Thursday, January 17, 2008

Warning: this will be a very long post...

...but I hope it speaks to you. It all started when I found myself asking, "Is absolutely everything the US does about oil?"

There are easy answers on both sides here, I know--but I wanted to know more than just a snide yes or a naive (or even more snide) no.

Regular readers of my blog know that I’ve been going back to school for a while now, trying to get a different degree than I did the first time around. It’s all for two reasons, really: first, I’m finally brave enough to pursue the science degree I’ve wanted since I was a child (but didn’t get because I was too afraid to take the math required), and second, I really love learning. I was one of those dorks who LOVED school, loved reading, loved writing. I still am one of those dorks.

But as much as I love school and I love learning, I realized a while back that my first time around the rodeo, I was really a very naive and ignorant student. Oh, I learned all the names and dates in history, the laws and the Constitution in government, and so forth; I had a good GPA in high school and college. But, other than in English classes (my major the first time around), I just never thought to question or challenge any of the things I learned in lecture or read in my textbooks. If I wasn’t in English class (where I learned and enjoyed the fact that you could question and argue any interpretation of a literary work if you had the textual evidence to back you up), I made no connections, assigned no blame, and never questioned the motives of our government (or the textbooks, or the teachers). Wars were always the result of some other country’s aggression, plain and simple, and--thank God!--the US was always there to step in and fight the good fight!

Yeah--I was that naive.

(I wasn’t stupid enough, however, to ever vote republican. Thank God again!)

Anyway, I’m not that naive anymore, but I still have a lot to learn, and what I’ve learned lately is what I want to share with you. In my quest to find out if everything we do really is just about oil, I’ve just finished reading Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (published 2000, updated with a 9/11-focused preface in 2002) and The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2004), the first two books in Chalmers Johnson’s American Empire Project trilogy, which ends with the ominously titled Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006). In these books, Johnson outlines the past and present of the US’s aggressive pursuit of a global empire of military bases--from Okinawa, to Latin America, to Europe, to the Middle East, and western Asia--and what this pursuit has cost us as a nation and as a society.

Johnson claims that the American empire has five “missions” in this post-Cold War world:
1. “maintaining absolute military preponderance over the rest of the world”
2. “eavesdropping on ... citizens, allies, and enemies alike” just because we can
3. “attempting to control as many sources of petroleum as possible”
4. “providing work and income for the military-industrial complex”
5. “ensuring that members of the military and their families live comfortably and are well entertained while serving abroad” (if not so well tended when they come back, because then they’ve pretty much become useless to the empire) (Sorrows, p. 153).

If you think about it, does our president really do anything other than those five things? Has any president? Whether it was taking continental land from the Native Americans or the Mexicans, or occupying Okinawa forever despite the locals’ opposition, or occupying Iraq and killing whoever gets in their way, America has always been about empire. The sad thing is that so few people realize it for what it is. There are plenty of Americans who, once the empire and all the damage it’s done were pointed out to them, would say, “So what? It SHOULD be America first, and fuck the rest of the world!” I see people like this every day, and I shake my head and wonder: if the thievery and injustice were being performed right in front of them--if they had to walk around in the cities where our empire shits on the locals and our corporations set up their sweatshops--would they really say this to the people they saw? I can only hope they wouldn't.

But there I'm talking about your every-day person--someone with no control over the empire that dominates the world in our name. What about the people in government? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked myself, Why would anyone do the things that our government officials have done—starve people, let them die, blow them up, screw them over, steal their resources—is it all just to make money? Are those billions that Cheney and Bush and all the other elite benefactors of empire have stolen—are those billions really worth selling your soul, your existence, your very humanity? Under all that devil-ness, doesn’t Dick Cheney EVER feel bad or guilty?

I read a quote the other day by someone, can’t remember who, who said when men do evil things, they have to believe they’re doing them for a good reason. Is that the answer? Or is it what Chalmers Johnson says—that in addition to the five “missions” above, our elected officials grab at every stinkin’ dollar they can and completely disregard us, our obvious wishes to get the hell out of Iraq, to end the endless wars, etc., because of “the post-Cold War discovery of our immense power, rationalized by the self-glorifying conclusion that because we have it we deserve to have it” (Sorrows, pp. 151-152)? Do they really do what they do because they think they deserve it?

So I guess I found my answer: it's not just oil. It's also all the accompanying billions, not to mention the feeling that they're winning the worldwide "who has the biggest dick?" contest. And because, Johnson says, “Wars and imperialism are Siamese twins, joined at the hip,” (Sorrows, p. 187), we never will get out of Iraq or Afghanistan, and we’ll soon be declaring war on Iran--which happens to be the only country in that entire Middle Eastern oil-rich region that we don’t have our talons into. Yet.

The worst part is that the wars are not about "winning;" I doubt that was ever in the plans. All we have to do is go in, blow up some shit, install whatever puppet “government” we choose, and then make them sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to protect all our troops and mercenaries and Halliburtons from any legal action by the once-sovereign nation they’re now raping and pillaging. And then BushCo sits back while certain elite people get to make (or increase) their fortunes to the tune of billions of our tax dollars. And us little folks? Well, you all know what we get.

Dr. Monkey von Monkerstein has been reading and blogging about Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, which is as good a source as any for a list of places where we’ve worked our imperial magic--all under the guise of stopping communism, containing communism, preventing the “domino theory” of communism, the “war on drugs,” “globalization,” “humanitarian aid,” “peacekeeping missions,” preemptively stopping countries with “weapons of mass destruction,” fighting the “war on terror,” or whatever other bullshit excuse the government has fed us for the last century. I read John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hitman. It's also worth a read.

So armed with this knowledge, of course I had to know more, learn more about this "empire of bases." I did a little more research, based on the sources Johnson used for Sorrows, and found the 2007 Base Stucture Report. This DoD document lists all Pentagon property--whether actually owned or just leased or rented--broken down into separate facilities, consisting of military bases plus other various airstrip areas, housing projects, dependents’ schools, support sites, and so forth. Did you know that Germany, a country roughly the size of Montana, has 287 US military facility areas within its borders? Montana has 257.

The countries with the most facilities are Germany (287), Japan (130), and South Korea (106). Johnson wrote, “It was not until World War II that our empire of bases achieved its global reach, and the United States still seems to regard its continuing occupation of the territory of its former axis foes as something akin to a natural birthright” (Sorrows, p. 189). Germany and Japan fit that bill, as does Italy, tallying 76 separate bases and facilities, the fourth most of any overseas country. South Korea earned their 100+ bases when we decided we needed to fight the communist menace of the northern half of Korea.

Note that we don’t have any bases in Vietnam.

...which reminds me: the Base Structure Report, Johnson points out, only details those facilities that the DoD acknowledges. The list of countries with military bases/facilities from the report:
Bahrain
Egypt
Kenya
Kuwait
Oman
Qatar
United Arab Emirates
Hong Kong
Japan
Singapore
South Korea
Antigua
Aruba
Bahamas
Cuba
Greenland
Iceland
British Indian Ocean Territories (Diego Garcia)
Australia
Netherland Antilles
Belgium
Denmark
Germany
Greece
Italy
Luxembourg
Netherlands
Norway
Portugal
Spain
United Kingdom
Turkey
Canada
Indonesia
Marshall Islands
Saint Helena (Ascension Island)
Colombia
Ecuador
Peru

There are some obvious omissions, wouldn’t you say? Iraq is the most obvious, with known bases in Tikrit, Basra, and Baghdad. (Remember, this is supposed to be the report for 2007.) But nothing in Saudi Arabia? Nothing in, oh, say, Guam? How many other places can you think of that aren’t on that list?

- - -
If present trends continue, four sorrows, it seems to me, are certain to be visited on the United States. Their cumulative impact guarantees that the United States will cease to bear any resemblance to the country once outlined in our Constitution. First, there will be a state of perpetual war, leading to more terrorism against Americans wherever they may be and a growing reliance on weapons of mass destruction among smaller nations as they try to ward off the imperial juggernaut. Second, there will be a loss of democracy and constitutional rights as the presidency fully eclipses Congress.... Third, an already well-shredded principle of truthfulness will increasingly be replaced by a system of propaganda, disinformation, and glorification of war, power, and the military legions. Lastly, there will be bankruptcy, as we pour our economic resources into ever more grandiose military projects and shortchange the education, health, and safety of our fellow citizens....

Empires do not last, and their ends are usually unpleasant. (Sorrows, last page the number of which I don't have right now!)
The future does not look bright.

13 comments:

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Stunningly good post. I'll have to read those books soon before Bush and Co. have them banned.

Randal Graves said...

I'll have to make sure we buy them for work before they're not allowed to be sold anymore.

That last line is right. There has never been an empire that didn't eventually decline and fizzle out. It'll happen to us, just a matter of time.

no_slappz said...

Since there has been speculation on dr. monkey's site, my physical description follows:

Height: 5'11"; weight: 180 lbs; hair color: brown; eye color: brown. Lean build resulting from good diet and weight training.

Daily shower and shave.

no_slappz said...

You wrote:

"Johnson claims that the American empire has five “missions” in this post-Cold War world:
1. “maintaining absolute military preponderance over the rest of the world”"

It's alternately known as deterrence. Hostile nations and factional leaders are deterred from attacking other nations or factions if they think the US might step in with a counterpunch. Think of Kuwait and the former Yugoslavia. This strategy has worked effectively since WWII.


You copied:

"2. “eavesdropping on ... citizens, allies, and enemies alike” just because we can"

No. Because spying is how we learn about the intentions of global bad boys. Spying may be imperfect, but it beats doing nothing.

You copied:

"3. “attempting to control as many sources of petroleum as possible”"

Wrong. Attempting to ensure that all producers of petroleum can produce without interference from hostile opponents. Global oil consumption will average about 87 million barrels per day this year. It is estimated that daily production will rise to 112 million barrels in the next 20 years. Hence, the US aims to protect oil producing nations from interruptions.

You copied:

"4. “providing work and income for the military-industrial complex”"

The defense industry is what is known as a monopsony. A monopoly gives total pricing power to a single seller. A monopsony gives all buying and pricing power to a single buyer -- the government.

Every advanced nation in the world has a defense industry. It's indispensable.

You copied:

"5. “ensuring that members of the military and their families live comfortably and are well entertained while serving abroad” (if not so well tended when they come back, because then they’ve pretty much become useless to the empire) (Sorrows, p. 153)."

This claim is bizarre. Furthermore, it's simply false.

FranIAm said...

Stunningly good post, says Dr. Monkey and FranIam agrees.

This is outstanding Delia, you did your homework.

It is very sobering to read this and to think about the many implications it presents.

I must go back and re-read.

dguzman said...

Thanks, Monkey! The books are excellent; I'm really looking forward to the last one.

Randal--yes indeed. We're on the downside, bigtime.

Slappy--um, not really that interested in how you look, but--thanks, I guess....
Regarding your address of Johnson's points--
1. "deterrence"? Yeah, okay. As we have at least a thousand times the number of weapons that any other "hostile" nation or faction has, that "deterrence" claim seems just a little lame to me.
2. We spy on allies and our own citizens--sorry, but I don't count myself or, say, France as a "global bad guy."
3. Slappy, WE are a hostile opponent. It is well documented that Dick Cheney has said many times (from the early 90s on) that the US must procure any and ALL oil supplies for the US alone, and that is priority one. Your naive trust of the government's motives is touching, really it is.
4. A defense industry is only "indispensable" when you've pissed off as many nations as we have. Further, I hardly think paying KBR and Blackwater billions of dollars to do half-ass construction and mercenary duty is "indispensable."
5. "bizarre" and "simply false"--Boy, you really skewered that one, I guess.
Now--I replied because this is the first time I've seen you on my blog. But don't think I won't delete you if get snippy.

Fran--thanks.

Matty Boy said...

Johnson says "empires don't last", but for human made things, some lasted a pretty long time. The Romans had a run that lasted many centuries. So did the Brits.

America has treated the rest of the Western Hemisphere as property since at least the late 19th Century. The rest of the imperial reach dates from after WW II. You're right that Americans don't think much about foreign bases and how many there are. Right now, Bush's moves look like stupid overreaches that we can't afford to maintain.

I would add Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy to the bad news reading list. Much of the book is about comparing us to the Dutch, Spanish and British empires, and how each of them came to grief when the economy of energy made a major shift.

dguzman said...

Indeed, Matty--I think the major problem with Bush's imperialism is that we don't have the money to back it up. Johnson examines that as well, how the other empires had huge coffers--while e're in a ridiculously deep hole here, with foreign investors buying more and more of US businesses, etc.

You just have to wonder how long we can keep it up before the entire house of cards just comes crashing down. And then what? Anarchy? Martial law? who knows.

no_slappz said...

dguzman, you responded:

"1. "deterrence"? Yeah, okay. As we have at least a thousand times the number of weapons that any other "hostile" nation or faction has, that "deterrence" claim seems just a little lame to me."

The list of members in the nuclear club is growing, and Iran intends to join.

Here's what happens if Iran gets a bomb. It will attempt to put one on a missile and fire it at Israel. Israel will counterstrike with its own nuclear weapon, probably destroying much of Tehran. A nuclear exchange in that part of the world will immediately bring in Russia, China, Pakistan and India.

What happens then? Do we stand back and watch? A nuclear exchange between all those nations would cause global problems. Or the US steps in. Guess what? Russia, China, Pakistan and India will think twice before firing off their weapons because, as you said, the US is armed to the teeth, and none of those nations wants to face a counterstrike from the US -- because they know they would lose. Thus, they won't get involved if they remain afraid of the US. That's deterrence.

You wrote:

"2. We spy on allies and our own citizens--sorry, but I don't count myself or, say, France as a "global bad guy.""

First, I guess it's news to you that every country is in the spy business. What do you think goes on all day at embassies and other diplomatic facilities that house foreign operatives in countries around the world?

How do you think criminals are caught? People phone in tips. Thus, they are ratting out their neighbors. Do you object when a criminal is caught because a concerned citizen reported him?

There are more and more cameras appearing in NYCity. One of my neighbors is the NY City chief of police. There is a big camera on a light-pole outside his house and big signs on the street telling people they are on camera. Our neighborhood crime rate is zero.

You claimed:

"3. Slappy, WE are a hostile opponent. It is well documented that Dick Cheney has said many times (from the early 90s on) that the US must procure any and ALL oil supplies for the US alone, and that is priority one."

Dick Cheney's role in the energy world has been to provide various oil-well services to any company anywhere in the world that seeks oil and gas. Halliburton would have no business if it took your approach.

The US consumes about 25 million barrels of oil per day. But the global oil industry produces over 85 million barrels per day. Where do the other 6o million barrels go?

Oil is a global commodity. It's price is set on global oil markets. Meanwhile, oil is found in many places around the globe. Only Nature controls where oil is to be found. But governments control the pace of drilling. There are 80 BILLION barrels of proven oil reserves in the US that drillers cannot touch. Why? Politics. If the US permitted oil drilling in our coastal waters and in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, world oil prices would decline as our production increased.

Unless a muslim oil-producing nation decided to cut way back, offsetting increases in our production.

You wrote:

"Your naive trust of the government's motives is touching, really it is."

The issue for you and others who think this way is that you lack a fundamental understanding of economics. If you want examples of the ruination a government can cause, look at North Korea, Cuba and the nations in Africa. They control everything, and everything is a mess.

You wrote:

"4. A defense industry is only "indispensable" when you've pissed off as many nations as we have. Further, I hardly think paying KBR and Blackwater billions of dollars to do half-ass construction and mercenary duty is "indispensable.""

KBR is operating in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can check the company's website for job listings in those areas. Every job listing includes the disclaimer that the job exposes the worker to the risk of death due to combat activities of the enemy.

Thus, it takes more money to get someone to work under those conditions. As for Blackwater, I don't know where you get your numbers, but the US government is not paying Blackwater personnel "billions". However, as for hiring mercenaries, what's the problem? Check Blackwater's website. You can learn all about the requirements for a job with that organization. Virtually every employee is former US military, as is Eric Prince, the head of Blackwater.

You wrote:

"5. "bizarre" and "simply false"--Boy, you really skewered that one, I guess."

Perhaps you are tyring to make a point that you did not make. But US military personnel returning from overseas service are not "useless", as you claimed. I don't know where you get your information, you were mislead on that point.

dguzman said...

Let's agree to disagree, Slap. Nothing I say will convince you of what I believe, and nothing you say will convince me to stop learning more about what's really happening. Fare well.

no_slappz said...

dguzman, you wrote:

"Nothing I say will convince you of what I believe, and nothing you say will convince me to stop learning more about what's really happening."

With respect to your beliefs about the operations of the global oil industry, Halliburton, the defense industry, and the related topics you addressed, most of your beliefs are based in fiction and myth.

It's one thing to have a position and point of view. The oil industry, for instance, is complex and involves millions of people around the world. There are differing but rational views on the best course for the industry.

But it's something else entirely to believe that any individual, corporation or nation can control the supply of oil in the world.

However, any of the world's oil producers has the power to stop its own oil production. Or any entity could increase its oil production.

In any case, you can't earn a profit if the oil stays in the ground. It has to be sold to oil consumers before oil companies have earnings.

Like I said, the US uses about 25 million barrels a day. But the remainder of the world consumes 60 million more barrels. Companies like Halliburton increase the amount of oil that is pumped daily. Hence, any efforts to limit or control production hurt Halliburton and all the other oil service companies, of which there are many.

Anyway, do yourself a favor and take a basic economics course. Since you claim to be interested in learning what's "really happening" it would increase your understanding if you knew the language of commerce.

dguzman said...

Looks like I'll have to turn on Comment Moderation again...

dguzman said...

I find it annoying when people go on and on about something irrelevant and ignore the true crux of an argument. Economics are not nearly the point, Slap. Perhaps if you'd open your mind to something beyond the BushCo talking points, you'd know that.