We're in Deep Shiite

Nir Rosen's portrait of Iraq as "the Republic of Fear" (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/26/AR2006052601578_pf.html) begins with this cheery portaiture: Every morning the streets of Baghdad are littered with dozens of bodies, bruised, torn, mutilated, executed only because they are Sunni or because they are Shiite. Power drills are an especially popular torture device.

I have spent nearly two of the three years since Baghdad fell in Iraq. On my last trip, a few weeks back, I flew out of the city overcome with fatalism. Over the course of six weeks, I worked with three different drivers; at various times each had to take a day off because a neighbor or relative had been killed. One morning 14 bodies were found, all with ID cards in their front pockets, all called Omar. Omar is a Sunni name. In Baghdad these days, nobody is more insecure than men called Omar. On another day a group of bodies was found with hands folded on their abdomens, right hand over left, the way Sunnis pray. It was a message. These days many Sunnis are obtaining false papers with neutral names. Sunni militias are retaliating, stopping buses and demanding the jinsiya , or ID cards, of all passengers. Individuals belonging to Shiite tribes are executed.

Under the reign of Saddam Hussein, dissidents called Iraq "the republic of fear" and hoped it would end when Hussein was toppled. But the war, it turns out, has spread the fear democratically. Now the terror is not merely from the regime, or from U.S. troops, but from everybody, everywhere.

Rosen also offers chillingly detailed descriptions of U. S. military retaliation against non-combatants in areas where our soldiers were killed and his depiction of "sectarian cleansing" by Sunni and Shiite militias suggests that Bosnia may soon look like a lovefeast in comparison:
In Amriya, dead bodies are being found on the main street at a rate of three or five or seven a day. People are afraid to approach the bodies, or call for an ambulance or the police, for fear that they, too, will be found dead the following day. In Abu Ghraib, Dora, Amriya and other once-diverse neighborhoods, Shiites are being forced to leave. In Maalif and Shaab, Sunnis are being targeted.
Those who fear civil war in Iraq are way behind the curve, Rosen thinks, because civil war actually began when U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad. It began when Sunnis discovered what they had lost, and Shiites learned what they had gained. And the worst is yet to come. If this doesn't make your outlook sufficiently sunny, then by all means take a look at Jeff Madrick's review of Kevin Phillips's American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19058)

In a sense, Madrick argues that Phiilips's gloomy outlook is not gloomy enough and does not address all the things there are to be gloomy about. Madrick is especially illuminating about the oil situation:
... the damage being done by the administration's irresponsible energy policies, more evident by the day, is an appropriate place to begin a book on American ills. Despite its having reduced the use of oil over the past thirty years as a percentage of the nation's income, America is still by far the world's largest user of oil, consuming 25 percent of the world's daily production. Most of this is for transportation. Of the 520 million cars in the world, 200 million are driven in America, while the US makes up only 5 percent of the world's population. It also has only 3 percent of the world's petroleum reserves, meaning growing imports are a certainty. Domestic production has been falling for decades.

Drawing on previous history, Phillips argues that the price of oil, now more than $70 a barrel, could go higher than $100 a barrel as worldwide reserves begin to decline. If his predictions come true, this could drive fuel and gasoline prices to levels that could seriously slow down the American economy. At more than $3.00 a gallon today, gasoline prices may soon start restraining economic growth. But long-term forecasting of oil prices has usually been unreliable and overly pessimistic. Of greater concern than dwindling reserves is the increasing demand for energy by newly expanding economies, notably China and India. Prices are now more than double what they were two years ago, and are likely to stay relatively high as long as the world economy grows. In addition, access to oil production is increasingly threatened by both political and natural events.

The biggest exporters of oil to the US are Canada and Mexico. But the fourth largest, Nigeria, may be on the brink of a civil war that could threaten production. Venezuela, another major oil exporter, is increasingly antagonistic to the US and American oil companies. Bolivia recently announced plans to nationalize foreign-owned natural gas companies. The US imports about 17 percent of its oil from the Middle East, a proportion that will rise. When Iran first threatened to cut off exports to the US during the current dispute over its nuclear program, oil prices jumped and have only risen further as tensions increase. Russia, a major producer, has been using its oil and natural gas reserves as a political weapon, threatening to shut down flows of oil and natural gas to the rest of Europe if it doesn't get its way. Gasoline prices also rose to $3.00 a gallon, if only temporarily, after Hurricane Katrina devastated refining facilities in the Gulf last summer.

A serious energy policy providing for security, diversity of sources, and, most important, conservation is necessary. But as Phillips shows in detail, such a policy is stymied by a US administration that is highly sympathetic to the powerful oil companies that would rather promote further exploration than reduce oil use. It is also an administration that does not want to ask Americans to make sacrifices. This was a political lesson learned from the Reagan administration, which successfully portrayed President Carter as a weak and confused pessimist because he called attention to the limits of natural resources.

Thus, Madrick joins the growing list of people who now seem to understand that Jimmy Carter was vilified for telling the American people what they needed to hear, while Ronald Reagan was exalted for telling them what they wanted to hear. Also, just out of simple minded curiousity, I wish someone would explain to me why oil company profits are soaring if, as the companies claim, they are simply passing on their costs in higher crude oil prices to consumers at the pump. If the rise in prices reflects nothing more than the rise in prodction costs, shouldn't profits have remained fairly constant?

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This page contains a single entry by Jim Cobb published on May 30, 2006 7:40 AM.

CONSTITUTIONAL POLITICS IN AN ELECTION YEAR? SAY IT AIN’T SO! was the previous entry in this blog.

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