Friday, November 20, 2009

Laugh for Today

[Saddam Hussein gets The Hook. The Glorious Baathi future? It's up there in the sky. No wait, it's over there in Kuwait. Or maybe it's the oil down in the ground? Or it's hiding down there in a spider hole?]

Headline in today's New York Times (I am not making this up, I swear) -

U.S. Fears Iraq Development Projects May Go to Waste

"In its largest reconstruction effort since the Marshall Plan, the United States government has spent $53 billion for relief and reconstruction in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, building tens of thousands of hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity substations, schools and bridges.

But there are growing concerns among American officials that Iraq will not be able to adequately maintain the facilities once the Americans have left, potentially wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and jeopardizing Iraq’s ability to provide basic services to its people."

First, some numbers. The United States has 305 million people. Which makes $53 billion come out to $174 for each American, $696 for a family of four. That is not the cost of the war, just of the aid. Iraq has 29 million people so the $53 billion comes to $1,827 per person, $10,965 per family of six. (Iraqis have on average four children, apparently on the theory that there aren't enough Iraqis already. A theory shared by no one else.)

This eleven grand contribution really isn't that astonishing an amount considering it has been spread out over the six years since the invasion in 2003. What is astonishing is that there should have been any contribution at all. Iraq has the fourth largest proven reserves of petroleum in the world, after Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Iran.

Even the notoriously clueless Saudis are able to translate vast amounts of oil selling at high prices into cash in their pockets. Canada, particularly Alberta where most of the oil is, is not a poor country.

The reason for the difference is not hard to see. Saudi oilfields are developed by Aramco, the Arab-American Oil Company. Or as it is known when no Arabs are listening, Chevron, formerly known as Standard Oil of California.

It has been an article of faith since the end of the Second World War that when foreigners do for you what you are unable to do for yourself, that you are a victim of imperialism. It is precisely their willing cooperation with imperialist oil companies and their imperialist geologists and imperialist drilling rigs, and imperialist pipelines and imperialist pipeline construction companies, and imperialist tanker ports and the imperialist technology of building them, and the imperialist tankers, and the imperialist marketing system to turn oil into money to pay to the Saudis, that is at the heart of bin Laden's and al-Qaeda's hatred of the Saudi regime.

Iraq was spared this imperialist lackey-hood victimization by the Baathist nationalist regime of Saddam Hussein.

Now note how we, and they, got into this mess in the first place. Iraq had the fourth largest proven reserve of oil in the world 115 billion barrels. Kuwait had the fifth largest proven reserve, 104 billion barrels. Yet Iraq was (and is) dirt poor and Kuwait was tastelessly rich with ice skating rinks in the desert, all work done by Korean men and Pilipina women. And like the Saudis, victims of imperialist oil companies which showered them with wealth by paying the market rate for oil. The oil companies may be without conscience but they are not without the ability to extract, refine, and market oil profitably.

Iraq's Baathi nationalist regime had by contrast through its ineptitude, mismanagement, and corruption, reduced Iraq to militarized poverty in spite of its oil wealth. Unable to distinguish Kuwaiti wealth from its sources, in 1991 the Iraqi Baath regime invaded Kuwait in what was as much a looting as a conquest.

One can assume that had the invasion and annexation of Kuwait been allowed to stand, that it would not have taken many years of Iraqi managment of the Kuwait oil fields to reduce them to the same condition as the Iraqi oil fields.

Now that Iraq is moving toward autonomy and having it oil resources run under Iraqi management again, what are the prospects that those resources will be competently and honestly managed? What are the prospects that they will not soon wind up in the producing-almost-nothing conditions they were under the Baath regime?

And if that is how they manage resources which visibly pump money out of the ground, how competently and honestly will they manage the "hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity substations, schools and bridges" that American families have bought for them at the cost of $700 each?

Norway has oil and is wealthy on account of it. Alberta has oil and is wealthy on account of it. Russia has oil and is able to maintain a strong ruble and keep its economy afloat on account of it. Alaska has oil and is wealthy on account of it.

BUT Switzerland has no natural resources and is wealthier still. Ditto Japan, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Denmark. Israel also has no natural resources yet is the wealthiest non-oil-sheikdom in the Middle East. Israel has a significantly higher gross domestic product per capita than Saudi Arabia.

So going back to official fears that Iraqi aid project money may have gone to waste, one can only respond, which part of "Iraqi" did you not understand when you spent the money?

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