War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’…

March 19, 2013


Taking a line out of a 1960s song, we might ask ourselves: “War, what is it food for?” and answer our own question, “absolutely nothin’ “.

When I first drafted this post I was not even thinking specifically that the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq was March 19 (and the tenth anniversary day is almost over now as I write this update).

And on the tenth anniversary, so as to make a point, several bombings in Iraq killed at least 65 people. The violence there, tribe against tribe, religious sect against religious sect, continues, and these days the strife-torn nation is closer to our (the U.S.) arch-enemy Iran.

It is pretty well accepted that the stated reason for going into Iraq in 2003, that is that Saddam Hussein had so-called “weapons of mass destruction” or WMDs, was bogus. Even the supporters admit that he did not have a stockpile after all. Sorry, after the loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars spent, just a little intelligence goof (or just a lie). And the term WMD itself was misleading and not precise. It was just meant to imply that he was stockpiling everything from nerve gas to atom bombs.

Had this been the case, and we knew where they were, then why didn’t we go after them specifically? And if we did not know where they were, how did we know they had them or why did we think they had them?

Now we are getting reports that chemical weapons have been used in Syria in the insurrection there. This may well be true, but I hope it is not something that gives an excuse to war hawks to send troops in. I say let the Syrians fight it out amongst themselves. Or send in the French.

I don’t take the possibility that outlaw regimes or madmen might have or get so-called WMDs or nuclear weapons lightly. Right now Iran and North Korea appear to be threats. We need to have a plan to make sure that we abolish the threats, not the nations necessarily. That is purely for our own defense.

But have we learned anything since Vietnam?

The public soon forgets. The public is apathetic. The politicians are also or they use things like the threat of WMDs from Iraq as a pretext for supporting certain foreign policies that help defense contractors and secure oil. They have not done a good job of securing oil. We gained no special hold on Iraqi oil, despite the promise we would by the war hawks who wanted us to have dominance in the region.

The decision makers in our Vietnam fiasco were operating under the premise that it would be like World War II (except much smaller and much quicker), that we would apply overwhelming force and win.

But Vietnam was a different kind of war. It was North Vietnam invading South Vietnam and a civil insurrection within South Vietnam at the same time and we got ourselves into the middle of it and found it not to be so easy after all and we were afraid to fight to win and afraid to leave and be called losers. We did not fight to win (and there may have been no way to win) and we did eventually leave as losers. (It was not the fault of our military but the politicians if anyone).

Iraq turned out to be more of a mess with total civil war breaking out when we got rid of the dictator and we were caught in the middle of it. We eventually left after being told we were not welcome anymore by the new government.

I like to blame all of this on our leaders, on the politicians. But does not the general public who is so apathetic on all of this have some responsibility?

The original post follows:

The United States needed Middle East oil so bad that eventually we gave the president unlimited power to wage a true world war, that is war all over the world, no matter what nation, against terrorists with some at least loose connection with a far-flung and hard-to-track organization usually referred to as Al Qaeda.

Besides the two more or less conventional ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president was and is authorized to order drone strikes, strikes by small stealthy unmanned aircraft, against anyone virtually anywhere in the world. Of course the drone attacks don’t just kill the target person but people around the target person, to include totally innocent people, to include women and children. But all’s fair in war (not necessarily moral though).

The virtually unlimited powers were handed over to then president George W. Bush but are retained today by president Barack Obama.

Congress handed the president the powers as a result of the 9/11 attacks more than a decade ago now. The U.S. had just been attacked, not by a nation, but by this somewhat amorphous entity called Al Qaeda. Because its leader and many of its followers were being harbored by the Taliban who controlled Afghanistan at the time, we invaded that nation.

That seemed to make sense.

But Bush was being advised by the neo-conservatives who had a think tank study that called for the U.S. gaining hegemony over the Middle East because of its strategic importance what with all of its oil. The paper in fact suggested we needed another Pearl Harbor to jolt the public out of its apathy and malaise. Conveniently (in one sense of it) 9/11, a modern-day Pearl Harbor, came along and killed about the same number of people as Pearl Harbor. In round numbers, about 3,000 deaths in both incidents.

So rather quickly we were not only at war with Afghanistan and its Taliban government who gave comfort to Al Qaeda but we invaded Iraq which had no to little direct connection with Al Qaeda but was in the Middle East and did have oil and a leader who was sympathetic to anti-American causes and who did support terrorists who struck Israel, sending the parents of suicide bombers money as a reward.

Bush was able to get a congressional authorization to fight terror in the form of a resolution called the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists”. It would be a war not against another nation or nations but a method or concept.

But make no mistake about it, all of this was about oil.

Now after a decade we have spent a trillion dollars or more and heavily indebted ourselves, so much so that we are having to or think we must cut needed programs and services for the public. And thousands of lives have been lost and thousands more negatively affected by injuries received in the Middle East wars.

And we have compromised our civil liberties and values. We have inflicted torture on American soil, kidnapped people and sent them to places in other countries for torture and have even killed American citizens (no trial or anything) for being said to be connected somehow to terrorists or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There’s even a question as to whether a drone strike could be authorized on American soil. The U.S. Attorney General has reportedly left the door open on that question.

Troublesome is the fact that local law enforcement departments have expressed interests in drones. It seems as if George Orwell’s 1984 becomes a reality.

Meanwhile, some are saying now that we are or nearly are “energy independent”, what with new oil and gas exploration and fracking (never mind environmental concerns).

We are in fact an energy exporter I read.

If we are to be an energy leader after being so dependent on Mid East oil it is probably because of price. When the price of energy got high enough it became economically viable to resume energy exploration in our own nation.

We did not need to go to war in the Middle East. And we don’t need to fight the whole world.

We of course must defend ourselves.

In the 9/11 scenario our intelligence agencies let us down for failing to heed their own information and to cooperate among themselves.

But it could have happened anyway even if everyone was doing everything right. We should have gone after the actual culprits and left it at that instead of opening the door to the dreams of neoconservative empire builders, who never shed their own blood.

(Interesting how so many of them had Vietnam deferments or otherwise skipped combat when they had their chance. Dick Cheney comes to mind.)

And we need to protect our civil liberties.

There was a saying during the Cold War among some: “Better Red than dead”. But I never bought into that. I don’t want to give up my civil liberties in the name of national security or personal security.

As for the competition for energy and the search for practical sources and means of energy and energy production: the marketplace, often augmented by government research, pretty well decides that.


“War” (1969 song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong)

Obama may be wagging the dog; moon shot approach to energy independence needed…

March 25, 2011

At this time it still seems unclear who is actually in charge of the no-fly zone Libya military operation by the West aimed against Muammar Gaddafi and his regime, officially to prevent civilians from being attacked by their own government, but in all practical terms aimed at toppling the mad-man Gaddafi (he is kind of clever, but he is also quite mad, by all appearances).

Supposedly NATO is taking over. In the real world that would seem to mean the United States will bear the heaviest burden in cost and probably resources. It always has in the past, although most or all of that is of our (the U.S.’s) own doing, because we have used the cover of NATO to conduct wars, example Korean War, or the cover of SEATO (less well-known perhaps, but Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) in the case of Vietnam.

I still maintain that going into Libya, only by air or otherwise was not a wise decision. But since the decision was made, I am puzzled why the planners and initiators did not come up with a more coordinated and comprehensive approach and call it like it is:

(The only answer is that there is always that false hope for “limited war”. But war is unpredictable. If you could actually limit it, you would limit it to nothing.)

The problem:

Gaddafi has finally gotten totally out of hand. In the past he was judged responsible for sponsoring terror operations, most notably the downing of a civilian airliner over Scotland.

In the past we have shot down Libyan jets who menaced our own aircraft, and President Ronald Reagan took it a step further and authorized the bombing of his tent. But somehow we missed him.

But now, by all reports, Gaddafi has threatened and is trying to liquidate his own people. (That is what convinces me he is indeed not just bad, but nuts. I mean how can you be a dictator if you get rid of all your dictatees?)

The solution:

Demand that he step down. That was done, but he did not. Next: Deliver an ultimatum that if he does not we will go in and get him. But of course before you do all of this you have to make sure you have the power to back it up and everything in place. His military leaders should have been warned in private that we were coming and that they could jump to our side or that they could convince him to step down.

Then if the warnings fail (which they did), go in with a coordinated air, sea and land approach — maybe not everything at once, but everything at the ready.

Now this would be terribly expensive and dangerous. But what is being done now, air power only, seems awful limited and still terribly expensive. It might not have as high a potential for loss of life, but it seems the cost-benefit ratio could be far less if it is not successful or if it ends in a stalemate or just sets off a civil war.

I am thinking that nations have to work out their own problems within their own borders and should not be subject to attack unless what is going on there directly affects other nations. Now that latter could be the case in Libya (the West needs the oil and refugees cause a problem for other nations). So if it is all that important, then don’t hold back. Go in and get the job done. And as I said in a previous post, it seems a provisional government would have to be set up, and that would have to be done by outside forces.

The Arab world seems mixed about its support for this operation. But the United Arab Emirates has agreed to send jets in support. The UAE is not exactly a beacon of democracy itself, but it is an ally of the U.S. and it has lots of oil. The emirs there would rather side with the U.S. and the West as long as the West buys their oil and helps them keep the Islamic fundamentalists at bay.

I also understand that Turkey, not an Arab nation, but a largely Muslim one, has agreed to take part in the Libya operation as a member of NATO.

When it is all said and done, as far as the U.S. is concerned, we would do better to slack off of being the world’s policeman and become energy independent. Our interventions are predicated more on resources than a desire for human rights, and that is only practical. Can you imagine what would have happened if we tried to intervene deeper down in Africa where most folks are black? This statement has nothing to do with racism on my part. Just be realistic.

There is a lot more to being energy independent than putting up windmills or turbines (even though it helps) or fanaticizing about running around in battery-operated cars (and where does the battery energy actually come from?).

A wise use of federal government money (better than military operations) would be a moon shot approach into research on energy, as well as a careful continued development of our own conventional energy resources, to include oil, natural gas, and coal.

The government needs to do the research, but in the end, private enterprise will likely find the answer, with pure economics dictating that answer.

I really think that President Obama has lacked leadership on this, but then again, none of his would-be rivals promise anything better.

I also think Obama has played a little wag the dog in the Libya operation. He also may have fallen into a trap. Republican opponents crowed that he was weak and timid on the Libya issue — so he acted and now they don’t like that either.

(It occurs to me that if the Republican Party could find a candidate with real ideas, well thought out and articulated, not just the standard criticisms, and not just hot-button wedge/social issues that have little to do with governing, such a candidate might be a real threat to an Obama second term. No one has emerged, yet.)

ADD 1:

I am not one who necessarily stays doggedly with one point of view. If the U.S. can successfully get enough Arab/Muslim states to go along with it in this action and other endeavors, then maybe we are achieving the hegemony in the region the neocons pushed for during the last decade. It is not cheap. It may or may not be worth it. We may live by the sword and we may die by the sword. But the only way to do this is with our current all-volunteer professional military. It would not be right to demand ordinary citizens put their lives on the line, not for self-defense, but for world domination. I am not being sarcastic or facetious here; this is a real issue we all need to think about.

$5 gasoline can be a real boon to conservation and energy resourcefulness; is American-produced natural gas the answer??

March 7, 2011

Maybe the free market or private enterprise really is the way to solve the so-called “energy crisis”.

Right about now a lot of us are wringing our hands about the impending $5 per gallon gasoline (and diesel) that seems surly to return what with all the upheaval in the Middle Eastern oil lands.

So pay the $5, I say, if gasoline is what you need. The real problem will be when you need that gallon of gasoline but cannot get it for $5 or at any cost. And that day could come. But when it does, someone will come up with an alternative to gasoline.

Now of course it would seem more sensible to come up with the alternative before the supply runs out and it all turns into a real crisis, but maybe that is just not how things really get done.

So far in my lifetime (61 years plus), I don’t think any of the spikes in the oil market (oil being of course the raw ingredient for gasoline and diesel fuels), have been the result of actual shortages, instead they have been the result of some kind of situation that could be used as an excuse for claiming a shortage or the result of so-called Arab oil embargoes that purportedly caused shortages thus giving suppliers an excuse to raise the price of gasoline. Yes, I realize that in some cases through the years there may have actually been some temporary disruption and maybe a shortage of sorts in the oil supply, but overall, not so much.

I’ve probably used this little story before, but it once again seems appropriate: During one of those so-called oil shortage crises (was it Desert Storm? — don’t recall for sure), my late wife was working for a fuel distributor. She told me that each morning her boss would call his fellow distributors (other companies) and ask them what they would be charging for gasoline that day, and that is how the wholesale price was set (sounds like price fixing to me). I did not hear about any real disruption in supply but the news of world events made it seem so, and in turn the suppliers apparently took advantage of it.

But of course today, regardless of what the actual availability is, there is pressure on the market, with emerging economic powerhouses, such as China and India, sucking up more and more of the energy supply, so prices are bound to go up — higher demand, higher prices. And when you add a political crisis in the oil lands — Libya most notable at the moment — to the equation, that is going to have an effect.

It would be better for the economy of the United States not to be so dependent or dependent at all on Middle Eastern oil or any foreign source of energy. But so far, apparently, the movers and shakers in the economy have not found it necessary or even prudent to move away from that model, despite calls to do that from various quarters ever since the first Arab oil embargo of the early 70s.

There is much resistance to our government forcing the issue on free enterprise, even though that same free enterprise, and the populace as a whole, will scream bloody murder and for help if the current supply runs out and will blame the government for the situation.

One suggestion has been the so-called drill-baby-drill option in which we totally exploit our own oil resources. To the extent we can do that without totally upsetting our environment — keeping that all-to-recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in mind — there is much sense to that. I personally don’t like the sight of oil platforms off the coast and am not sure whether it is really necessary to drill there. I think aesthetics are a vital part of life, but just as importantly, so is the eco-system, and drilling in sensitive areas poses a grave threat to life on earth. Destroying our planet in an attempt to preserve our way of life does not seem wise to me. But it does seem like there is room for a compromise or a logical risk/benefit assessment here.

Diverting food resources, namely corn, to ethanol (either by taking away animal feed or direct human feed) seems senseless, especially when, as I understand it, ethanol does not improve gasoline mileage or help the environment. But the farm lobbies and their compliant legislators have put the fix in on that one.

And currently in the news, the Obama administration is being pressured by some lawmakers and others and is considering opening up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to ease the pressure on the oil market. It seems to me that such a move would be premature at this time, and obviously it is not a long-term solution for our energy problems, such as they may be.

And what I am trying to say here in all of this is that a little pain at the pump is a sure fire way to promote energy conservation and resourcefulness — remember how gasoline consumption dropped sharply and how everyone was parking and/or selling their gas guzzlers the last time gas hit $5?  I really could have just written that preceding sentence and not the rest — but I like to write.

And that brings me to a point: energy policy or at least the basis for making it should be the purview of actual scientists using objective reasoning, rather than what would be good for say, the corn market, or the natural gas market, or the oil market, or the wind machine producing market. But the powers that be tend to put the kibosh on publicly-funded research as much as possible, favoring biased commercial research (where you pay for the answer you want).

And speaking of natural gas — well I did mention it in the previous paragraph — KGO Radio, San Francisco’s Dr. Bill Wattenburg is pushing something he in turn said was suggested by radio land investment expert Bob Brinker, that is making the best use of a resource the U.S. purportedly has an abundance of, natural gas. Brinker suggests a quick and easy way to get the ball rolling without any new taxes or any requirements on business or the public by the government would be for the president to issue an executive order to convert the federal fleet of vehicles to natural gas. They claim that would spur the car companies to produce new vehicles that could run on either gasoline or natural gas and that in turn would make such vehicles widely available to the public at its own choosing.

Personally, I don’t have a clue, but here is a link to a letter they think you should send along to Obama (and I suggest you just skip the biased introduction and read the text of the letter, for what it is worth): http://www.uncoverage.net/2011/02/dr-bill-wattenburgs-solution-to-lower-gasoline-prices-by-2gallon/



It won’t be pretty, but I’m thinking that in the end the free market will solve or resolve the energy crisis. In general, people will no longer use what they cannot afford and will gravitate toward what works for them and at the same time energy suppliers or would-be energy suppliers will do what they can to meet the demand. I do think the government has a role in funding unbiased and practical research (funded at least in part by existing road and/or energy taxes).

We need energy independence; Why is China getting the oil we fought for? And what I got out of “The Hurt Locker”

March 20, 2010

Back during the presidential campaign the mantra from the Republican right (and elsewhere) was “drill baby drill“, meaning we should drill anywhere and everywhere, including off pristine and not-so-pristine beaches and the Alaskan wilderness for oil to make America energy independent.

Well, with some limits — I’m not a big fan of offshore drilling (it’s ugly and the ocean is too valuable to mess up) — I think that is not a bad idea.

It’s a lot better than sending thousands of troops to Iraq (and Kuwait earlier) to die or be maimed for life in the name of oil — and that is what it has all been for.

And what really burns me up is the fact that we have put so much military effort into Iraq and now China is reaping the rewards with big oil contracts there. And why the China oil grab is not getting more press is beyond me.

Did the U.S. not earn the rights to Iraqi oil with our thousands of deaths there? If not, what was it all about? While I am not sure taking over a nation for its oil is legal or right, that is kind of what war is all about or at least the only logical thing that one could have been about.

And about being energy independent, turns out there is a lot of oil right under LA. I went to the La Brea Tar Pits when I was a kid. Turns out there is still even more oil than anyone ever knew about right under LA and some of the fields might get new development and already be grandfathered in so there won’t have to be any new environmental studies done (although I think that is being challenged).

We need to keep searching for and researching about other energy sources. But meantime we have to use what we know works.

And one piece I read recently stated that for our economy to prosper as it has in the past, we have to have a relatively cheap source of energy. So some of this new “green” type energy or some of the more bizarre ideas (you know, getting energy from the ocean waves) may not be economically feasible.

But again, this China thing. While we do have this symbiotic relationship with China — they produce everything we used to and we buy it — make no mistake, China is our competitor (for one it’s still Communist China) and no doubt sees itself as our successor as the world’s great power.

During the first Gulf War it was unsuccessfully argued that we should not jump in because we were not fighting to save Kuwait (and it was not a democracy, but a kingdom) but to protect our oil supply and that was not a good enough reason to risk the lives of our soldiers (actually many would think it was, but would perhaps be ashamed to argue such).

Then George W. followed the neo-con blueprint for making the Middle East our domain and protecting our oil supply, and the rest is history. We shed the blood and now China, who shed none, reaps much of the reward.

And now I’ll switch gears slightly and note that I just watched the award winning movie “The Hurt Locker” .

The message I got from the movie was two-fold. One was that some are attracted to war because of the adrenaline rush and the excitement that just can’t be gained any other way for them.

The other is that war is largely senseless. You sit there and watch the movie, which really has little story line or plot, and ask yourself: what is this all about?

Well war is fought when two parties vie for power and resources and get or I should say dupe third parties into shedding the blood.

There may be times when war is unpreventable. An example might be if the nation is actually attacked in force (and I don’t mean a one-time hit by terrorists).

And there’s even confusion in that. Japan attacked the United States, but not before we tried to choke off its oil supply, and that because of the terrible things it was doing in China, but Japan wasn’t doing anything in China western powers had not done there before (okay that might be debatable, but that’s not really the point here) and it felt it had been left out of the spoils of war it was supposed to share with western powers after World War l.

Germany did not attack the U.S. (although it might well have eventually).

North Korea did not attack the United States.

North Vietnam did not attack the U.S. But we bombed and burned and killed all over South Vietnam and North Vietnam to save South Vietnam. Decades later, Vietnam, now one country, and all under Communist rule, is finally recovering quite nicely from our help.

Of course we all know that those two just mentioned wars were really hot war proxy fights between primarily the U.S. and the old Soviet Union, and to some extent Communist China too, as part of the Cold War.

It takes a brave president to stand up to our enemies. But politically I think it would take an even braver president to stand up to those who insist we fight unnecessary wars.