RE: Is the Hubbert curve a factor in the Bush Administrations rush to war with Iraq? (fwd)

From: Joel Cannon (
Date: Sat Feb 22 2003 - 18:49:23 EST

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    I have responded in the last post to what I thought was ``the'' important
    issue concerning the impending invasion of Iraq. I respond here to
    Glenn's criticism of my post.

    In my first post, I suggested that the Hubbert curve was a substantial
    factor in the push toward war in Iraq. My post was appropriately
    qualified (as in I think the case is strong for it, but not absolute)
    in the introduction and not qualified as well as it should have been
    in my concluding paragraph. I have been skeptical that the war is
    about oil. However, the more I study the history surrounding Iraq and
    the U.S., and listen to what people are saying, the more plausible
    this position appears. While Glenn has provided some helpful
    information that sharpens the issue, I think it is still more
    plausible than not, that oil in general, and the impending decline in
    oil in particular, that is a controlling factor.

     My evidence was basically that administration justifications that do
    not make sense in light of past statements (therefore there must be
    some other justifications) coupled with Iraq's significance in light
    of the Hubbert curve and the imminent decline in oil strongly suggest
    that oil in general, and the Hubbert curve in particular, may be an
    important factor.

    First I agree with Glenn that:

    1. from the Bush administration's knowledge of the Hubbert curve ``it
       does not automatic follow that that is the reason for the war.''

    2. that a war for oil does not make good business sense in the short
       term at today's oil prices. Absent long term considerations it
       would make more sense to buy it on the open market. Thomas Friedman
       made a similar argument (and similarly neglected long-term
       considerations) using different statistics recently in his
       column in The New York Times.

    3. ``that we will never have peace until the Israeli-Palestinian
       conflict is resolved.'' However, I think that insisting on justice
       for the Palestinians as well as security for Israel would be a
       better way to accomplish this than invading Iraq.

    However, each item needs elaboration.

    Considering 1, it was the absence of credible alternative
    explanations coupled with Hubbert that makes it follow that the
    Hubbert curve is a likely reason for the war.

    Regarding 2, the reason Hubbert and oil are important are strategic
    considerations, which include but go beyond strictly economic
    analysis. The real threat relevant to Glenn's speculation of an Iraq
    pan-Arabic state is that their power will be leveraged because they
    control our oil supplies. To quote Bush's father in the buildup to
    the first Gulf war, ``What is at stake here is our way of life.''
    (that is quoted from memory, but my recollection is quite clear,
    because it struck me that defending an affluent style could not be
    justified from a Christian perspective). If my analysis is correct,
    the war on Iraq may be undertaken to ensure that the US and not Iraq
    is the party that dictates oil prices.

    Regarding, Glenn's concern that Saddam's pan-Arabic government would
    try to ``topple the West,'' it is not credible that a country whose
    GNP in 1989 was $37,390 billion
    was in deline has been declining since then as a result of the Gulf
    war and sanctions )with a few motley fission weapons would
    pose a legitimate threat to the US (or its allies). By contrast, the
    US had a GNP in 1991 (the year of my almanac) of $5,233 billion
    dollars, its defense budget exceeds the aggregate defense budget of
    the next 10 largest military budgets, and it has a massive arsenal of
    hydrogen bombs. Even if Saddam could add the combined GNP's of the
    occupied countries and occupation cost Saddam nothing, the threat he
    could pose would not be credible. (Glenn also mentioned N. Korea as a
    parallel. They are not a credible force to topple the west.)

    Beyond this I think questionable assumptions affect Glenn's economic
    analysis. First, I hope that the U.S. would honor international law
    and repay France and Russia. I find little evidence that this
    administration takes international law seriously. As a relevant
    example, the threat of losing this money has reportedly been used to
    twist France and Russia's arms at the U.N. Security
    Council. Similarly, while I hope that the U.S. would rebuild Iraq, I
    find no reason for optimism based on recent experience with the
    Balkans and Afghantistan where the UN has been left to do the

    Finally, the point of my post was that ``the end of cheap oil'' (the
    title in Glenn's original post) is a likely factor, not oil per se at
    today's prices. The decline in the availability of oil is, I presume,
    a long term problem (I am worried about how I will pay my heating bill
    in 5 to 10 or more years). Nevertheless, I think it is useful.

    Glenn's analysis involves only short-term economic considerations.
    Glenn estimates that the war will cost the equivalent of between 1.4
    and 2.4 Billion barrels of oil at todays prices. About .2 Billion
    would be needed to pay off France and Russia and more needed to
    rebuild Iraq to the degree that it is rebuilt. Ignoring the rebuilding
    money, that means 2.6 Billion barrels. Furthermore, he said that Iraq
    could produce about 2.4 million barrels oil per day today, but
    produced about 50% more than that (3.9 mil.) in 1979.

    Using Glenn's maximum cost, and his range of oil production, it would
    take between 705 and 1000 days of Iraqi oil production at today's
    prices (between 1.9 and 2.7 years) to pay off the war at current
    prices. If we accept Glenn's economic analysis, which I accept as
    having been done quickly and is likely conservative with regard to
    actual costs, the war would be paid for long before the Hubbert curve
    begins to bite. If we are worried about Iraq threatening our
    oil-consuming economy in a time of shrinking oil supplies, an
    investment that ``pays'' itself off this quickly would be a good
    investment from a business if not a moral standpoint. A good
    businessman like Cheney might find it economically
    attractive. Clearly, a real analysis would change this (the more
    ethical we are, the longer it will take), but I don't think Glenn's
    figures eliminate the possibility or even liklihood that call oil and
    the Hubbert curve into question as substantial reasons for the
    administration's push toward war.

    This post is too long already. I just note that an important point is
    the implausibility of the Bush administration's stated reasons for
    invading Iraq. I cited evidence that Saddam's character, including his
    human rights violations, his weapons of mass destruction (programs
    that were actively supported by the US, and US corporations), and his
    drive to acquire nuclear weapons (Israel bombed an Iraq research
    reactor in 1981 because of fears of nuclear weapons) were known when
    Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein in 1984 to normalize
    relations. If Rumsfeld was so mistaken about Saddam's character then,
    why should we trust Rumsfeld's assessment of his character now? Or why
    should we believe that Rumsfeld is giving us his honest opinion? Glenn
    did not respond to this except to imply without evidence that in the
    absence of war, Saddam would develop a bomb and rule the Middle East
    from Gibraltor to Pakistan.

    In short, while it is uncomfortable to believe that our national
    leaders would go to war over oil, I think there is a strong
    circumstantial case for it and the Hubbert curve, introduced to us by
    Glenn, is an important consideration with regard to this
    possibility. In the words of a poster I recently observed it appears
    to me that, ``If Iraq's main export were broccoli, there would not be
    a war on Iraq.''


    Joel W. Cannon | (724)223-6146
    Physics Department |
    Washington and Jefferson College |
    Washington, PA 15301 |

    "I demand a better excuse than revenge or oil for the
    prosecution of a war that is likely to do more harm than
    good, that will destabilize not only the region but also
    the world for years to come, and that will confirm...our
    country's reputation as an irrational and undisciplined

            - Rev. Peter Gomes, Baptist minister, Plummer
              professor of morals at Harvard, and Republican.
              He gave the blessing at Reagan's second inauguration
              and preached at George Bush Senior's inauguration

    For a helpful discussion of the crisis in Iraq:

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