By Mike Byron
It is now mid-2010. Global oil production has been essentially flat since mid-2004:
Year after year the U.S. Energy Information Agency has had to downwardly adjust its oil production projections which always initially depict increasing production, and then are "retrodicted" to correspond with reality. It seems that it is vitally important to maintain the belief that ever increasing supplies of oil lie just ahead in our future. Why?
Humanity's entire global political economy is predicated upon an assumption of endless supplies of cheap fossil fuels--coal, oil and natural gas--most especially oil. The informal, but very real, American Empire is based upon the assumption that the Age of Oil will continue indefinitely and that whoever controls the oil and natural gas sources and their actual and potential pipeline routes, controls the planet. As to coal, the U.S. possesses the planet's largest supply within its own borders. With the exception of ally Australia and rival Russia, it is the only significant exporter of this particular resource. Thus imperial strategy is focused upon control over oil and natural gas resources.
Yet, there exists a problem that the Empire cannot overcome: It is reality. For the Empire's entire strategy, indeed its entire economic underpinning, is based on the assumption of limitless supplies of oil. Unfortunately, all of the easy to obtain oil (the "low hanging fruit" so to speak), has already been found and exploited. Discovery of new oil reserves peaked in the mid-1960's and has declined precipitously since then.
Since you must discover oil before you can use it, and since it takes several decades on average to bring new-found oil fields to full production, we can reliably and realistically forecast future production of oil. Today, new discoveries of oil amount to about one-sixth of what we are using. For every six barrels of oil we use, we find one to replace them. And the new barrel is much harder to produce--it's more expensive and has a lower net energy gain (after subtracting out the energy used to produce it).
Accordingly, Imperial strategy has focused on two fronts:
1) Military control over the world's remaining cheap, easy to produce, oil supplies. Sixty percent of the planet's remaining supplies of oil and natural gas are in the Persian Gulf area. Most states in this region are U.S. vassals: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the U.A.E., Qatar, and so on. Iraq was seized militarily by the U.S. in 2003. Only Iran stubbornly resists U.S. control. Afghanistan is undergoing attempted pacification by the U.S. to facilitate the potential transport via pipeline, or Central Asian oil and natural gas along routes which will bypass rival Russia and intransigent Iran.
2) Using high technology to access oil from increasingly difficult locations--particularly deep underwater, or diffuse sources such as oil shales. Offshore oil may be obtained in many locations, however, the Gulf of Mexico, within the U.S.'s 200-mile economic exclusion zone is one of the most productive sites. The U.S. Empire's ally, Canada, possesses the world's greatest supply of oil shales.
Since the 2nd World War U.S. Imperial strategy has focused on controlling overseas territory with the assistance of key regional allies. In the Middle East, one such ally has been Israel. Israel possesses a technologically sophisticated economy along with a powerful military which is unequalled in its region. A secondary objective of the U.S.'s invasion and conquest of Iraq was to destroy the military capabilities of that state such that they could never again even potentially threaten Israeli, and by extension, U.S. supremacy in this region.
However, there are several growing problems with this strategy. Israel does not produce oil. Its surrounding neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, do. These states, while vassals of the Empire, are themselves antagonistic towards Israel for religious and ethnic reasons. Essentially this means that so long as Israel occupies the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza, along with formerly Arab East Jerusalem, there can be no accommodation between them and Israel.
Looked at from the perspective of Israel, a rational policy would be to achieve peace with its neighbors. A small coastal enclave of about six million Jews, surrounded by about three hundred million antagonistic Moslems, must always feel threatened and insecure. Peace, based upon territorial compromise, would vastly reduce this problem. However, Israel, via its hyper-effective U.S. lobbying organization, AIPAC (American Israel Political Action Committee), effectively controls the policies of the US government with respect to Israel, or any issue that concerns Israel.
Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967--43 years ago. Over time Israel has annexed formerly Arab East Jerusalem, and had placed numerous settlements there and in the West Bank. Over 500,000 Jewish Israelis now live in these territories. While direct Israeli control over Gaza was ended, it maintains control over land and sea approaches to Gaza (along with the imperial vassal state ofEgypt). Gaza in effect is a large, open air prison camp for 1,500,000 Palestinians. The longer this occupation continues, the greater the pressures within the oil producing Arab vassal states against the U.S., and against the Empire's local proxy, Israel.
Thus U.S. policy is producing a growing contradiction between unswerving support of Israel and the need to maintain control over the most productive oil reserves on the planet. As U.S. support for Israeli intransigence continues, the difficulty of maintaining control over the Empire's oil resources increases. This growing stress can only continue until something gives way.
I believe that that something occurred during the first week of June, 2010 with the Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla. Regardless of the actual facts of who did what to whom and when, the reality is that the Empire has suffered a grievous and, for reasons I shall explain shortly, unrecoverable blow in this part of the world.
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