In my last post on Iraq, I concluded with a somewhat snarky reference to pro-war bloggers who reasoned that, since Sadr offered a ceasefire, he must have lost the fight in Basra, and therefore the government must have won. As it turned out, the ceasefire was the product of some days of negotation, brokered by the Iranians, which made the original point moot.
Still, given that the same claim was made by John McCain, who said”Very rarely do I see the winning side declare a ceasefire., I think it’s worth making a more serious point about the fundamental error in pro-war thinking that’s reflected in claims like this.
As usual with McCain’s statements in his alleged area of expertise, the claim is factually dubious (see below). More importantly, the implicit analysis here, and in nearly all pro-war thinking is that of a zero-sum game, in which one side’s gains equal the other side’s losses. The reality is that war is a negative sum game. Invariably, both sides lose relative to an immediate agreement on the final peace terms. Almost invariably, both sides are worse off than if the war had never been fought. With nearly equal certainty, anyone who passes up an opportunity for an early ceasefire will regret it in the end.
The negative sum nature of war is most obvious when, as predictably happened in Basra, the stage of bloody stalemate is reached. At this point, both sides typically want to come out of the fight with some gains to show for the exercise. Fighting on, they sometimes achieve this and sometimes do not. But the losses incurred in the process ensure that both sides are worse than they would have been with an immediate ceasefire.
In this respect, Basra is a microcosm of the whole Iraq war. Six years after the push for war began just about everyone is far worse off than if they had agreed to peace on the most humiliating terms imaginable. Saddam Hussein and most of the Baathist apparatus are mostly dead or one the run, and many of the survivors are glad to take a pittance from the US occupiers. The Shi’ites, despite gaining political power, have suffered more in the years of conflict (with the Americans, the Sunni and among themselves) than they ever did under Saddam. The Americans and British have poured endless blood and treasure into Iraq to no avail and both Bush and Blair are utterly discredited. Even the Kurds have overreached themselves and brought the Turkish army into their territory. The only winners have been the Iranians, as interested bystanders, and merchants of death like Halliburton and KBR, and even these may yet end up worse off
Coming back to McCain’s historical claim, it’s easy to point to cases, like the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 where the winning side declared a unilateral ceasefire. More pertinently, perhaps, governments fighting insurgent movements have frequently followed up successful military campaigns with unilateral ceasefires and amnesty campaigns, aimed at reintegrating the rebels into civil society. If the government forces had achieved their main goals in Basra within the three-day period initially suggested, it would have made good sense for Maliki to follow this example.
Even more relevant to the argument presented here are the many cases when initial success in war could have been followed by a ceasefire and a peace deal on favorable terms, but was not, with disaster as the common aftermath. Two examples:
* At the end of 1792, the French revolutionary armies were everywhere victorious against the invaders of the First Coalition. Against the arguments of Robespierre and others, the government pressed on, converting a defensive war into one of unlimited expansion. When the fighting ended more than 20 years later, with the restored Bourbons replacing the Bonaparte dictatorship, the millions of dead included nearly all of those who had made the decision to go to war.
* After four months of fighting in Korea, the US/UN forces threw back the North Korean invaders. A peace at least as favorable as the status quo ante could easily have been imposed unilaterally at this point. Instead Macarthur invaded the North and brought the Chinese into the war, resulting in one of the worst defeats ever suffered by US forces (until the greater disaster of Vietnam). Three years and countless deaths later, the prewar boundary was restored.
Finally reaching a conclusion, the central error in pro-war thinking is the belief that every war has a winner. On the contrary, in war there are only losers. Even those who seem to win have usually sowed the seeds of future disaster. The only sane response to war is to end it as soon as possible.
116 thoughts on “Peace is for losers part, 2”
One of the strangest aspects of the Iraq war is that early on in the peace some very intewlligent people in the administration were insisting that they were fully aware of the risks of a quagmire and were taking steps to prevent it.
It’s not so much that they failed to foresee the possibility as it is that having foreseen it they still proved unable to avoid it.
Similarly, the German generals of 1941 were all aware of the disastrous outcomes of Charles the 12th’s and Napoleon’s invasions of Russia.
Gandhi #39 “I did not know that video was from De Palmaâ€™s film, or I would have noted it. But I donâ€™t care because it really doesnâ€™t matter”
Never let the facts get in the way of a good story?
Whilst the conspiracy theorists all think the US invasion of Iraq was about oil – I disagree. I think it was just a clumsy attempt by the West to impose democracy in the Middle East. It will be a great result if it succeeds. We’re still a long way off knowing what the final outcome will be.
If the West succeeds in imposing a modern liberal democracy in Iraq, and that subsequently spreads throughout the region – then I imagine that through the prism of history 100 years in the future – the Iraq war will be see as a huge success.
Of course that’s great comfort for those poor unfortunates having to live through the near term impacts of war today.
Andrew: Whilst the conspiracy theorists all think the US invasion of Iraq was about oil
I dont think it’s accurate to marginalize the ‘war for oil’ position by implying that only conspiracy theory nutters embrace it.
Alan Greenspan, who is no conspiracy theorist, and has close contacts with the current and past administrations, gave this blunt assessment:
“I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil”
And the current leader of the opposition, Brendan Nelson, has more or less said that ‘resource security’ (i.e. oil) was a consideration.
I dont think its naive to assume that resource security played no part in the consideration to go to war. I think it’s naive to assume otherwise.
Correction (Last poat I got myself tangled up). Last para should read:
I dont think its naive to assume that resource security played a part in the consideration to go to war. I think itâ€™s naive to assume otherwise.
Martin Ferguson doesn’t get it. If he wants oil for Australia we can just buy it on Nymex. What’s the problem?
Never let the facts get in the way of a good story?
I only posted the video to illustrate my point, and I think it illustrates that point very well, even it is only a fictionalised version of what’s really going on in Iraq today.
Check this latest McCain gaffe out from Raw Story:
“It was al-Sadr that declared the ceasefire, not Maliki,” said McCain. “With respect, I donâ€™t think Sadr would have declared the ceasefire if he thought he was winning. Most times in history, military engagements, the winning side doesnâ€™t declare the ceasefire. The second point is, overall, the Iraqi military performed pretty well. â€¦ The military is functioning very effectively.”
As the blog, Think Progress notes, “it was members of Prime Minister Nouri al-Malikiâ€™s government who brokered the ceasefire, to which Sadr agreed. Experts agree that Sadrâ€™s influence was strengthened â€” rather than diminished â€” by the Basra battle.”
“Australia” has been importing 100% of its rubber needs forever. Strangely, the world hasn’t ended.
These transactions are between individuals and private corporations. The market adjusts to changes in patterns of supply and demand.
It’d be nice to find a huge lake of oil, I suppose, simply because the increased economic activity generates taxation revenue. But it probably would not mean that Austalian consumers would pay a lower price than the world market price for oil.
Perhaps so, but there’s an order of magnitude difference in the costs to the economy between oil and rubber imports.
According to the
2008 Australian Year Book, in 2006-07 Australia imported $21051.1 million worth of “Petroleum, petroleum products and related materials” and $2465.5 million worth of “Rubber manufactures, n.e.s”
That differential will only widen courtesy of declining domestic production and continued increasing consumption due to growth. The previous two occasions when oil prices spiked (1973 and 1990), the western economies went into deep recessions.
Given the central role that oil-derived energy and products play in our society and economy, comparing oil to rubber isn’t exactly an aples to apples comparison.
Japan has never produced any more than a tiny fraction of its own oil. Japan is a huge consumer of oil. The Japanese economy has developed to cope with that reality.
The components that make up international trade are immaterial.
However, it is true to say that rapid changes in the components that make up international trade can cause disruption.
And rapid changes in the price of commodities that happen to be a large component of international trade can also cause disruption.
“The Japanese economy has developed to cope with that reality.”
Said “development” including at least five overseas wars of aggression to try and compensate for that lack; widespread famine as recently as the 1930’s; the collapse of Parliamentary democracy and the rise of militarism in the 1930’s and huge sacrifices in the quality of life of several generations of post-war Japanese.
The central role of oil is a myth. Oil is far less economically important than, say, health care or financial services.
It’s striking how thoroughly many war supporters are stuck in a picture of a resource-dominated world that was already obsolete by 1900.
Ah, but… health care and financial services, say, can be resourced locally and their absence wouldn’t have much knock on effect in the medium term (yes, even health care), and there’s little chance of a blockage developing that couldn’t be worked around by new suppliers coming in/being brought in. It’s not a cost issue so much as a strategic resource issue; second sourcing options for oil (including things like coal to oil etc.) would bring it back to the same level as those other things, but those aren’t really in place enough these days.
So why do US politicians harp on about making their country less dependent on foreign oil fields? What’s all that about?
The central role of oil is a myth.
Don’t tell Dick Cheney. LOL
Your point being?
I read this litany of woe as demonstrating that the Japanese went into denial about the most effective means of coping, until Japanese decision makers discovered a more sustainable way of matching aspirations to available means.
1. Peaceniks’ code-words for “let’s withdraw our troops”.
2. Cheap populism aimed at (shock, horror) scaring people into voting for them.
3. There is no doubt that Saudi Arabia especially has used oil as a geopolitical weapon to wrest concessions out of the US. But the US has chosen to play this game.
Here is a mental experiment: what would happen if the US government announced that it is out of the game of attempting to manipulate the economics and politics of oil? What if the US government said, “We are relying on the orderly marketing of oil through the world market. We will not attempt to influence the price or the flow of oil by any means whatsoever, except for those which pertain to the orderly operation of free markets?”
My guess is that the world would be a much more peaceful and relaxed place. And the price of oil would fall significantly in the medium term and would be far less subject to wild fluctuations.
All major oil interests are now driven by the market. Oil geopolitics arose in the era of the Cold War when the Soviet Union was impervious to market signals.
The Cold War is over, but oil politics have never moved on.
The “second sourcing” option for oil is to use less of it/use alternatives. The idea of fighting a war for cheap oil is about as sensible as fighting a war for cheap holidays in Europe. Granted that foreigners control the supply, you either pay the going price or do without.
“The Cold War is over, but oil politics have never moved on.”
Is what I’m saying. Argue your own corner, Katz!
George Bush is a peacenik?
“The idea of fighting a war for cheap oil is about as sensible as fighting a war for cheap holidays in Europe.”
Just coz it’s not sensible doesn’t mean people won’t do it. All very well to point out that alternative energy sources need to be found – it’s another thing entirely to convince large countries run by bull-necked blokes with expensive idle battalions at the ready – advised by energy hawks like Cheney – that you are right.
Gas provides another clear and current example of energy politics.
All the geopolitics over the Iran-Pakistan-India Peace Pipeline for eg.
The US threatened Pakistan with sanctions if it built the pipeline in 2005. In 2007 India went cool on the whole concept (US/India all matey matey over nuclear tech.) Now Iran is threatening to build the pipeline to China instead.
Threatening to trade!
“All major oil interests are now driven by the market.”
Tell that to Hugo Chavez. 6th biggest oil exporter in the world. He’s itching to find a way to sell more oil to China. The only thing stopping him is that China hasn’t yet got the right refineries in number for his heavy crude; the shipping infrastructure; and the reluctance of China itself to provoke the US.
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE IRAN-PAKISTAN-INDIA GAS PIPELINE is quite a good read.
Geopolitics Cold War style.
Sorry. Last one, I promise. And I’ll take my monomania elsewhere for a bit!
Which very sensible (perhaps too sensible) person said this in 2004?
I’m guessing the eminently “sensible” Kevin Rudd, and noting that a certain M.E. country was already invaded when he said it.
Maliki appears to have done just that, after confused reports of the events in Basra Sadr appears to be on the verge of disbanding the Mahdi militias.
wbb, I’m guessing that the person who said this has the same initials as me.
GWB’s SOTU refs don’t make him a Peacenik.
They do make him a huge spruiker for US domestic oil interests who want to drill everywhere in the US to find oil.
Yes, John is correct!
If oil is a small fraction of the economy – eg less than health services – that doesn’t mean it isn’t an essential fraction. Think vitamin C and ships biscuits. The US economy is rickety!
Mar 17, 2008
Why does Cheney care what the oil price is? Surely he understands how markets work.
Below, a quote from an article published today which says that oil becoming likely to be traded at market. More likely to be traded by government agreement.
“Due to increasing competition for a diminishing supply, oil is being bartered or direct access agreements are being made between states. This undermines the petrodollar (dollars reserved for or involved in oil transactions).”
Why the US cannot leave Iraq 8 April 2008.
Thanks for the excellent link, wbb. I thought this bit was highly pertinent:
The question is whether the US people would still think like that if the media did not present facts in such a distorted manner.
We see the same thing happening in Australia, where many people would rather just not talk about the war, either because they have been fed a false story or because they recognise the potential implications for their wallet.
But this narrative ignores one important fact: the USA cannot win in Iraq and will never have full control of Iraq’s oil (let along Iran’s). The pipes will always be sabotaged while the occupiers remain. So all that’s really being achieved is a higher oil price (and higher oil company profits) in the interim.
JQ, using less is not second sourcing, and the alternatives are not in place. That’s the point – if they were in place, then and only then you would have second sourcing.
Most people don’t believe they gain from the war. It’s only crackpots like you and me, Gandhi!
The rest of the world believes that these things happen sometimes (sigh); it’s all for the best (shrug); “they” know what they’re doing; and “they” must be doing it for the right reasons (coz we are the good guys – [subconscious]).
It’s nothing to do with the media, either. You could print this blogpost and comment thread in the middle of the Sports Section in next Saturday’s paper and most people would have no trouble reading right around it without skipping a beat.
Itâ€™s only crackpots like you and me, Gandhi!
I’m getting closer and closer to that that whole park bench experience thing, wbb.
OTOH Mark Bahnisch says getting attacked from both Left and Right simultaneously is A Good Thing, so maybe this is Teh Sweet Spot?
Yeah – at least there’s plenty of elbow room.
There no alternatives to oil at the moment. No reasonable alternatives that can be scaled up. Oil is an amazing thing. Enormous amounts of energy in a easily transportable form. Literally nothing else like it.
Used in pharmaceuticals, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture (the main driver of the ‘green revolution’), plastic products,etc.
There no forseeable alternatives for things like aviation fuel.
A lot of economists seem to believe in the just-in-time technology fairy. That if someone throws a lot of money at the problem a technological solution will magically present itself.
If oil prices become too expensive, that other alternative technologies will simply ‘appear’. Dangerously silly thinking in my opinion.
Mind you, I’m no dirty hippie. I’m in the field of engineering, so I quite interested in new technologies. I simply don’t believe a technological solution will simply appear because someone throws a lot of money at it.
“Your point being?
I read this litany of woe as demonstrating that the Japanese went into denial about the most effective means of coping, until Japanese decision makers discovered a more sustainable way of matching aspirations to available means.”
My point being that it is extraordinarily difficult to maintain a modern industrial economy without a decent supply of oil and to blithely suggest that “Australia can do it because Japan did it” is to ignore this fact.
And the “more sustainable” way to wreck the trade union movement, impose huge costs on ordinary consumers and essentially work a couple of generations into the grave.
“Enormous amounts of energy in a easily transportable form”
I believe electricity fits this definition. The great majority of uses of oil can be replaced by electricity, and many of those that remain can be replaced by natural gas. Even oil-based aviation fuels can be replaced by biofuels as Branson’s stunt has shown.
Of course, like oil, all of these fuels have problems. But the claim that oil is essential doesn’t stand up to even perfunctory examination, and I’m amazed at its continued popularity.
For example, IG is generally sensible but manages to contradict himself in a single sentence. Is the claim that “it is extraordinarily difficult to maintain a modern industrial economy without a decent supply of oil ” and then noting that Japan has done so and implying that he’s talking about specific Australian experience.
But, I state again (and hope that PML will think more carefully this time) the best alternative source of oil is using less. Large reductions in oil use could be (and have been in the past) achieved while maintaining strong economic growth.
John, I’m not contradicting myself.
Japanese industrial policy since the 1950’s has largely been directed at keeping wages down and living standards low (in real not nominal terms – the yen is grossly overvalued), suppressing domestic demand and thereby funding imports of oil and other raw materials.
Reducing consumption, if by increasing efficiency, tends to lead to greater competitiveness. For instance, most of the major freight carriers run sophisticated satellite/computer systems monitoring fuel and time and match prime movers with loads. This has led to decreased costs which have helped the consumer but has not decreased the quantum of fuel being used – by being cheaper they can do more runs. These efficiencies are throughout the system and have allowed more people access to goods previously denied to them by cost.
Oil has many valuable functions whereas electricity has only one – energy. I cant imagine a B-double running on electricity and if it has to come by rail – forget it, most freight trains run on oil.
JQ, I was being careful. By no stretch of the imagination is using less the same as second sourcing. The key aspect of second sourcing is having a spare; if one source fails, you can switch to the other. Using less reduces the load on the single source – but it in no respect offers a method of switching if anything cuts that off. You are completely missing the point; it’s not about supply/demand, it’s about alternatives (though even if it were, your advice is on a par with the Beadle’s attitude to Oliver Twist – it’s not addressing the question as posed, much like a complaints department that focusses on making complaints go away rather than fixing what is wrong). Less demand is not a range of supply options. Risk, not price, is the key point (and I’m not talking about that proxy financial risk either).
For similar reasons, ‘â€œEnormous amounts of energy in a easily transportable formâ€? I believe electricity fits this definition’ is wrong. Electricity can only be transported within the constraints of a transmission system; it cannot substitute for the complete range of uses of transportable energy. For instance, the only way you can run a ship is with that sort of energy – and you can’t do it with electricity unless you have some way of generating it on board. Ditto for road trains, trains on many routes, and much else besides.
There is a lot of abuse of language going on here. Language is a tool, and as with any other tool, its abuse removes its use.
I think PML’s points are good and think that they are validated in the real world by the fact that the US is vainly trying to substitue ethanol for oil.
Given that ethanol is a dud due many reasons including that arable land is just as preciously short as oil, the other alternatives must be real stinkers.
Oil may not be essential in the strictest terms; it is however unique and irreplaceable.
It is liquid energy created over aeons by geologic main force. We will not duplicate it.
Geologic main force? WTF does that mean?
Fossil fuels are stored solar energy. We still receive solar energy, and we can still store or use the current influx of solar energy, and completely abandon the existing store.
Yes – but only with great ingenuity and cost and very little transportability. Petroleum can be used out of the ground after a bit of distillation. The solar energy in petroluem was laid down over a very long time. That’s its unbeatable advantage.
(“Geologic main force” is a lesser example of the non-technical solipsism I seem to have a weakness for, SJ. I believe that after Post Comment #75 house-rules allow their deployment. In moderation, of couse.)
Energy densities of various things including biodiesel (42.2 MJ/kg), ethanol (30.0) and gasoline (46.9). Carry on with your love affair with oil you crazy guys, hope you’re that romantic with your significant others.
I don’t think biodiesel requires a great deal of ingenuity. The “unbeatable advantage” of fossil fuel can easily be beaten by penalising the use of the stuff – aka carbon tax.
But Japan has had a “decent” supply of oil ever since WWII even though it has no domestic oil.
There is no reason why Australia cannot do the same when domestic supplies run out, or what is more likely to happen, the oil that remains becomes uneconomic to extract.
Frankis, those energy densities are highly misleading, partly because sometimes energy per unit volume is more important but mainly because engines optimised for each fuel have different efficiencies – oddly enough, in reverse order to the energy content, so undoing much of the apparent difference.
Katz, your point doesn’t address the sudden outside event scenarios that call for second sourcing, just the failure of supplies over time allowing for imports and/or alternative technologies like coal to oil to be phased in. A sound strategy would cover both possibilities.
For what it’s worth, the only quickly and currently available substitutes I know of are biomass burning gas producers, biodiesel and butanol from the Weizman bacterium (stockpiling surplus byproducts until Weizman butanol can be phased out by more slowly available substitutes, then selling them off over time). These might be enough to bridge a crisis, but even they wouldn’t be in a time and place without enough reserve agricultural capacity; luckily for Australia, that isn’t so here and now.
Katz, the entire industrialised world has had a decent, cheap supply of oil since WWII. That’s the point. Oil was dirt cheap for most of that time.
It’s what happens now that is in question. Oil prices are sky-rocketing. How will Japan fare in the next 50 years? Decent supplies of oil are no longer guaranteed.
I’m not an peak oil apocalypsist – but I do see huge impacts during the transition. We’ve already seen the resource war. And that was bad enough.
An example of a country that has not had a decent supply of oil/gas is North Korea since the collapse of the USSR.
They haven’t fared too well without it, either. No, the leadership didn’t help, but the lack of fertiliser made from Soviet hydrocarbons was the killer. Literally. The famine there is as bad as ever right now – North Korea is again requesting rice and fertiliser be sent from South Korea.
Natural gas accounts for 90% of the cost of making fertiliser.
North Korea is a bad example to use in this context I know (too confounded by other issues) – but it is a dramatic one.
(Shortage of oil pushes up gas prices which is why this is relevant. Incitec Pivot are doing well however – thanks to Woodside I suppose.)
You’re stretching it too far PML calling fundamental energy density by mass “highly misleading”. The way in which it may be some times less relevant – not misleading – is addressed by example in the first paragraph of the Wikipedia reference.
Romanticisation of crude oil and mistaken claims of its unsubstitutability in the energy economy are more than merely misleading, they’re uncomprehending.
In this case you aren’t talking about economic viability over the long term, you are talking about strategic/military issues.
I guess there is a nightmare scenario wherein a major military power sews up sure supply of oil and then uses this synergy to go on a rampage of world conquest.
So what might Australia’s position be within such a scenario? Realistically, for the foreseeable future, the only major military powers capable of such worldwide reach are the US and China. It would appear to me that both nations are constrained by the balance of terror that would become quite prominent were either of these two nations step on the toes of the other. By the time either threatened Australian sovereignty in an unwelcome way some kind of doomsday scenario would likely have kicked in, making access to oil, or anything else, quite irrelevant.
And on a related point, WBB:
No. The entire industrialised world has had equal access to oil at world market prices regardless of how cheap or expensive that oil had been. Most of the time oil has been incredibly cheap. Politics has intruded occasionally to spike the price of oil, but most of the time commercial issues of supply and demand have determined what the world pays for crude oil. (The price of petrol at the bowser is a very different issue dictated by domestic politics.)
This state of affairs will continue into the foreseeable future despite the fact that oil will continue to increase in price over time to a point where other forms of energy become economic. As others have said for many applications there is no ready substitute for oil. The world is destined to become a slower, colder, darker, hungrier place as cheap oil dwindles way.
Imagine that BHP tomorrow discovers an Iraq-sized oil deposit somewhere in the WA desert.
As I said earlier, government revenues would soar as a result of taxation revenues and royalities. But that oil would be sold on the world market.
Would Australia become a benefactor to the western alliance by using this market position to drive down the price of oil? Of course not. BHP would manage supply to benefit its own strategies and the wishes of stockholders.
Frankis, it’s not that data that’s misleading in itself – you mention how wikipedia avoids that – it’s presenting them in isolation that’s misleading, as though those alone determined matters. Not the data, the (lack of) context.
Katz, no, your example scenario isn’t the problem. That parallels Australia’s situation after 1942. Rather, the outside event problem is the sort of thing that happened from mid 1940 to late 1941, where outside events interfered with distribution and access rather than production. (I suspect it worked through shortages of shipping capacity and foreign exchange, since Burma and the Dutch East Indies were still on stream – curiously, Middle Eastern waters were war zones much of that time, discouraging shipping there more directly.) The same sort of interruption can come up from all sorts of “Black Swan” events, not needing anything as dire as another Tamurlaine or whatever.
This interested me PML. I consulted my copies of the 1940s Cwth Year Books that I happened to have close handy.
Here’s what I found.
1. Australia produced virtually no oil of its own. Though there was a small shale-oil industry.
2. Australia imported virtually all of the oil it used.
3. Here are the figures (in millions of gallons)
So you can see that Australia maintained supply during the darkest years of the war. Interestingly, supply was less in the final, victorious years of the war. I have no explanation for this.
4. For 1941, 1942, 1944, 1945 Year Books details on oil imports were suppressed. (These figures were released in 1946.) This was unique among all classifications of trade. Clearly, the authorities were very sensitive about the oil trade.
5. Again, uniquely for all trade classifications there was no indication about the major sources of oil. There is no way from the Cwth Year Books of this era to reconstruct the origins and volume of imports of oil from different sources. This too must have been regarded as highly sensitive information.
However, by eyeballing aggregate figures I guess that the lion’s share of Australian oil imports during the war years came from the US.
Was this (possible) fact highly sensitive at the time? I don’t know.