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America the Possible: A Manifesto, Part I
From decline to rebirth

James Gustave Speth, Orion Magazine
… The prioritization of economic growth is among the roots of our problems. Today’s reigning policy orientation holds that the path to greater well-being is to grow and expand the economy. Productivity, profits, the stock market, and consumption must all go up. This growth imperative trumps all else. Growth is measured by tallying GDP at the national level, and sales and profits at the company level. The pursuit of GDP and profit can be said to be the overwhelming priorities of national economic and political life.

Economic growth may be the world’s secular religion, but for much of the world it is a god that is failing—underperforming for most of the world’s people and, for those in affluent societies, now creating more problems than it is solving. The never-ending drive to grow the overall U.S. economy undermines families and communities; it is leading us to environmental calamity; it fuels a ruthless international search for energy and other resources; it fails at generating the needed jobs; and it rests on a manufactured consumerism that is not meeting our deepest human needs.

Americans are substituting growth and consumption for dealing with the real issues—for doing the things that would make us, and the country, better off. Psychologists have pointed out, for example, that while economic output per person in the United States has risen sharply in recent decades, there has been no increase in life satisfaction, and levels of distrust and depression have increased substantially. We have entered the realm of what ecological economist Herman Daly calls “uneconomic growth.” Environmentally, we see a world in which growth has brought us to a situation where more of the same will quite literally ruin the planet. Politically, the growth imperative is a big part of how we the people are controlled: the necessity for growth gives the real power to those who have the finance and technology to deliver it.
(March/April 2012 issue)

Top 5 Stratfor Revelations

Juan Cole

… 2. Dow Chemicals hired Stratfor to spy on activists in Agra who continue to protest over the Bhopal environmental disaster that blinded many workers and destroyed their health. I.e., Stratfor was not just doing analysis but was involved in private intelligence operations against civil society groups that had a right to protest.

3. Stratfor Vice President Fred Burton, a former State Department official involved in counter-terrorism, lamented that in the old days the US would simply have assassinated Venezuelan leftist leader Hugo Chavez and Bolivian leftist leader Evo Morales. The internal emails also suggest that Stratfor had placed a female asset in Venezuela, who was having sex with an officer and pumping him for information. The officer was said also to be “working with Israel.” Chavez is known for his criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.

4. Russia sold weapons to Iran but turned around and gave their security codes to Israel.

5. The fifth revelation is that often Stratfor analysts did not know what they were talking about and had an extreme rightwing bias. For instance, this memo on the revolution in Egypt attempts to argue that the officer corps was behind the revolution against Hosni Mubarak and that the masses were insufficiently mobilized to account for it. It is alleged that only 750,000 people came out in Tahrir Square, a small number for a country of 82 million. But in fact that was only in Tahrir. People demonstrated elsewhere in Cairo. And they were in the streets in Alexandria, Suez, Asyut and other cities. Even small towns saw burnings of police stations and HQs of the National Democratic Party. This memo makes a grassroots revolution that shook Egypt from Alexandria to Aswan into an officers’ putsch. While the officers tacked with the wind and did end up siding with the demonstrators against Mubarak, they were clearly playing political catch-up. It was revolutionary groups like April 6 that made the revolution in the cities, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the rural areas. The memo is frankly obtuse and if this is what Booz Allen was paying $20,000 a year for, they should demand their money back.

This fifth point, about the one percent interpreting the world for the one percent as being about the one percent, is a dire problem in our information system, since the one percent has the resources and can try to overwhelm reasoned analysis that recognizes the agency of the people. Ultimately, the political struggle here is an epistemological one (epistemology being the study of how we know what we know).

Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. His most recent book is Engaging the Muslim World (Palgrave Macmillan, March, 2009) and he also recently authored Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
(29 February 2012)

America’s Maritime Power

Michael T. Klare, Le Monde Diplomatique
Now that the US is substantially reducing its military spending and withdrawing from present wars, its future intentions, and those places it will seek to control, are becoming clear. The most important will be the Pacific and the South China Sea

“Our nation is at a moment of transition,” said President Barack Obama on 5 January when he unveiled a new national defence strategy. This means the size of the US military will be reduced and some combat missions curtailed, notably mechanised ground combat in Europe and counterinsurgency in Southwest Asia. The aim is to focus more on other parts of the world, especially Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and on other objectives: cyber warfare, special operations and sea control. “The US joint force will be smaller, and it will be leaner,” said defence secretary Leon E Panetta. “But…it will be more agile, more flexible, ready to deploy quickly, innovative, and technologically advanced” (1).

According to Obama and Panetta, the strategy reflects altered circumstances at home and abroad. The US, weakened by the economic crisis, has a ballooning national debt. The department of defence must make spending cuts of $487bn over the next 10 years to comply with the 2011 Budget Control Act; and more cuts are possible if Congress fails to reach agreement on additional budget-saving measures in the months ahead. Abroad, military pressures are not decreasing despite the withdrawal from Iraq, and eventual escape from Afghanistan: the US faces new threats of potential conflict, for instance with Iran (see Iranian options) and North Korea, plus the growing spectre of a rising China.

At first glance the new defence policy can be seen as a pragmatic response to altered fiscal and geopolitical conditions, aimed at providing a smaller force with greater capacity to confront future dangers. On closer inspection, one can discern a larger strategic intent. Faced with the inevitable erosion of its status as sole superpower and the rise of ambitious rivals in Asia, the US seeks to perpetuate its global primacy by maintaining superiority in key areas of the world and critical forms of combat. In particular, it will aim to dominate the maritime edge of Asia, in an arc from the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and northwest Pacific. This will require the preservation of US superiority in air and naval warfare, and continued dominance in cyber-warfare, space technology and other specialised fields. Counter-terrorism will remain an important Pentagon function, but will be largely delegated to highly trained Special Forces equipped with killer drones and other high-tech paraphernalia.

Managing the contraction of overseas interests and commitments — or, as some would have it, managing the decline of empire — is never easy. Other great powers that have had to undertake such endeavours — Britain and France after the second world war, Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union — have found it exceedingly difficult. Often they have embarked on ill-advised military adventures, such as the 1956 Anglo-French invasion of Egypt (Suez) and the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — actions that hastened the collapse of empire, rather than delaying it. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, it was at the peak of its power; but the ensuing insurgency lasted so long and cost so much — an estimated $3 trillion — that the US has lost the will (and much of its capacity) to fight any new protracted ground wars in Asia. From here on, it is highly unlikely that Obama or any other American president, Democrat or Republican, would authorise a major operation akin to the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan (2).

Obama and his top advisers, cognisant of this history, are determined to avoid the strategic mistakes of earlier leaders. But if they recognise the folly of attempting to cling to all overseas commitments, knowing it would bankrupt the nation, they have no intention of presiding over a rapid contraction of foreign interests, seeing this as recipe for greater chaos and decline. Instead, they are seeking a middle way, choosing to reduce US commitments in some areas — Europe, in particular — while bolstering the nation’s capacity to prevail in areas deemed most important for America’s continued global supremacy.
(March 2012)
Also at ZNet. Michael Klare has written extensively on the relation between oil and international politics. We have published many of his articles at EB. -BA