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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, November 03, 2006

blood and oil

Yesterday, for me, a small cause for feeling accomplished: I finished reading a book. Usually the books in my stack of 10-15 on the coffee-table get rotated out without being finished. I realize that I haven't read a book for two months or so, pull out the paper slip I use as a bookmark (with words and definitions written on it), and shelve the book.

But sometimes I do finish books. Either they are short enough for me to make it through before the wind of my interest shifts direction, or they are of particularly hot interest so I read them straight through, or they are unfinished books that I have pulled from a shelf, my interest in them rekindled, and have picked up where I left off and read them through to the end.

This book was Blood and Oil by Michael T. Klare, director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, Amherst. I bought it last month from Amazon.com, along with an earlier book of his, Resource Wars.

Blood and Oil, while it has its flaws--Klare's writing style is flat and prosaic; it reads like a corporate report or a briefing document--is very good and deserves to be read by a wide audience. Indeed, his dry factuality helps his case in the sense that, although he is strongly critical of the American administration and its energy policies, he does not waste time denouncing them; instead he assembles facts, presents them in a neutral tone, and lets them do the talking. (In the afterword, written a year after the book's initial publication in 2004, he lets fly with more stinging direct criticism of Bush administration's dogged insistence on maintaining an attitude of dependency on foreign oil.)

The thesis of the book can be summed up simply. Since 1945, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt met secretly with King Ibn Saud of Arabia aboard a U.S. warship in the Suez Canal and, it is thought, promised security for the king's new and still poor country from outside attackers, plus protection for the king's regime from internal assault, the U.S. has pursued a policy of increasing reliance on foreign oil, and has been paying for this by arming and protecting autocratic and repressive regimes. This has resulted in an ever-escalating conflict with the people at odds with these regimes, such as many of their own citizens, and an ever-increasing flow of American blood on foreign soil.

This morning when I opened up Google News one of the lead stories was about a missile-test by Iran in the Persian Gulf, apparently in response to U.S. military "exercises" in the area. This eventuality--that Iran may disrupt the flow of oil shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, through which 43% of the world's petroleum exports pass--is raised by Klare in his book. One of the top priorities of Centcom, the U.S. Central Command established on 1 January 1983 with the Middle East as its area of operation, is to maintain the flow of Gulf oil. It was (and is) Centcom forces that have fought the two Iraq wars and the Afghan war. Its mission was set out in the Carter Doctrine, enunciated by President Carter in January 1980, designating the flow of Persian Gulf oil as a "vital interest" of the United States.

One big problem is that more and more countries are gulping more and more oil, and oil is not being found fast enough to slake this thirst. There will be an ever-increasing competition for an ever-shrinking supply. As this goes on, Klare maintains, persistent and escalating violence is inevitable. There is only one solution: stop relying on foreign oil. To do this will mean to drastically reduce oil consumption, which will require vast efforts at improving efficiency and finding alternative sources of energy.

Yes, environmentalists (such as me) have been saying this for decades. Now, roused by impending disaster (such as global warming), more people are growing alarmed. Still, there is a remarkable complacency in the halls of power, and a weird fixation on continuing with the same policy that was sketched out by Roosevelt: keep that foreign oil coming at any price.

I think of a quote I read in The Great Reckoning by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg, about the collapse of Spain as the world's leading power 300 years ago. Finding themselves sinking in debt while spending on costly military ventures, some in government urged that cost-cutting measures be taken. But those with the most power overruled these promptings, causing one despairing Spaniard to write, "those who can will not and those who will cannot."

It sounds awfully familiar.

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  • "those who can will not and those who will cannot."

    That quote is painfully apt regarding the current state of politics in the USA.

    By Blogger Debra Young, at November 06, 2006 5:13 PM  

  • Yes--and perhaps politics in general. But now it is frustrating and depressing, since some kind of vision is required beyond business as usual, and it just isn't there, at least, among "those who can."

    Thanks for stopping by, Debra.

    By Blogger paulv, at November 07, 2006 6:42 AM  

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