Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Pentagon Fuels Up

July 18, 2008

[TomDispatch in the News: For those of you might be interested, Pepe Escobar of the RealNews.com visited TomDispatch central headquarters recently for a two-part interview with Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse. The first part, with Tom Engelhardt, was just posted. Thought you might like to check it out by clicking here. In addition, Khodi Akhavi of Inter Press Service just did a fine review of this site’s new book, The World According to Tomdispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, which can be read by clicking here.]

It’s summer and gassing up your car is like emptying your wallet directly into that fuel pump. So you think you have it bad? You think you’re feeling the pain? Well, stop your whining! Other oil “addicts” have it so much worse! Have you no pity? Take an obvious example — the Pentagon. Once upon a time, powering your way to a little oil war was essentially a freebie. Lately, though, all you have to do is roll that Humvee off base, send that jet down the nearest runway, or launch that Hellfire missile-armed Predator drone over Afghanistan — let’s not even consider moving a whole carrier task force into the Arabian Sea — and, let’s face it, you’re talking an arm and a leg.

Why, the cost of refined fuel for troop use is officially about to leap from $127.68 a barrel to $170.94. That’s a 34% rise in the last six months, sucker! Feeling a little less sorry for yourself now? According to Time, “Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Brian Maka said Friday that the price hike is needed to cover an anticipated $1.2 billion rise in fuel costs in the next three months.” Add that to the nearly $12 billion a month being spent for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and, come on, it puts your own problems at the pump in perspective, doesn’t it? Even if it is your very own tax dollars the Pentagon’s spending to fuel its wars. So, peace may be hell, but war? It’s murder!

Last week, Nick Turse offered some tips to mainstream reporters who finally — only five years late — made it to the Bush administration’s role in Iraq’s oil story. Now, in part two of his series on what the mainstream media misses when it comes to our oil wars and the energy story, he turns to Washington and that gas guzzler par excellence, the Pentagon. The ties that the Complex — the term Turse gives the old military-industrial complex in his superb book on how our everyday lives have been militarized — has developed with an allied petro-industrial complex are so taken for granted that mainstream reporters seldom think they add up to a story. It’s like being on the science beat and filing stories about how we breathe. As a war-making society, though, our breathing’s been a little labored lately and Turse suggests that perhaps it’s time to take another look at everyday energy activities in the Pentagon. Tom

The Pentagon and the Hunt for Black Gold

The Oil Deal Nobody Wants to Talk About
by Nick Turse

For years, “oil” and “Iraq” couldn’t make it into the same sentence in mainstream coverage of the invasion and occupation of that country. Recently, that’s begun to change, but “oil” and “the Pentagon” still seldom make the news together.

Last year, for instance, according to Department of Defense (DoD) documents, the Pentagon paid more than $70 million to Hunt Refining, an oil company whose corporate affiliate, Hunt Oil, undermined U.S. policy in Iraq. Not that anyone would know it. While the hunt for oil in Iraq is now being increasingly well covered in the mainstream, the Pentagon’s hunt for oil remains a subject missing in action. Despite the staggering levels at which the Pentagon guzzles fuel, it’s a chronic blind spot in media energy coverage.

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Tomgram: Dilip Hiro: The Energy Reality We Face

July 18, 2008

Last week, after hitting $146 a barrel, the price of crude oil took a sudden, two-day, $9 plunge, based in part on comments by Iranian President Ahmadinejad that an attack on Iran was unlikely and on a mid-Atlantic turn north by Bertha, the season’s first significant hurricane, away from the oil-rig and refinery rich Gulf of Mexico. It was just long enough for pundits to wonder, hesitantly and somewhat wistfully, whether the global economic bad weather had finally hit the oil market, and whether lowered demand meant that a new (downward) trend was on the way. That was, of course, before the Iranians started lobbing missiles, and traders got edgy about a promised week-long strike at Brazil’s state-run oil giant Petrobras and the kidnapping of at least one foreign ! oil worker in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. By Friday, the “trend” was toast and the price of a barrel of crude had briefly crested above $147.

Get used to it. As Middle Eastern (which means “oil”) expert Dilip Hiro indicates, we’ve definitively entered the era of no-relief-in-sight and there’s no turning back now either. The author of a vivid history of oil in our world, Blood of the Earth, The Battle for the World’s Vanishing Oil Resources, Hiro considers why the present oil shock can’t be compared to the three shocks that preceded it and then explores just where the planet is likely to look in the medium term for energy (and global warming) relief.

Energy is obviously going to remain fiercely at the heart of our problems, locally and globally, indefinitely. Tomdispatch plans to respond to this essential reality with a range of different perspectives on energy in the coming year. Tom

The Current Oil Shock

No Relief in Sight
By Dilip Hiro

When will it end, this crushing rise in the price of gasoline, now averaging $4.10 a gallon at the pump? The question is uppermost in the minds of American motorists as they plan vacations or simply review their daily journeys. The short answer is simple as well: “Not soon.”

As yet there is no sign of a reversal in oil’s upward price thrust, which has more than doubled in a year, cresting recently above $146 a barrel. The current oil shock, the fourth of its kind in the past three-and-a-half decades, and the deadliest so far, shows every sign of continuing for a long, long stretch.

The previous oil shocks — in 1973-74, 1980, and 1990-91 — stemmed from specific interruptions of energy supplies from the Middle East due, respectively, to an Arab-Israeli war, the Iranian revolution, and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Once peace was restored, a post-revolutionary order established, or the invader expelled, vital Middle Eastern energy supplies returned to normal. The fourth oil shock, however, belongs in a different category altogether.

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Tomgram: Finally, the Oil…

July 12, 2008

This excellent Tomgram by my friend Tom Engelhardt arrived from him in my inbox from a few weeks ago. That was when I had lots of problems with my computer and wasn’t online, hence missed posting it here until I found it among my huge backlog now:


Tomgram: Finally, the Oil…

[Note for TomDispatch readers: It’s worth mentioning that the missing Iraqi oil story — see below — wasn’t missing online, and certainly not at TomDispatch. This site’s newest book, The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, has a section labeled “The Petro-Industrial Complex and its Discontents,” including striking pieces by Michael Klare and Michael Schwartz on our gasoholic Pentagon and the prize of Iraqi oil. Again, I urge readers to consider supporting TomDispatch and its efforts by picking up a book that should, I think, be in any serious library of our mad age of Bush the Younger. Tom]

No Blood for… er… um…

The Oil Majors Take a Little Sip of the Ol’ Patrimony

By Tom Engelhardt

More than five years after the invasion of Iraq — just in case you were still waiting — the oil giants finally hit the front page…

Last Thursday, the New York Times led with this headline: “Deals with Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back.” (Subhead: “Rare No-bid Contracts, A Foothold for Western Companies Seeking Future Rewards.”) And who were these four giants? ExxonMobil, Shell, the French company Total and BP (formerly British Petroleum). What these firms got were mere “service contracts” — as in servicing Iraq’s oil fields — not the sort of “production sharing agreements” that President Bush’s representatives in Baghdad once dreamed of, and that would have left them in charge of those fields. Still, it was clearly a start. The Times reporter, Andrew E. Kramer, added this little detail: “[The contracts] include a provision that could allow the companies to reap large profits at today’s prices: the [Iraqi oil] ministry and companies are negotiating payment in oil rather than cash.” And here’s the curious thing, exactly these four giants “lost their concessions in Iraq” back in 1972 when that country’s oil was nationalized. Hmmm.

You’d think the Times might have slapped some kind of “we wuz wrong” label on the piece. I mean, remember when the mainstream media, the Times included, seconded the idea that Bush’s invasion, whatever it was about — weapons of mass destruction or terrorism or liberation or democracy or bad dictators or… well, no matter — you could be sure of one thing: it wasn’t about oil. “Oil” wasn’t a word worth included in serious reporting on the invasion and its aftermath, not even after it turned out that American troops entering Baghdad guarded only the Oil and Interior Ministries, while the rest of the city was looted. Even then — and ever after — the idea that the Bush administration might have the slightest urge to control Iraqi oil (or the flow of Middle Eastern oil via a well-garrisoned Iraq) wasn’t worth spending a few paragraphs of valuable newsprint on.

I always thought that, if Iraq’s main product had been video games, sometime in the last five years the Times (and other major papers) would have had really tough, thoughtful pieces, asking really tough, thoughtful questions, about the effects of the invasion and ensuing chaos on our children’s lives and the like. But oil, well… After all, with global demand for energy on the rise, why would anybody want to invade, conquer, occupy, and garrison a country that, as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz once observed, “floats on a sea of oil”?

And let’s be fair. At the time of the impending invasion, reasonable people couldn’t possibly have imagined that it had anything to do with oil, not while George W. Bush was politely ignoring the subject, except when referring obliquely to Iraq’s “patrimony” of “natural resources.” Forget that our President had had an 11-year career in the energy business (and had been Arbusto-ed); or that his Vice President had been the CEO of a giant energy services corporation, Halliburton — retiring during the presidential campaign of 2000 with a $34 million severance package; or that, back in those distant years, he had not hesitated to talk about the necessity of getting a tad more oil into the international pipeline. (As he told an oil industry crowd back in 1999, “By some estimates there will be an average of two percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead along with conservatively a three percent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from?” Where indeed? He then answered his own question: “While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.”)

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Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Bush Administration Strikes Oil in Iraq

July 8, 2008

…and speaking of oil, just when we were barely getting used to Big Oil and Iraq hitting the front pages of American newspapers in tandem, here comes Afghanistan! Who now remembers that delegation of Taliban officials, shepherded by Unocal (“We’re an oil and gas company. We go where the oil and gas is…”), back in 1999, that made an all-expenses paid visit to the U.S. There was even that side trip to Mt. Rushmore, while the company (with U.S. encouragement) was negotiating a $1.9 billion pipeline that would bring Central Asian oil and natural gas through Afghanistan to Pakistan? Oh, and who was a special consultant to Unocal on the prospective deal? Zalmay Khalilzad, our present neocon ambassador to the U.N., George W. Bush’s former viceroy of Kabul and then Baghdad, and a rumored future “Afghan” presidential candidate.

Those pipeline negotiations only broke down definitively in August 2001, one month before, well, you know… and, as Toronto’s Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin put it, “Washington was furious, leading to speculation it might take out the Taliban. After 9/11, the Taliban, with good reason, were removed — and pipeline planning continued with the Karzai government. U.S. forces installed bases near Kandahar, where the pipeline was to run. A key motivation for the pipeline was to block a competing bid involving Iran, a charter member of the ‘axis of evil.'”

Well, speak of the dead and not-quite-buried. It turns out that, in April, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India (acronymically TAPI) signed a Gas Pipeline Framework Agreement to build a U.S.-backed $7.6 billion pipeline. It would, of course, bypass Iran and new energy giant Russia, carrying Turkmeni natural gas and oil to Pakistan and India. Construction would, theoretically, begin in 2010. Put the emphasis on “theoretically,” because the pipeline is, once again, to run straight through Kandahar and so directly into the heartland of the Taliban insurgency.

Pepe Escobar of Asia Times caught the spirit of the moment perfectly: “The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, which cannot even provide security for a few streets in central Kabul, has engaged in Hollywood-style suspension of disbelief by assuring unsuspecting customers it will not only get rid of millions of land mines blocking TAPI’s route, it will get rid of the Taliban themselves.” Nonetheless, as in Iraq, American (and NATO) troops could one day be directly protecting (and dying for) the investments of Big Oil in a new version of the old imperial “Great Game” with a special modern emphasis on pipeline politics.

There has been a flurry of reportage on the revived pipeline plan in Canada, where — bizarrely enough — journalists and columnists actually worry about such ephemeral possibilities as Canadian troops spending the next half century protecting Turkmeni energy. If you happen to live in the U.S., though, you would really have no way of knowing about such developments, no less their backstory, unless you were wandering the foreign press online.

Nick Turse, author of the indispensable new book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, considers the Iraq oil story that did, at last, hit the mainstream news here (only a few years late in the Great Game) and offers suggestions for mainstream reporters now ready to pursue the story wherever it leads, even back into an ignored, and oily, past. Tom

The Iraqi Oil Ministry’s New Fave Five

All the Oil News That’s Fit to Print (Attn: The New York Times)
By Nick Turse

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Tomgram: Michael Klare, The Pentagon as Energy Insecurity Inc.

June 16, 2008

If you thought things were bad, with a barrel of crude oil at $136 and the oil heartlands of our planet verging on chaos, don’t be surprised, but you may still have something to look forward to. Alexei Miller, chairman of Russia’s vast state-owned energy monopoly, Gazprom, just suggested that, within 18 months, that same barrel could be selling for a nifty $250. Put that in your tank and… well, don’t drive it. It will be far too valuable.

Think of Miller’s sobering prediction as, at least in part, a result of the Bush administration’s attempt to “secure” the Middle East and the oil-rich Caspian basin by force in two failing wars (and occupations). Now, imagine for a moment, what his price scenario might be if, as journalist Jim Lobe — never one to leap from rumors to sensational conclusions — recently suggested, forces in the Bush administration (and in Israel) in favor of launching an air campaign against Iran are gaining strength. Just the suggestion last week by Shaul Mofaz, an Israeli deputy prime minister, that an attack on Iran is “unavoidable” if that country doesn’t halt its nuclear program — “If Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The sanctions are ineffective.” — helped send the price of crude oil soaring. Imagine what an actual air attack might do.

You know that old joke: military justice is to justice as military music is to music; well, someday, not so far into the future, a similar, though far grimmer joke, is likely to be made about Washington’s attempts to secure the U.S. oil supply by military means. In the meantime, Michael Klare, author most recently of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, considers the madness of Washington’s long-term militarization of oil delivery and the devastating oil wars that have resulted. (His previous book, Blood and Oil, by the way, has recently been turned into a documentary film. Check it out.) Tom

Garrisoning the Global Gas Station

Challenging the Militarization of U.S. Energy Policy

By Michael T. Klare

American policymakers have long viewed the protection of overseas oil supplies as an essential matter of “national security,” requiring the threat of — and sometimes the use of — military force. This is now an unquestioned part of American foreign policy.

On this basis, the first Bush administration fought a war against Iraq in 1990-1991 and the second Bush administration invaded Iraq in 2003. With global oil prices soaring and oil reserves expected to dwindle in the years ahead, military force is sure to be seen by whatever new administration enters Washington in January 2009 as the ultimate guarantor of our well-being in the oil heartlands of the planet. But with the costs of militarized oil operations — in both blood and dollars — rising precipitously isn’t it time to challenge such “wisdom”? Isn’t it time to ask whether the U.S. military has anything reasonable to do with American energy security, and whether a reliance on military force, when it comes to energy policy, is practical, affordable, or justifiable?

How Energy Policy Got Militarized

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