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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bush' State of the Union Address: An Editorial from Pakistan

This is from the Daily Times in Pakistan. Interesting that the editorial ties in US policy with the attempt to secure oil. As with some US commentators it sees the policy as simply staying the course.


EDITORIAL: Why does President Bush still want to ‘stay the course’?

In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, President George W Bush said nothing new on Iraq except that he wanted to see the Baghdad regime remain in place and that American troops had to stay in Iraq to see that chaos didn’t take over the country. He described both Sunni and Shia versions of Islam clashing in Iraq as hostile to the United States and paid no heed to the fact that 70 percent of the American people supported the bipartisan recipe of withdrawal from Iraq.

Mr Bush spoke of ‘success’ but did not explain how this success would be achieved. He did not commit himself to any diplomatic initiative in the Middle East, including dialogue with Iran and Syria, so clearly endorsed by the polls. What he was most interested in projecting was the post-withdrawal plight of Iraq which would threaten the security of the United States: ‘If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides’.

The Democratic response immediately after the address was negative. The main objection was that if Iraq could not be set right in three years with 150,000 troops how could it be secured now with a ‘surge’ of 20,000? It referred to the views expressed by the country’s military high command — the chief has since been changed — and questioned the president’s sincerity in claming that the army in Iraq wanted more troops. Vice President Dick Cheney defended the president’s stand and the Maliki government in Iraq — ‘he is not a Persian!’ — the following day, saying unless it is secured Iraq would be the next base from where Al Qaeda could target the United States.

Most Americans are puzzled and angered by Mr Bush’s stubbornness. Some say he is concerned about his role in history and wants to be judged by the coming generations rather than the gallup polls of today. There is no doubt that Americans are also undecided about what to do with Iran and are mystified by Mr Bush’s moves in the Gulf even though they are against an invasion. The US Congress as a whole is still uncertain whether it should take him on by ‘de-funding’ the war in Iraq at the cost of offending the nation that cares for American troops there.

Could there be another ‘unexpressed’ reason? Britain’s The Independent newspaper (7 January 2007) points to the factor of Iraqi oil, about which the present Iraqi government has to make some very important decisions shortly. If the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at times tends to make rebellious comments about Mr Bush — ‘go but leave us the weapons’ — he could be speaking from a position of some strength. His US-installed Shia-dominated government has to ‘approve a new hydrocarbon law that will hand unprecedented control of the country’s vast oil reserves to US and British energy conglomerates’.

In his address, Mr Bush has asked the US Congress to ordain the doubling of the US oil reserves. What he did not say is where the oil will come from. Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves, which is 10 percent of the world’s total, and most of it is found around Basra in the Shia-dominated south. The Iraqi oil is close to the surface and cheap to take out compared to North Sea Oil and other locations. The Independent says production sharing agreements (PSAs) give up to 60 percent of the revenue to American and British oil companies, ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP, etc, till they have recouped their investments, after which they will take 20 percent of the profits. And any breaches of contract will have to be adjudicated in international courts!

Baghdad is dragging its feet, probably waiting for Mr Bush’s decision to start withdrawing, after which it might conceivably make a different decision about its oil after consulting Iran. That may be why Mr Bush is not ready as yet to give a schedule of withdrawal as that might provoke the Iraqi government dig in and not sign. We should recall that Saddam Hussein had given out oil contracts to more than 60 companies from 30 countries headed by France, Russia and China. It would be very important for the US to make sure that these contracts are now repudiated by Baghdad.

The American president will face a very tough year ahead of him as more American casualties are posted and the ‘surge’ he has ordered will not put down the bloody civil war going on in Iraq. Far too many entities in and around Iraq are interested in creating chaos there to make it easy for the Americans to leave. Perhaps they know the real reason why Washington is interested in creating order in the country. Finally it is going to be a battle of wills between Mr Bush and his gradually dwindling Republican supporters, on the one hand, and the Democratic opposition that dominates the US legislature, on the other. Can the US oil lobby win this battle for Mr Bush? *

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