It’s The Oil, Stupid

If the neocon game-plan for the Middle East was truly, as has been alleged, to create a self-supporting dynamic whereby Iraqi oil would finance the conquest of the other unfriendly oil-rich countries, while satisfying a SUV-worshipping electoral base, then American behaviour becomes readily comprehensible as the continuation of a political tradition going back to the Assyrians.

The “conquest state” is a political system that proverbially resembles the shark, which has to move forward or sink; the state can only survive by embarking on fresh aggressions. This is either because it requires the plunder from the new conquest to prevent bankruptcy from the expense of the last, or because the ruling group cannot stay in power without distributing the loot, or both. In some cases the plunder takes the form of human beings, to be consumed in economic production (the Romans) or in religious production (the Aztecs), in other cases inanimate resources. But conquest states cannot stop, and so end badly.

The Tudors in particular dreamt of a new kind of warfare, outsourced to private entrepreneurs and turning a profit. The victims called it piracy. It might be interesting to trace the history of the idea that war can pay for itself, contra the experience acquired by most states that have practiced it, namely that in reality it costs ten times as much as they expect.

A fly-on-the-wall film has been made by National Guardsmen serving in Iraq, with the director instructing them by text-message. One soldier is said to have criticised the war as a means of making profit for Cheney’s company, but at the same time to have said that this was okay because “the US needs oil”. True enough, but then what’s wrong with buying it on the, ahem, free market? If the American grass-roots now supports the idea that whatsoever resources the US happens to need, the US can and may and should go and take by force, then the world is in even bigger trouble than we thought.

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