Stirling Newberry On Un Option And

Stirling Newberry on UN Option
And the Great Oil Price Shock of Gulf War IV

Stirling Newberry doesn’t think the UN has enough troops for Iraq, either; and he instances the Congo as an example of things going bad.

“What’s wrong with staying in: Realistically any change of occupation policy will require a change of regime in the United States. Given that the current Executive controls both houses of Congress, and there is no even improbable scenario which brings to the White House anyone of different persuasion – indulge your most arcane avian bird flu and Presidential succession scenario – its war hawks all the way down the depth chart – realistically, it means than any occupation scenario is basing its judgement on 2009. By 2009, at reasonable estimates, there will be another 3500 US military fatalities in Iraq, there will be another 250 allied fatalities. There will be another 2000 mercenary fatalities. There will be some 40,000 Iraqi military dead – including government and rebel fighters. There will be some 200,000 incremental deaths in Iraq because of direct consequences of conflict, deprivation and crime. We are not talking, then, about “can we turn Iraq around today”. We are talking about “can we turn Iraq around after another 3 and a half years of civil war?” It is useful to look, then, at two example failed states and their experiences. One is the Democratic [Republic] of the Congo. The other is Lebanon. “

Michael Pollack writes in clarification of my point about Gulf War IV likely being a guerrilla struggle that has every reason to sabotage Gulf petroleum production, unlike the Iraqi and Iranian states in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, which I think is better termed the First Gulf War.

I also noticed . . . that you made a small change to your earlier post in line with my suggestion:

“We already saw petroleum spike to $40 a barrel in the early 80s, in 1980 dollars, which is probably $80 a barrel in our money. Cause? [A run of speculation in the markets prompted by the] Iranian Revolution and Iran-Iraq War. Only a kind of MAD prevented Saddam and Khomeini from destroying each others’ oil fields; at that, they were sometimes attacked. Guerrillas do not give a rat’s ass about MAD.”

And although this is a refinement, I think it still isn’t getting across your keystone point . . .

What I think is [significant] — and I emphasize that I think your argument here is very important, and new — is that Iran/Iraq war didn’t sustain the price spike.

Here’s my precis of your argument as I understand it:


Prices shot up in 1979-80, crushing the world economy. But they didn’t stay there — even though the war raged on and got progressively worse. The worse the war got, the more prices fell. And the reason is MAD — that both countries were deterred — even in a macabre war to the death that involved nerve gas and suicide minesweeping — from attacking each other’s oil fields.

And this has caused a mass unjustified complaisance. The Iran/Iraq war was the longest conventional war of modern times. An obscene number of people died. It took place in the very heart of the oil producing gulf. And yet most people in the West barely noticed it at the time, and barely remember it now.

But now, replay that scene without MAD — because that’s what you’d have now in what you are calling Gulf War IV. Take the oil spike from 1979 — which is graven in everyone’s memory — and continue it for 8 years. And not at a level price, but at one that continually increased from that initial spike.

And then imagine what would have happened to the world economy. You’d have the great depression. With no exaggeration.

[end precis]

That’s your argument, as I understand it, as you clarified in email, and I think it’s very powerful one. And I think it deserves to be spelled out — perhaps in a new short post — or people will miss it. Because the central point is very subtle — you’re talking about the dog that didn’t bark, the crisis that didn’t happen. And the empirical point is one that most people have never really registered — that prices crashed in the 1980s, after their initial spike. And to that you’re adding to it something that I don’t remember anyone else ever pointing out before — that they did it in the middle of a horrible middle eastern war.

I think that’s an awful lot to leave tacit. I think all that has to be spelled out before the average (or even the attentive) reader will really grasp just how stark your scenario is — and how tightly your reasoning is based in recent history and present reality.

(Especially because so many . . . people have been waving around apocalyptic oil-shock scare scenarios for so long that many of us have a tendency to glaze over unless you shake us out of it.)


Another response, from Ireland, by email:

“I’d like to make a comment on your UN proposal, from the narrow perspective of an Irish citizen.

There is tremendous support for multi-lateral structures such as the EU and UN in Ireland, probably in large part because of our inability to defend ourselves by military means alone and our need for “international law” to protect our interests. We have declined to join overt military alliances such as NATO and the WEU, despite our close ideological and economic links to the Anglo-American world and the EU. Our army has only two tasks: internal security, mainly against paramilitary threats such
as the IRA, and UN peacekeeping (including the DRC, Liberia, Lebanon, Bosnia and East Temor).

I think Americans generally underestimate the degree of anger and disgust in the West, and the loss of good-will to the US and Britain, engendered by the Iraq war, and the propaganda, lies and bullying that led up to it. The US and UK forces in Iraq and their allies have no legitimacy in many Irish minds. Tony Blair was wildly popular here after the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He is now widely mistrusted and even disliked.

On the other hand, a small nation such as ours cannot afford to piss off our economic bread-butterers, and there has been little political fall-out for our government allowing the bulk of US military personnel and supplies to Iraq to pass through Shannon airport. People don’t like it, but accept it as politically necessary – probably not the most moral attitude to take.

My main point is that, even with a UN security council and General Assembly mandate, I think it would be nigh on politically impossible for any Irish Government to send Irish troops to Iraq, particularly on the kind of dangerous “peace enforcing” mission you envision.”

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