December 2, 2009

The Next Level of the War

Filed under: Afghanistan, Global War On Terror, Peak Oil — Russ @ 6:23 am


Over the last several months I’ve written quite a bit on Afghanistan and the Global War on Terror. (For example here and here.) My position is clear – Afghanistan is just the current centerpiece theater for a corporatist war, what is intended to be a permanent war. The goal is to use intimidation and force to prop up the Western corporate machine for longer than its economic fundamentals would allow.
In particular, since it will no longer be economically possible for America to consume as much oil as it would like, and since Peak Oil would rule out sating this level of demand anyway if the “free market” were allowed to function, the goal is to use the military to strong-arm this oil out of the Middle East and Central Asia.
This strategy is also unsustainable, and the empire’s decline is fated. But this permanent war, as an element of the elites’ overall strategy of resource fascism, can perhaps prop up their wealth and power for longer than economic fundamentals would have allowed.
So we should view the GWOT, the “Long War”, Full Spectrum Dominance, or whatever other lying or deranged name they come up with, as the foreign policy extension of the bank bailout. It’s the same giant insolvent corporatist zombie.
So that’s the context in which we must place Obama’s escalation. This speech contained some allusions to the real nature of things.

Now, let me be clear: None of this will be easy. The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions, failed states, diffuse enemies.

So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict — not just how we wage wars. We’ll have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power. Where al Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold — whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere — they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.

And we can’t count on military might alone. We have to invest in our homeland security, because we can’t capture or kill every violent extremist abroad. We have to improve and better coordinate our intelligence, so that we stay one step ahead of shadowy networks…..

And finally, we must draw on the strength of our values — for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not. That’s why we must promote our values by living them at home — which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom and justice and opportunity and respect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That is the source, the moral source, of America’s authority.

This is a veiled but still unmistakable reference to the permanent war. The standard blathering about the American “values” he’s betraying in real time should be understood in purely Orwellian War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery terms.
The basics are what we expected. Thirty thousand more troops, which military experts and the Joint Chiefs themselves are saying is the absolute maximum the American military can sustain. The personnel are too overstretched, the army is at its breaking point. Once these 30000 are deployed there won’t be a single spare man left. Zero resiliency, zero slack. That’s the level of desperation our “leadership” has brainwashed itself into, given its suicidal commitment to the zombie bailout.
This escalation is being carried out now in order to help start the withdrawal in 2011? Yeah, I don’t get it either. This guy can’t seem to make up his mind whether it’s 1965 or 1970. (We have to destroy the village in order to save it? Or like Paulson saying at the inception of the bailout that we need to make Fannie and Freddie bigger now so they can get smaller later.) And no sooner did he say this than his flunkies elaborated that the 2011 deadline is really not a deadline at all, but more of a vague aspiration.
But we knew that already. The whole concept of wanting to get out at all is a lie. As I wrote, if Obama really wanted to get out he had the rationale at hand with Karzai’s election fraud. As Petraeus and McChrystal themselves have always said in their own counterinsurgency manual, COIN can’t work unless you have an allied government seen by the populace as legitimate. We know for a fact the Karzai regime is not legitimate and will never be seen as legitimate. So we know for a fact that this war can’t work according to the US military’s own lights. So we know for a fact everyone was always lying and continues to lie about the real purpose and prospects for this war.
Sure enough, in his speech Obama explicitly repudiates this logic.

In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and — although it was marred by fraud — that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan’s laws and constitution.

Does he provide any explanation for how it is they’re overthrowing a basic pillar of their entire doctrine? Of course not. He can’t. The doctrine was always a fraud, meant to be used and abused at will. So we know the entire Vietnamization plan is a fraud as well. By their own doctrine they’ve already said it’s impossible.
There’s some comedy where he squawks about how they’re going to make real demands on Karzai this time around.

This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over. President Karzai’s inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance. We’ll support Afghan ministries, governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable.

I’m sure Karzai’s just as scared as the banks Obama just “shamed” over their failure to make permanent mortgage modifications.
The real core of incoherence comes with Obama’s answer to the objection against setting a time frame.

Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a time frame for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort — one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a time frame for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces. I don’t have the luxury of committing to just one. Indeed, I’m mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who — in discussing our national security — said, “Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs.”

Over the past several years, we have lost that balance. We’ve failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy. In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our neighbors and friends are out of work and struggle to pay the bills. Too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children. Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce. So we can’t simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.

All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars. Going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year, and I’ll work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.

But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home. Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That’s why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended — because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.

He rambles about the need to set goals, then lurches into his real argument, that it costs too much.
But this makes little sense. He doesn’t refute the argument against the time frame on its merits. The war-mongers are saying in effect “if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing right”. Since Obama shares their basic premise, that the war should be escalated at all, the burden of proof is on him to argue that on the one hand it should be escalated, but on the other hand that the escalation isn’t worth doing unless there’s a time limit on it.
Obama shares the escalation premise, the war necessity premise, including that the cost is worth it for now. But they rightists say, perfectly reasonably given the premise, that this requires an open-ended commitment. Obama simply asserts, but doesn’t establish (and of course he can’t), that the premise needs a time limit in order to “work”. But his real argument seems to be simply that we can’t sustain the cost for that long.
The obvious question is, if it’s not worth paying for indefinitely, and all the evidence is that it hasn’t been worth paying for so far, then why is it worth paying for for this shorter time frame?
But of course the answer to this is that Obama has zero intention of adhering to this time frame. The date is only a political ploy, as I mentioned above. (The Republicans probably know that and are just slamming him anyway for partisan purposes. Does Obama hope they might cut him some slack? Maybe. It wouldn’t surprise me. There’s no evidence that he’s capable of learning any lesson, let alone the one on “bipartisanship”.)
So the current situation is as follows. Obama will escalate as much as is possible given the current manpower levels. They might try to enlarge the army, using their artificially engineered Depression as the economic equivalent of a draft. And if necessary they might actually try to reinstate the real draft. Meanwhile the 2011 date is supposed to provide some political breathing space for the war to continue, business as usual, while they try to figure out the next level of escalation, how to afford it, how to man it, how to extract enough wealth from it that the zombie has enough juice to keep staggering along.
This is a Death March from here on, and it’ll continue until the structure collapses. That’s all.


  1. This is wonderful, thank you! I am reposting to FB.

    Comment by juliet — December 2, 2009 @ 9:16 am

  2. Hiya Juliet, long time no see. 🙂

    Comment by Russ — December 2, 2009 @ 11:22 am

  3. A draft could come, but “they” would like to avoid if at all possible because it is the thin end of a steel wedge that will cause a massive societal rupture, just as its existence did in the sixties.

    Comment by Edwardo — December 2, 2009 @ 11:05 pm

  4. …they would like to avoid it if at all possible…

    Comment by Edwardo — December 2, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

  5. Yeah, that would definitely be their last choice, and only once the security-industrial complex had been further expanded to repress the far greater dissent we’d have.

    That level of open repression would only be at the system’s terminal level of desperation.

    While Stalin’s doctrine that the class war becomes ever more vicious as it comes ever closer to its conclusion was spurious and self-serving in the Soviet Union of the 30s (it was only to justify his regime’s terror and totalitarianism), it may actually prove to be something like the truth in the case of the fossil fuel/neoliberal globalization system.

    Comment by Russ — December 3, 2009 @ 6:51 am

  6. I think you have the wrong idea about Middle East oil. The strategy has always been to INCREASE the oil price to support energy and banking industry profits. Nothing succeeds in this effort like the introduction of military chaos. The idea isn’t to win a war or even, really, to prosecute a war. How could 30,000 soldiers possibly do this? Without war (or at least the threat of war) in the ME, the price of oil would collapse to $8, where it was headed at the turn of the last Century. This would vaporize the entire debt superstructure which is now hanging by a thread and enveloped in (at least) $100 trillion in derivative bets.

    Comment by jake chase — December 3, 2009 @ 9:12 am

  7. I agree that beating the Taliban is just a shiny thing being waved. Just like the whole specter of “terrorism”.

    The point is to have physical access to the oil. America imports 2/3 of what it consumes.

    Canada is the #1 supplier, and a secure one, but still provides only a small fraction of the total.

    After that, how does it look? Mexico’s production is declining even as its domestic consumption increases. Venezuela, although a major supplier to date, is politically questionable. Nigeria is vulnerable to guerrilla disruptions.

    Meanwhile China and Asia represent what everyone expects to be the next great consumer horde. They’re already moving to lock up their oil supplies, often through non-market bilateral deals.

    And then there’s how to pay for it. You say the West wants the high oil prices which would certainly stomp down the “green shoots” once and for all? But the green shoots are supposed to politically justify the permanent bailout.

    I could be wrong, but I think if I were a bankster I’d be thinking I want the phony recovery as long as possible, not a premature permanent depression triggered by another oil price spike.

    At any rate, the weak dollar is going to drive the rest of the world to seek alternative ways to pay for oil, and the more standard that becomes, the more the dollar’s position will erode.

    (And how Britain is supposed to pay for oil and especially natural gas over the next decade is a complete mystery.)

    So America can’t count on the Mideast spigot, whose own continued capacity is also questionable, to keep “freely” flowing, either economically or in terms of physical supply.

    There will come the time, sooner or later, on account of economics, supply fundamentals or both, where America will not be able to buy all the oil it would desire.

    TPTB know this, so they have enshrined physical intimidation and force as part of energy policy. That’s the core of the GWOT and the neocon project.

    Comment by Russ — December 3, 2009 @ 11:10 am

    • Ask yourself why oil was $20 per barrel in the year 2000 and threatening to collapse from there? Saddam Hussein was a threat to the price of oil because he wanted more money for more guns. He was a threat to open the oil spiggot and destroy the price. Oil is not scarce. Oil is monopolized. Whether or not the oil economy threatens civilization for climactic reasons is a different issue on which I am not competent. But the idea that America’s military presence in the ME is a strategy to assure oil supplies gets the issue backwards. If the corporations wanted cheap oil we could invade and conquer Saudi Arabia tomorrow with the 30,000 troops being dispatched to hunt for terrorists in Afghanistan. What they need is expensive oil, which provides the inflation mechanism necessary to operate the successive recapitalizations which form the heart of modern finance capitalism. Veblen described this perfectly in 1904 in The Theory of Business Enterprise. He may be the only economist worth reading.

      Comment by jake chase — December 3, 2009 @ 11:32 am

      • Jake,

        You are SO on target with these comments. Allowing the kleptocrats to claim that they are trying to secure oil supply lends them an air of altruism that is completely contradictory of their corporate mandates. Bravo for saying this so clearly!
        My journey started 20 years ago with with Theory of the Leisure Class and I agree, Veblen was beyond brilliant.

        Comment by juliet — December 4, 2009 @ 9:13 am

  8. Jake, the idea that banks re-capitalize on the back of the effects of high oil prices, is absolute rubbish.

    And Veblen certainly wouldn’t have invoked energy prices, let alone oil, as part of his argument because there was no “oil market”-at least as we now know it- then. The dynamics of energy are vastly different today.

    Also, why talk about $20 dollar oil in 2000 when oil spend a decade in roughly that price range with no discernible ill effect on the banking industry or economic growth.

    Comment by Edwardo — December 3, 2009 @ 9:29 pm

    • Business is fueled by debt; debt must be validated by further inflation; inflation requires an engine; oil was the only engine available in 2000. It remains the only engine available.

      I suspect you misunderstand what I (and Veblen) mean by recapitalization. What it amounts to is the process whereby business creates equity profits by sabotaging the machine process and repricing assets.

      Comment by jake chase — December 4, 2009 @ 8:39 am

  9. Oil is scarce. We’ve been on the “bumpy plateau” of stagnating production, 86-87 million barrels per day, since 2005. That correlates precisely with the upward trend in prices.

    We now have a supply cushion of 3-4 mpd because of the Depression having “destroyed demand” as they put it, but if the phony recovery can temporarily goose consumption back to its old level, this will quickly slam its head on the ceiling of declining production as existing fields deplete.

    At that point price will skyrocket and the phony recovery will be finished once and for all.

    It’s true that we don’t know exactly how much oil Iraq has, but only the real cornucopians throw around numbers like 180 billion barrels or more, which are basically just made up out of thin air.

    As for invading Arabia, that truly would cause the entire Mideast to explode as one big Taliban. I haven’t seen even crazed neocons saying it would be possible to do that with America’s shoestrings.

    You’d really have to go in on a Nazi level (there and at home). I’m not saying America will never get to that point, but we’re not there yet.

    Comment by Russ — December 4, 2009 @ 4:20 am

    • You haven’t explained why oil was $20 in 2000 and headed toward $8.

      I remember Carter talking about scarcity in 1976. You don’t have any accurate figures about this because those who know aren’t talking except to mislead everyone. Oil reserves are a function of recovery technology which is a function of price. Wherever you live, they could drill for oil and find it under your house if the price was high enough. The world is 3/5 oceans and there is oil under all of them. Believe me, the world will blow itself up long before it runs out of oil.

      A little history: when oil was discovered in Pennsylvania, the problem quickly became over productin and ruinous competititon. Rockefeller solved that. When oil was discovered in Texas, they needed the Texas Railroad Commission to maintain the price. In the fifties, they needed import quotas to maintain the price. Our oil policy was ‘drain America first’. The organization of OPEC was engineered by American banking and energy interests in the name of profits. Why to you think we support those little Arab sheikdoms and permit their idiot ruling class to become so filty rich? Because we believe in Arab property rights? No. Because our elite understands that we need perpetual inflation to keep the whole debt creation profit accumulation game going and keep people humping instead of wondering why the more technology advances the poorer individual people become.

      Comment by jake chase — December 4, 2009 @ 8:53 am

  10. Well, Jake, we are at loggerheads now, Oil isn’t everywhere, and it certainly isn’t under where I live.
    As for oil under the ocean, it is not nearly so easy to extract as you would like to believe.

    Comment by Edwardo — December 4, 2009 @ 10:17 am

  11. I’m afraid that long before I, or anyone else, runs out, the phone lines will be down.

    Comment by Edwardo — December 4, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

  12. Once we have the real Peak Oil effect, demand trying to exceed supply, which will happen sometime in the next five years if the phony recovery, and therefore resumed high demand, can be propped up for that long, then we really will see the ultimate price spike.

    That’ll start the rationing, by ability to pay. We already saw some of that with last year’s demand destruction in America. So that’s when it will start “running out” for many people.

    But that’ll really be the end of any semblance of the “middle class”. That ferocity of the Depression really will render more and more people serfs.

    So in the end, Peak Oil is going to be primarily a politico-economic phenomenon, not a physical scarcity one, though supply-demand scarcity is likely to be the proximate cause of the final socioeconomic descent.

    Comment by Russ — December 4, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

  13. […] written some stuff about this war’s “credibility” before, for example here, here, and here.)   One of my favorite passages of war commentary is this gem from McChrystal, who does […]

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