Oilfieldtobymelvillegetty

If Greenspan is right, haven't we already won the war in Iraq? My old friend Jim Holt explains why in the new LRB. Money quote:

Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves. That is more than five times the total in the United States. And, because of its long isolation, it is the least explored of the world’s oil-rich nations. A mere two thousand wells have been drilled across the entire country; in Texas alone there are a million. It has been estimated, by the Council on Foreign Relations, that Iraq may have a further 220 billion barrels of undiscovered oil; another study puts the figure at 300 billion. If these estimates are anywhere close to the mark, US forces are now sitting on one quarter of the world’s oil resources. The value of Iraqi oil, largely light crude with low production costs, would be of the order of $30 trillion at today’s prices. For purposes of comparison, the projected total cost of the US invasion/occupation is around $1 trillion.

Who will get Iraq’s oil? One of the Bush administration’s ‘benchmarks’ for the Iraqi government is the passage of a law to distribute oil revenues. The draft law that the US has written for the Iraqi congress would cede nearly all the oil to Western companies. The Iraq National Oil Company would retain control of 17 of Iraq’s 80 existing oilfields, leaving the rest – including all yet to be discovered oil – under foreign corporate control for 30 years.

And so when we keep asking the Bush administration for an exit strategy, we are, in fact, asking the wrong question. There is no exit strategy. The point is staying there for ever in order to ensure that energy supplies are secured by the West. Jim goes on:

How will the US maintain hegemony over Iraqi oil? By establishing permanent military bases in Iraq.

Five self-sufficient 'super-bases' are in various stages of completion. All are well away from the urban areas where most casualties have occurred... But will the US be able to maintain an indefinite military presence in Iraq? It will plausibly claim a rationale to stay there for as long as civil conflict simmers, or until every groupuscule that conveniently brands itself as ‘al-Qaida’ is exterminated. The civil war may gradually lose intensity as Shias, Sunnis and Kurds withdraw into separate enclaves, reducing the surface area for sectarian friction, and as warlords consolidate local authority. De facto partition will be the result. But this partition can never become de jure.

And so failure in Iraq is actually redefined as success. A long-term presence of 50,000 troops mimimun is what seems to be in the cards anyway. Senator Clinton will keep the occupation going for fear of looking weak. And the price is cheap relatively speaking:

The costs – a few billion dollars a month plus a few dozen American fatalities (a figure which will probably diminish, and which is in any case comparable to the number of US motorcyclists killed because of repealed helmet laws) – are negligible compared to $30 trillion in oil wealth, assured American geopolitical supremacy and cheap gas for voters. In terms of realpolitik, the invasion of Iraq is not a fiasco; it is a resounding success.

Was this a plot from the beginning? I doubt it. But it is an obvious game-plan now.

(Photo: a British soldier guarding oil pipelines near Basra, Iraq, 2005. By Toby Melville/Getty.)

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