Monday, June 16, 2014

Trying to Think Strategically About Iraq Mess

The conventional wisdom response to the sudden ISIS offensive in Iraq, taking Mosul and Tikrit and coming within range of Baghdad, is panic.  It sees Iraq collapsing before the unstoppable momentum of the Sunni extremist militia.

Just a minute.  Let's try to think strategically about this.  In the first place, it seems that the Sunni rebels have been defeated in Syria and recently have been confined to the northeast along the Syrian border with Turkey.  You could say that their invasion of Iraq is an act of desperation, because they have nowhere else to go.

But what about the collapse of two Iraqi divisions in the path of the invaders?  What's that all about?  Well how about this?  The Iraqi soldiers know very well that Mosul and Tikrit are Sunni heartland.  They know that the Shia-led army doesn't belong there, and that the people in that area don't like them and would probably whack them if they had a chance.  So they got out while they still could.

And this brings up the bigger picture.  The first reaction of the Shia-led government in Baghdad was to connect with their Shia brethren in Iran.  So the whole conflict could escalate quite quickly into a Sunni-Shia war with Shia-led Syria on one side and Shiite Baghdad and Iran on the other and the Sunni ISIS rebels in the middle.

Next question.  What do you think the Saudis think about that?

Look.  The only thing we care about is the oil.  The lefties that complained about that back in the 2000s had a point, although they got things backward as usual.  The point is that, right now, we need the Middle East oil, and we can't let the Middle East descend into Sunni-Shia mayhem.

There's a line that Winston Churchill is responsible for all this, because it was he that converted the British Royal Navy from coal to oil a century ago, and that meant strategic domination of the Middle East.

It's pretty obvious what we need to do, at a grand strategic level.  We need to free ourselves from Middle East oil.  For years that was impossible because oil production in the US was declining and the Middle East had the cheapest oil.

But now we have fracking.  Actually, according to the Baron of the Bakken, Harold Hamm, it's not really fracking that defines the new revolution in hydrocarbon discovery but horizontal drilling.  And here's a tip: my lawyer friend in the oil and gas business says that they are redrilling lots of old wells using the new horizontal technology.

Remember 2008?  In September the GOP was moving the needle with "Drill, Baby, Drill" and the Democrats had to pretend that they were all in favor of doing something about high gasoline prices.  But then came the crash and the Obama administration and the environmentalist war on carbon. (Hey Tom Steyer, how are those coal plants you financed in Indonesia coming along?)

One of the things that the GOP presidential candidate in 2016 needs to do is put up North Dakota as the poster boy for their "clear plan" for economic growth.  North Dakota, home of the Bakken oil field, came in first in economic growth for 2013 among the 50 states for the fourth year running.  North Dakota growth in 2013 was 9.7%.  And the BEA revised 2012 from 13.7% to 20.3%.  Yeah, Walmart is paying $17 an hour in North Dakota.

The point is that North Dakota symbolizes what Republicans want for all American states.  And the whole point of growth in North Dakota is that it is reducing the strategic importance of the Middle East.  So the day might come when we could apply the Hillary! doctrine to the Middle East:  At this point, what difference does it make?

Meanwhile, it's Frack, Baby, Frack.

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