Thursday, June 19, 2008

Oil And Friends

Sometimes reading the day's news causes interesting patterns. Take oil. The industrialized countries need oil, and some countries (such as Iraq) have it while others (such as Zimbabwe) do not. Oddly enough, having oil is closely correlated with which countries get their dictators removed and which countries are allowed to go to rot. No, I'm not saying that the Iraq occupation was only about oil, but staying in Iraq is definitely to do with oil. They have lots of it, and we want it, "we" being the West:

Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq's Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq's largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.

That "no-bid" part means that the fantastic free markets were not allowed to decide who would get in. Funny, that.

Spencer Ackerman notes an important aspect of this re-entry of the old oil lords into Iraq: They are going to need lots of private security:

Any Western oil official who comes to Iraq would require heavy security, exposing the companies to all the same logistical nightmares that have hampered previous attempts, often undertaken at huge cost, to rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure.

So not only will we have unregulated foreign oil companies making money off endless occupation and proxy government, we're sure to have unregulated private security companies providing the muscle for them. This is the real Bush Doctrine.

Private security companies such as, say, Blackwater? Did you hear what Blackwater is doing about a court case in the United States by three widows of soldiers who died in a Blackwater plane crash in Afghanistan? You're going to like this:

To defend itself against a lawsuit by the widows of three American soldiers who died on one of its planes in Afghanistan, a sister company of the private military firm Blackwater has asked a federal court to decide the case using the Islamic law known as Shari'a.

The lawsuit "is governed by the law of Afghanistan," Presidential Airways argued in a Florida federal court. "Afghan law is largely religion-based and evidences a strong concern for ensuring moral responsibility, and deterring violations of obligations within its borders."

If the judge agrees, it would essentially end the lawsuit over a botched flight supporting the U.S. military. Shari'a law does not hold a company responsible for the actions of employees performed within the course of their work.

What makes this most interesting is the fact that Blackwater in Iraq isn't subject to the Iraqi legal system or the rules of the U.S. military. Such shadow military organizations have lots of advantages, it seems, and I started wondering if privatizing the military in this manner isn't the greatest innovation of this administration.

The Bush administration is certainly into privatizing everything (with the exception of women's bodies which are to be kept under public scrutiny). The idea of drilling for oil offshore here in the United States is back on Bush's to-do list. We have all those public lands and nature preserves and we are getting absolutely no profit out of them. So why not hand them over to oil companies? Couldn't that solve the Iraq problem, too? And the Republican problem of turning oil prices into a Democratic problem:

President Bush urged Congress on Wednesday to end a federal ban on offshore oil drilling and open a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration, asserting that those steps and others would lower gasoline prices and "strengthen our national security."

In recent years, the president said, "scientists have developed innovative techniques to reach Anwar's oil with virtually no impact on the land or local wildlife," referring to the wildlife refuge by its acronym. He continued, "I urge members of Congress to allow this remote region to bring enormous benefits to the American people."

President Bush also urged Congress to approve the extraction of oil from shale on federal lands, something he said can be done far more economically now than a few years ago, and to speed the approval process for building new refineries.

Mr. Bush sought to take full political advantage of soaring fuel prices by portraying Republican lawmakers as imaginative and forward-looking and the Democratic majority in Congress as obstructionists on energy policy.

Imagine that! I must tip my hat for that guy's ability to do reversals, a trick I sometimes use when writing about gender. But he is wrong, because there isn't enough oil in all those fragile places to justify the plundering at the cost of doing it and the oil in the Middle East is still needed. Besides, he's not saying anything about what has caused the price of oil to rise so much. It certainly has not been those environmentalists protecting the spotted owl.