Friday, February 16, 2007

Lubricating Our Megamachines
The Denial of Actualities
by Gilles d'Aymery

Spinoza once said that the perfection of things must be measured according to their own nature and things are not more or less perfect because they flatter (please) our senses or hurt them.

"Those who succeed us can well take care of themselves."
—US Senator William A. Clark, 1907

(Swans - February 12, 2007) So long as respected voices like Rep. Dennis Kucinich and other "leaders" of the antiwar movement keep their heads in the deep sands of denial in regard to the real reasons why we are at war in the Middle East, there is absolutely no chance to help the general population of the United States wake up to the evidence. We consume too much energy and the world is running out of it faster than it can be replaced with alternative sources that are at most a placebo and at worst further digging the hole into which we are mudded with seemingly oblivious concerns. People must get real, look at the actualities, and embark on an incredibly difficult change in thinking and behaviors.

Last Thursday evening, around 18:30, the light in my office began flickering; the computers' UPS started wailing. I saved my work in a hurry and powered down the machines. I called Jan in San Francisco to let her know the flickering was becoming more intense. Calling PG&E emergency line is of no use to me. The voice on the other side is a robotic one -- friendly, female, and all, but not real. The voice asks for my phone number. I say, "123-4567." "You said," the voice says, "123-4474." "Is this correct?" the voice asks. "It is not correct," I answer. "Sorry, I did not get your answer," says the voice. "You said 123-4474. Is this correct?" "No, it is not correct, it is incorrect. I said 123-4567." "Sorry, I did not get your answer. You said 123-4474. Is this correct?" Argh, must be my French accent, I thought as I hung up. Meantime the lights kept flickering ever more intensely. I walked to the closet where I keep an old ATT manual phone, unhooked the digital cordless one that only works with electric power, just as the lights stopped flickering altogether. Power down. What does one do when lost in the middle of nowhere without any power? I went to bed.

The next morning, 06:00, it's pitch dark around. Power's still off. Well, no coffee this morning, I thought. Yep, the coffee machine runs on electricity too. Can I heat some water, by any chance? Nope, the propane burners are ignited through a starter that...runs on electricity. Darn, where are the matches? And on, and on. 07:30: Jan calls. PG&E is aware of the situation. They sent a one-man crew last night but the atmospheric conditions were so bad -- it was raining cats and dogs -- that he had to cancel his efforts. They are sending more crews this morning, Jan assures me. I hear the assurance but do not feel particularly reassured! It's a pretty eerie sensation to be all alone in a house perched in the hills in the country with no power at all. What worth is a "modern" house without the energy that is needed to run it? Needs wood, of which we have ample supply, for the woodstove; needs propane, which is a petroleum derivative for cooking and water heating; and needs electricity for practically everything else (lighting, washing machine, drier, oven, microwave, toaster, refrigerator, phone, computers, TV, stereo, satellite, and on and on and on). Of course, we need coal and natural gas to generate the electricity, and all fossil fuels, which we use with abandon (at least in the U.S.) as the main sources, especially petroleum, are rapidly getting depleted -- and that does not account for the effects of our consumption on the environment (global warming).

A two-man crew eventually showed up mid-morning. Good workers overstretched as always due to the cuts in maintenance personnel that utility companies have gone through to increase profits. Armed with binoculars they checked the lines over the hills. They were unfamiliar with the terrain. I helped as much as I could to tell them where the houses, hidden in the woods, were and how to reach them through various dirt roads. They kept hunting for a fallen line somewhere, anywhere, under raging rain, so that my and others' houses affected by the blackout could get back to normal life. They eventually found the culprit on the other side of the canyon. I could hear a chainsaw clearing branches, and their voices echoing up the hill. By mid-afternoon, thanks to their strenuous efforts in hapless conditions, the power was restored. Thank you, good people. Our way of life was back on.

We do own a small Honda generator, which, if the blackout had lasted longer, I would have fired up to cool the fridge down, turn on the computers to save this edition of Swans on a portable hard drive, thus if worse came to worse, I could jump into my car and drive to San Francisco (fossil fuel, CO2, etc., notwithstanding) in order to load the issue on the Web. I can run the generator for about four or five hours on a full tank of gas -- yes, more fossil fuel -- and I have a small reserve of gasoline, enough to fill the generator's tank three times. Then, I'd need to drive down to town and fill a few containers with gasoline. Imagine this repeated by the number of households affected by the power outage. Imagine this in the entire valley -- how long would it take for the gas station to run out of gas? A few hours? One day? Two days at most. What about an entire city?

When shall we face reality? There's this raging debate about the war in Iraq, but practically no politician talks about the real reasons for our disastrous military adventure: Access to and control of oil fields and military bases to keep control of and access to these oil fields. Nothing new. The Brits acted similarly in the 1930s; the U.S., from 1945 onward with an increased urgency. People, many good people, talk about morality, war profits, terrorism, Israel, legalities (or illegalities), hubris of the elites, to explain the war... But remember Ockham's razor: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem ("entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity")... In other words, "all things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one."

Elites' arrogance is a constant of history as are war profits for the few, but the let's-start-a-war-to-make-a-bundle thought process ignores the old saying that "war is simply the continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means" (Clausewitz, On War, 605). First there's a policy put in place and then the choice to implement the policy through a military strategy. Keep the eyes on the policy. If it's incorrect, chances are the military strategy will fail. It's not about terrorism because you certainly do not need a full-fledged, multi-pronged military strategy with huge naval assets in the Persian Gulf to defeat a bunch of people in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, help Madrassas instill knowledge and not hate in their pupils' minds, and work on the political conditions that may have fostered terrorism in the first place. Morality (freedom and democracy, civilizing forces, etc.) is the good old Calvinist messianic attitude used for the past 400 years to sell expansion and foreign adventures. It's always been a basic marketing technique with a white man's syndrome of superiority to conquer land, subjugate people (the lesser races), and plunder resources.

When you refuse to look at the evidence you then need to create new explanations and find convenient scapegoats. From the Left (James Petras) to the Right (Paul Craig Roberts) and many in between, there must be some cabal controlled by powerful interests who brought this war upon us unwillingly. For them, Israel is the culprit. Israel (read the Israeli government/military/elite) actually rules the US government with the help of the Jewish lobby and a bunch of neocons who, they keep reminding, are in large majority Jewish themselves. In other words, without Israel and the "Jews" the U.S. would not have engaged into such a dramatic disaster. They duped us into waging war on their behalf. That these so-called "respected" analysts can be taken seriously is truly befuddling and not worthy of further comment. There's no cabal; only a policy based on energy realities that was poorly conceived and hence botched with results still unforeseen, potentially with catastrophic consequences for the U.S. and the entire world.

Four and one-half percent of the world population consumes 25 percent of global energy resources as the world is creeping away toward energy scarcity. That strategic resource is getting depleted and consumed faster that it can be replaced, assuming it can. By the same token, other economies worldwide are increasing their dependence on and use of that resource. Furthermore, to control and have access to that resource you need local governments amenable to your objectives. Saddam was not. The Iranian Mullahs are not. In typical fashion the American elites -- on both sides of the aisle -- decided that regime change was becoming a matter of urgency, and chose to act through a military strategy. That the members of the elite would enrich themselves in the making is certainly correct, but it was not the motivation behind the decision process. The military strategy, while largely opposed by the military itself, was the only logical or known-of strategy that could be used. The US Armed Forces have always been the favorite diplomatic tool of US movers and shakers. That Israel is used as a patsy can be a useful tool to deflect the attention of the dissenting populace. That the Establishment is deeply reluctant to call it as it is -- "people, we/you need the oil" -- is not surprising. Panic would ensue; the stock market would dive; the streets would be filled with masses of very unhappy customers (remember the pitchforks?). But listen carefully, well beyond the guard dogs of the Citadel, the MSM and all think tanks. Listen to the elites very carefully. They know the stakes, and they are tremendous. Listen for example to the February 1, 2007 Senate Intelligence Committee's Confirmation Hearing of Vice Admiral Mike McConnell (Ret.), the former (1992-1996) National Security Agency Director during the Clinton administration...yes, the Clinton administration... You can listen to the entire hearing on C-SPAN. About one hour and fifteen minutes into the hearing, Senator Richard Burr (R. - North Carolina), after lauding the nominee for his business acumen, asked:

SEN. BURR: I want to take a different tack from the standpoint of questions. We've all got questions that will deal with the threats du jour, regardless of where they are. Let me ask you about two specific areas if I can. You referred, in your questions and answers, to energy as a national security issue. Can you expand on that slightly?

MR. McCONNELL: Sir, what I mean by that is our dependence on foreign oil sources. And what I worry about is something like Venezuela now, where energy can be used as a weapon. So understanding it and how it might be controlled is something, I think, that not only the others in the federal government but also the intelligence community, needs to understand and get ahead of, think about it.

So much of intelligence is forecasting what might happen. "Alternative futures" is how we like to describe it. So when I look at problems facing the nation in the future, I think our demand -- almost insatiable appetite for energy, particularly with the growth of India and China, it's going to put increasing pressure on the nation to compete for energy resources. So that's what I mean by that.

SEN. BURR: Do you see our role at trying to predict what the energy future looks like, and how that may or may not affect our national security, the role of the intelligence community, or is there another area of government that should have that charge to be the one in charge?

MR. McCONNELL: What I see the role of the intelligence community to be is to look at hard problems and talk about them. I go back to Senator Mikulski's question about speaking truth to power. Many of these problems are not very pleasant to deal with, to think about. So for me, it is to spend some time and energy looking at the problem and attempting to come up with a forecast of at least options on what we might have to deal with, and then serving that information up to the policymakers that have to deal with it.

SEN. BURR: On another subject, have we lost sight of Russia as a strategic threat to the United States?

MR. McCONNELL: Senator, you probably have heard about mission managers in the community (now to be?) focused on problems of concern. And I've talked to some of the mission managers and I'm very impressed. They look at the problem from the analytical standpoint, collection, and they integrate across the community. They challenge assumptions and conclusions, do a little red-teaming, that sort of thing.

And where I am in my thinking at the moment is to take a look at Russia, because there isn't a mission manager for Russia. I think we need to understand it. We need to know where it's going. And having someone focused on it as a mission manager at the national level would serve us well to stay focused and continue to review it.

SEN. BURR: The last question, Mr. Chairman. Does the fact that oil is now $57 a barrel, I think, today, $56 and some change, increase the likelihood that we should look at Russia as a strategic threat?

MR. McCONNELL: Sir, as you know, Russia because of that increase in oil prices is significantly advantaged in terms of resources right now, in terms of what they get for their oil. I've been troubled by some of the trends in Russia over the last year or so. So that's a scenario that needs attention and focus and, again, producing those forecasts on where it might be taking us.

SEN. BURR. Thank you, Admiral.

(Source: http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2007_hr/020107dni.pdf)
Is this clear enough? No need to duplicate Michael Doliner's work in this space.

On January 27, 2007, you would have been hard-pressed to learn that there was a big antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C., going on, except if you watched C-SPAN or were attending the demo yourself (as well as smaller ones in other cities around the country. The event(s) simply did not make the news. The TV networks did not report much of anything. The local news were at best sparse in their comments. The next morning, The New York Times buried the story on page 20. They reported that "Tens of thousands of protesters converged on the National Mall on Saturday to oppose Bush's plan for a troop increase in Iraq..." The White House issued a statement: "The president believes that the right to free speech is one of the greatest freedoms in our country." End of story. On Monday morning, the ever-affable Amy Goodman ran with the story for the entire Democracy Now! newscast. We could see Rep. Maxine Waters leading the crowd with a series of slogans ([Bush] is not the decider. We are the decider. He is not the decider, he is a LIAR). The usual motley mix of antiwar activists like Sean Penn and Dennis Kucinich and many genteel speakers walked up to the podium to rouse the crowd with passionate speeches. It was an all bon-enfant gathering. No one heard them. They were talking to themselves, in a bubble. None addressed the energy challenges that the world and most severely this nation face. I'm not even sure that they ever considered the irony of how much energy -- fossil fuels energy -- they expended to have their essentially ignored little celebration in D.C.

A week later, Super Bowl day watched by hundreds of millions, British Petroleum ran an ad in The New York Times Magazine (p. 33). In bold characters, the title was in the form of a question: Energy. From the ground, the sun, or both? It continued in two short paragraphs:

OIL: Responding to today's energy needs means doing so responsibly. BP's Advanced Seismic Imaging allows us to see hidden energy reserves buried below rocks, deep beneath the ocean floor. Most importantly, we now drill fewer offshore wells, reducing the impact on the environment.

SOLAR: We're also bringing the U.S. closer to the sun. Recently we invested over $25 million in the expansion of our solar facility in Maryland, doubling its manufacturing capacity. And BP Solar Home Solutions (TM) is helping homeowners reduce or eliminate monthly electric bills.
It's a start.
What start is this? Twenty-five million dollars to double a manufacturing facility...and how many billions of dollars spent to bring oil to markets and refine it? How many? And they try to make us believe that BP stands for Beyond Petroleum... What a sad, terrible joke. Worse, ask Kucinich and other prophets of the antiwar movement, and they'll tell you all about their indomitable faith in the market. They too are undoubtedly sincere; but they are deeply misguided.

We must face the dance with clarity of mind and purpose. Once again, sanity deserves better from the commons.

United States' Gargantuan Energy Appetite
by Gilles d'Aymery

In 1999, the world energy consumption was 382 quadrillion (Quads) British thermal units (Btu). (1) Out of 382 Quads the USA consumed 97, or 25.39 percent of the worldwide consumption.

The USA, with a population of about 281 million inhabitants -- just about four percent of the world population -- consumes 25 percent of all the world energy and accounts for about 25 percent of the pollution of the earth's ecosystem. (2)

In other words, the USA has a gargantuan energy appetite. This is well known though not particularly brought to the attention of the public.

Let's illustrate the extent of this appetite with the help of an energy flow chart, the U.S. Energy Flow Trends for the year 2000 during which the USA consumed 98.5 Quads. (3) This chart was created by Gina V. Kaiper, Technical Writer-Editor, Energy and Environment Directorate, for the University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy, and is reproduced here by permission.

Not surprisingly fossil fuels are the overwhelming source of the energy consumption, 85 percent over all (even more if one adds the wood element of biomass). Petroleum is the biggest component with 38.5 percent, followed by natural gas (23.7%), and coal (22.8%). The net petroleum import in 2000 was 57%. This again is relatively well known.

However, the most startling information provided by this flow chart is the extent of waste in the U.S. energy system; what Ms. Kaiper delicately labels Rejected energy.

Take the time to review this chart carefully. Indeed, please do.

Look at the electricity generation of 40.4 Quads and check out the amount of the electrical system energy losses of 28.1 Quads. What the chart shows is that 69.55 percent of all generated electricity is wasted. (4) So, every time one switches on the 100-watt light in the kitchen or in the bathroom, the system needs to generate some 170 watts to light it... Think about your computer or your air conditioning... (5)

Even worse, 80.07 percent of all energy used for transportation is wasted. What it means is that to get our favorite vehicle, SUV included, all the way to the store, 80 percent of a barrel of oil is required and wasted to bring 20 percent to the power train that make the wheels turn. (6)

The more energy we use the bigger the generation of waste.

For example, in 1999, the USA consumed 97 Quads and the ratios of waste for electricity and transportation were 68 and 79.92 percent respectively. In 1997, 94 quads of consumption brought a respective percentage of waste of 67.38 and 79.92 (note that the transportation waste is pretty constant due to the engineering limitations of the combustion engine -- though the bigger the engine...)

Simply put, the more we consume the more we waste. The more we consume the more we need energy resources. The more we waste and depend on non-renewable sources of energy, namely fossil fuels, the more we must find, develop, grab sources, especially in a time of dwindling resources.

Meantime, we want -- at least in rhetoric -- the entire world to adopt the American way. To put a perspective on this American way, take China as an example: were China to consume the same amount of energy per capita as the United States, the Chinese Net Primary Resource Consumption in 2000 would have been 450.8 Quads! (7) Should the polluting consequences be mentioned?

According to the International Energy Outlook 2002, world energy consumption is projected to increase by 60 percent over a 21-year forecast horizon, from 382 Quads in 1999 to 612 Quads in 2020. Renewable energy use, presently about 9 percent of total worldwide energy consumption, is projected to actually decrease to 8 percent by 2020. (8)

While it simply does not compute it certainly does illuminate the ongoing U.S. policies.

· · · · · ·

References and Notes

1. A quad is 1015 and a Btu is the quantity of heat needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by 1° F. at or near 39.2° F. (back)

2. "The United States, with the world's largest economy, is also the world's largest single source of anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gas emissions. Quantitatively, the most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission is carbon dioxide, which is released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels (i.e., oil, coal, natural gas) are burned. Current projections indicate that U.S. emissions of carbon (mainly in the form of carbon dioxide) will reach 1,694 million metric tons in 2005, an increase of 357 million metric tons from the 1,337 million metric tons emitted in 1990, and around one-fourth of total world energy-related carbon emissions." Source: EIA-DOE; United States Country Analysis Brief; http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/usa.html (back)

3. Permission to reproduce a slightly smaller version of this flow chart was kindly granted by Ms. Deborah Brown-Harris, Authorized Reprint, Copyright & Permissions Agent, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Technical Information Department. Credit is given to the University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the Department of Energy under whose auspices the work was performed. We acknowledge the U.S. Government's right to retain non-exclusive, royalty-free license in and to any copyright covering this material. Energy flow charts for the United States can be accessed on the Web site of LLNL at http://en-env.llnl.gov/flow/. The full size energy flow chart for 2000 can be viewed at http://en-env.llnl.gov/flow/00flow.html.

In addition, Gina Kaiper recommended that we include a link to the Energy Flow web page "to provide access to the accompanying report that documents and explains the data sources and the terms and categories. For example, as the report explains, the proportion of 'useful' to 'rejected' shown on our chart derives from the conversion efficiencies (page 5 of our report) of the technologies involved." This is a must-read report for anyone wanting to fully understand the flow chart. The report, in Adobe Acrobat format (pdf file, size: 177 kb) can be accessed at http://en-env.llnl.gov/flow/pdf/USEnFlow00-quads.pdf.

Finally, the permission granted by LLNL should not be construed as an endorsement of this Swans dossier. (back)

4. My thanks go to Richard Merk and Steve Mader for leading me in the right direction. I also wish to express my gratitude to Ian Woofenden and the folks at Home Power Magazine for their invaluable help. Home Power, "The Hands-On Journal of Home-Made Power," is based in Ashland, Oregon, and focuses on alternative and renewable energies. The magazine published an article by Randy Udall, "U.S. Energy Flow: In the Belly of the Beast," in its February/March 2002 issue. It can be read online in Adobe Acrobat format (pdf) at http://www.homepower.com/files/bonus.pdf (back)

5. "According to AER2000 (p. 248, Note 1), 'Electrical system energy losses are estimated as the difference between total energy consumed to generate electricity and the total energy content of electricity consumed by end users. Most of these losses occur at steam-electric power plants (conventional and nuclear) in the conversion of heat energy into mechanical energy to turn electric generators' . . . . Transmission and distribution losses....are estimated to be about 9% of the gross generation of electricity." Source: Gina V. Kaiper, U.S. Energy Flow—2000, February 2002, University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, http://en-env.llnl.gov/flow/pdf/USEnFlow00-quads.pdf; page 5. (back)

6. "For transportation, we continue to assume a generous 20% efficiency, which corresponds to the approximate average efficiency of internal combustion engines as measured on Federal Driving Schedules (i.e., the amount of energy that actually reaches the drive train of a vehicle, compared to the amount of energy consumed. Note that the peak efficiencies of 33-35% for spark-ignited engines and 41-45% for diesel engines are not representative of conversion efficiencies over the Federal Driving Schedules.)" Source: Gina V. Kaiper, U.S. Energy Flow—2000, February 2002, University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, http://en-env.llnl.gov/flow/pdf/USEnFlow00-quads.pdf; page 5. (back)

7. According to the CIA - World Factbook 2002, the US population is 280,562,489 (July 2002 est.) and the Chinese population 1,284,303,705 (July 2002 est.). While I am using 2002 population figures and applying them to energy consumption in 2000, the result is slightly inexact but one can easily get the gist of the correlation. In 2000 the Chinese consumption of electricity was 1.206 trillion kWh; that of the United States, 3.613 trillion kWh. Source: CIA - The World Factbook 2002; http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html. (back)

8. Source: EIA-DOE; International Energy Outlook 2002 - Highlights; http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/index.html. (back)
Oil and War
by Michael Doliner

(Swans - February 12, 2007) People who oppose the war in Iraq have the habit of pointing out that the excuses the administration gave for going to war were lies. True enough, but in concentrating on their lies we have learned how to not talk about the real reasons for the war. Men do fight for God and Country, but the rich and powerful fight for wealth and power. This does not prevent them from sincerely professing higher motives. American elite education is in large part the study of a rhetoric of elite, high-minded self-delusion. The writings of George Kennan and Milton Friedman are good textbooks. But we all know that sincerity of belief in one's own goodness does not make it so. Nor is it worth our time to burrow into the statements politicians make in order to find some inkling of a deeper motive. Men fight for many things, but that the rich and powerful fight for wealth and power, no matter what they say and even believe, should be taken as a given. It is the rich and powerful who get us into wars.

Those in power treat us like children. They offer us excuses for the war they hope we will accept, but hide from us the real reason for it. They know Americans will not support a war for oil. They also know that Americans are quite happy to use the oil we import and are not particularly worried about what we did to get it. Americans want the oil but not the war, and even those against the war drive to soccer practice and the mall. Americans will not tolerate even the thought that the era of happy motoring will end soon. They would certainly complain if they ran out of gas. The oil shortages of the seventies and Carter's loss of the presidency to Reagan have also taught the powerful, if they didn't know already, that Americans will punish whoever is in power when an oil crisis comes. Indeed, just what will happen when energy really runs short must worry them considerably. Disillusionment with government is already extreme and economic distress will breed social turmoil. For this reason they know that above all else they cannot lose their grip on the oil fields of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Basin. American opposition to the war cannot become serious until there is public recognition of the coming energy shortage and an open determination of just what is to be done about it. The problems a serious oil shortage will bring will shrink most of what we now think of as problems to insignificance.

The Bush administration fought the war in Iraq and will fight the war in Iran because of looming worldwide oil shortages and China's growing demand for a larger share. Since well before the 1970s and the Carter Doctrine in 1980, the United States has considered control of the Persian Gulf and the oil fields a primary foreign policy objective.

"The Middle East isn't a region to be dominated by Iran. The Gulf isn't a body of water to be controlled by Iran. That's why we've seen the United States station two carrier battle groups in the region," Burns said in an address to the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, an influential think tank.

In 1953, when British control of Iran slipped and Iran's prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, nationalized the oil, the United States helped engineer a coup that restored the power of the America-friendly Shah. However, the d├ętente of the cold war allowed the various Middle-Eastern kingdoms and sheikdoms to gain more control of their oil than American elites would have liked. Saddam Hussein nationalized Iraq's oil in 1972, and the Iranian Revolution of 1979 further loosened the American grip on Iranian oil and, more importantly, oil revenues. Kuwait took over 100% of KOC, Kuwaiti Oil Company, in 1974 and even Saudi Arabia was able to purchase 100% of ARAMCO, the American Arabian Oil Company, in 1980, leaving American and British Companies with lucrative arrangements, but far less than what they might have had.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, George H. W. Bush hoped to restore the status quo ante. The sudden disappearance of America's great enemy inspired delusions of grandeur. We're number one and there is no number two! Why not take it all back? Nothing seemed to stand in the way. Saddam Hussein had been extremely cooperative with the United States up until the invasion of Kuwait. Even then he carefully inquired of April Glaspie, the American ambassador to Iraq, if the United States would object to that invasion. Her comment was, in part, "but we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts." Kuwait had been drilling horizontally under Iraq and selling more than its OPEC quota of oil, which depressed prices right after the Iran-Iraq war when Iraq especially needed the oil revenue. When Iraq complained, Kuwait gave a peculiarly dismissive response that was far more arrogant than its puny status warranted. So Saddam invaded Kuwait. By the time we attacked him, Saddam was retreating from Kuwait as fast as he could. We did not attack Iraq to drive Saddam from Kuwait. Iraq was lured into its invasion of Kuwait to justify a large American military presence in the Persian Gulf. Saddam's real crimes, in the eyes of the American elites, were that he nationalized oil and spent oil revenues on Iraqi infrastructure rather than on American high tech military gadgets as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait obediently did. But American sights were always on the entire Persian Gulf oil region and, more recently, the oil rich Caspian Basin.

Clinton continued to pressure Saddam Hussein with the cruel sanctions and periodic bombing, but he knew, as did George H. W. Bush, that Iraq needed a tyrant to hold it together. They were smart enough to know that a strong man has to be strong, and that an Ahmad Chalabi, with no base in the country, just wouldn't do. They hoped a military coup in Iraq would install someone more ready to spend the oil revenues on war toys rather than electricity. However, the long-term plan was still for a permanent American military presence in the Persian Gulf that would keep those governments from giving too much preference to Chinese oil interests. Regime change in Iran, hostile to American interests since the revolution in 1979, was always on the agenda, but Iraq had to be taken first. With a large American military presence and no other counterbalancing force, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, already extremely compliant, could be persuaded to spend even more of their revenue on weapons. There was no need to invade them -- they welcomed American armies with flowers.

After the first Gulf War we stationed forces in new bases in Saudi Arabia, but the presence of American military bases in Saudi Arabia violated the sanctity of the holy places there. Not only Osama bin Laden, but other Saudis found it objectionable, and the Saudi princes could hardly disagree. Also, Saudi Arabia with the weight of many expensive useless princes, one of the fastest growing populations in the world, and an economy dependent on oil revenues, saw its per capita income plunge. The oil income per person fell from $22,589 in 1980 to $4,564 in 2004. The natives were growing restless. The United States did not want to undermine the compliant Saudi government so it thought to move the bases to an Iraq with a newly installed puppet regime. Saddam could put up no resistance. It would be a cakewalk. With control of Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran would be next. 9/11 was a perfect pretext. It didn't turn out that way.

In the early nineties few saw the coming peak in world oil production, but that peak must now weigh upon policymakers' minds. Soon demand will exceed supply and prices will rise rapidly. Although oil is now sold on the open market, the United States will have a hard time competing with China for it. China has over one trillion US dollars of reserves. It would almost certainly spend this to keep its economy growing and its energy needs met. Were oil prices to rise even faster than they have been the American economy would almost certainly fall into recession or worse. Given the economy's present condition this recession would likely be long and deep. There is no doubt that the social turmoil following deep economic trouble would dwarf the present antiwar protests. These likely consequences give new urgency to American elites' need to control the oil fields of the world and particularly those of the Persian Gulf.

As anyone who has been paying attention knows, the war in Iraq is lost. But departure from Iraq will definitely cause the United States to lose control of the Persian Gulf. The Iraqi government will collapse overnight leaving the country in chaos. The United States will no longer present a credible military presence in the neighborhood, and the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other oil-producing Gulf states, who have been loyal retainers until now, will have no reason to favor the United States over anyone else who will pay a higher price for their oil. China already has oil projects in Saudi Arabia and Iran. With population exploding and per capita income shrinking, Saudi Arabia will be in the most trouble. The Princes' control and Saudi Arabia's economy is shaky. To appease their citizens they will have to keep their own domestic oil prices low. With their exploding population their own consumption will be a larger and larger drain on their production, and they will continue to subsidize this domestic consumption or face social turmoil. What oil they do sell they will want to sell for as much as they can get.

To leave Iraq is to leave the Persian Gulf oil fields. Since Americans will have a tough time obtaining oil at anywhere near the rate they have been in an open market, the American economy will suffer a trauma from this loss. And since those in power know that Americans will not tolerate an end of the era of happy motoring, they plan to attack Iran in the hope of retaining control of the Gulf.

But this can be no ordinary attack. Everything indicates that any conventional attack on Iran will have devastating repercussions for the United States, and will produce an immediate oil drought. Iran has too many ways to retaliate, and too many of them will affect the United States directly. For this reason the United States and Israel are contemplating a nuclear attack to obliterate Iranian power. Anything less would certainly allow Iran to cut off the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow bottleneck at the bottom of the Gulf through which much of the oil from the Persian Gulf passes.

If the United States attacks Iran with nuclear weapons it is unlikely that its oil will flow soon. All that messy left over radiation. Highly trained geologists with many options might not want to bathe in it. If there are people left walking around in Iran they might not be too friendly. The consequences of such an attack are completely unpredictable, and oil companies need political stability to make the mammoth investments needed to extract oil. Judging from the Iraqi opposition the only way the United States might make Iran safe for American oil companies is to wipe out the population entirely. But then Iran would be radioactive for centuries.

So here's the situation as I think they see it. Controlling the Persian Gulf is a prime directive, but we have lost in Iraq. That loss will end American control. One consequence of this loss is that Iran is stronger and the U.S. weaker. Without a US military presence in the Gulf, Iran will dominate it, the United States will not be able to obtain the oil it now uses at prices it can afford, and the American way of life will have to change. Those in power desperately hope to hang on to the Gulf by causing regime change in Iran, or breaking Iran up into statelets and failed states. But war with Iran will leave most of Persian Gulf oil unavailable because we cannot attack Iran without nuclear weapons. Iran's ability to retaliate is too great. But if we attack with nuclear weapons oil flow from the Gulf will drop off drastically or stop and prices will increase sharply, plunging us and the world into oil shortage, recession, and wider war. So to attack Iran might retain American control of the Persian Gulf at the expense of the oil. All we can do is destroy what we can't have, like a spoiled child.

Even if the United States manages, through the use of force, to obtain its oil requirements from what is left, someone else will have to go without. Who will it be? How will the United States prevent China from obtaining oil while continuing the flow to Japan? Or will we jettison Japan in the emergency? What about India? Where will it stop? Social turmoil, desperate measures, and likely wider war will follow oil shortages.

The rich and powerful fight for wealth and power, but it is just possible that they do not fight for the democratic political structure of the United States. Leo Strauss, the godfather of neoconservatism did not favor liberal democracy. It is possible to fight a war with no intention of winning, 1984 style. The goal would be to fight and keep fighting forever. That would allow the transformation of the United States into an oligarchic dictatorship and distract the American public from the loss of the era of happy motoring. All hardship would be borne for the sake of fighting the endless war. And since resource scarcity is partially a population problem, massacre might just be part of the solution.

It is convenient to blame our leaders. George W. Bush is an easy target, but when we aim at him we overlook our own responsibility. Politicians know Americans will punish anyone who presides over a fall into hard times. Our somnambulism and our way of life dictate our need to consume one quarter of the world's oil, and a disproportionate share of most other resources. But we don't want to look at what is required to get all that stuff. The United States is living in a ferocious active ignorance, and that ignorance is as much a cause of the present apocalyptic danger as anything. We cannot have both happy motoring and no war, but that is precisely what we want. Instead we have happy motoring and no real awareness of the war. We have to publicly accept our willingness to use less if we expect our politicians to admit to and act upon the need to power down.

As things stand now Americans seem quite willing to accept massacre over there and totalitarian repression over here just so long as they can pull up to the pump and fill 'er up. Yes, our elites fight for wealth and power, but why shouldn't they? The untrammeled capitalism we have embraced offers wealth and power as rewards. Our elites are the winners in this game. Since we offer no real objections to the ruthless pursuit of wealth and power, but in fact openly admire it, why shouldn't they pursue it? It was their very success that made them the elites in the first place. To object that the Bush administration didn't do a good job on the war, which is, after all, what the polls really tell us, is to tacitly admit that the war, if only swiftly won, would have been a fine thing. Americans are obviously unperturbed by atrocities and the loss of their liberties as long as no one takes away their toys or tells them what is really happening. Cushy oblivion, so we can feel good about ourselves, is the true goal of American life. We don't really object to being lied to, we insist on it.

But that won't work any more. The era of happy motoring will soon end no matter how deeply we stick our heads in the sand. We cannot continue to use oil as we have been. Everything points to a peak within the decade. The only question is how it will end. One way is to decimate the human population in the hope that the remaining elites might be able to live it up on what's left. Given that those in power are obviously sanguine and sanguinary murderers, this might be their plan. If they can massacre them they can massacre us. But the elites are in for a surprise. Warlords, not capitalists, will rule after such carnage. On the other hand, if there is to be a peaceful solution it will have to be a conscious worldwide plan to power down. The whole idea is completely alien to the American way of life, and therefore is extremely unlikely. Indeed, it is unprecedented in human existence. But that is what it will take if we are to have even a remote chance of escaping widespread war, totalitarian repression, and massacre. Athens, the model for our democracy, had to abandon the city to save it during the Persian War. We need to take as bold a step.