist who heads the Syrian Consulting Bureau. “Our energy-generating capacity is below demand and our oil reserves are falling,

while our gas reserves have not been developed rapidly enough.” Dwindling Syrian resources are often cited by analysts as one of the main reasons the country needs to end its international isolation, a process that has now started with improved ties with Europe. David Miliband, UK foreign secretary, was in Damascus this week in the latest sign of a thaw in ties between the west and Syria.

While fighting off pressure from the US and other western states over alleged interference in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, Syria has struggled for economic survival.

The energy sector comprises a large chunk of its economy and oil revenues have funded a quarter of the expenditure in the nation’s huge public sector.
(20 November 2008)