Yes, I know, it has been a while. My only excuse -- and it ought to be compelling -- is that I have been ablaze since mid-summer writing the third novel of the Landau Trilogy, on which my expectations of literary immortality will certainly be based. The publication last spring of the first book, The Hedge Fund, appears to be commanding increasing attention. Early charges of inappropriately salacious material and a clear political bias have largely been overcome and this breakthrough work is commanding a following. Easy to acquire -- cheap, $13 plus shipping and handling or whatever -- at Amazon or leading bookstores, especially Haslams in St. Petersburg or Gibsons in Concord, NH. Go ahead, pick it up, turn yourself on. This is a challenge!
Now to the more serious rant. Last night I attended the Christmas banquet of the principal Foreign Affairs Committee in Tampa. Our recent ambassador to Russia was the scheduled speaker, but he apparently picked up a bug and was replaced hours before the dinner by a local academic coming off a wide-ranging career in military intelligence. Struggling along without Power-point, our speaker threw out there a hodgepodge of observations on the deteriorated position of the United States in the world, attributable mostly to the bewilderment behind the scenes inside the Obama administration. We needed to get things straight, he stressed again and again, understand the dangers, follow through. We needed to get -- this was the subtext throughout the presentation -- back into the Middle East in force. Get those boots back on the ground.
Judging from the comments I heard afterward this had been a disheartening performance even to that upper-middle-class assemblage. The costs of our seemingly feckless involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, in cash, blood, and thousands of victims of post-traumatic stress disorder are already calculated to run into the trillions of dollars. Meanwhile, our children cannot afford higher education and the nation's infrastructure is falling apart. More boots on the ground?
Something our speaker never got close to mentioning was that most dreaded word in establishment circles today: oil. Important facts are routinely left out of all purportedly informed discussions of the Middle East. When the CIA jumped in as a proxy for the British in 1953 and undermined parliamentary democracy in Iran -- a relatively stable society since it was Persia during Biblical days -- our cat's-paw the Shah was propped back up on his throne to run a brutal police state. British and U.S. oil companies took over the petrochemical industry. The American military turned Iran into our principal base of operations in the Middle East. When all that fell apart and Iran turned abruptly into a kind of parliamentary theocracy we were hurt and surprised, and have been pounding away ever since. Paradoxically, any real hope of expelling ISIS from Iraq and Syria may now depend on our de facto cooperation with Iran's military. See today's New York Times. Go figure.
As I have suggested in this blog before, our policies in Iraq make very little more sense. We backed Saddam Hussein against Iran throughout the eighties, attacked him in Kuwait after he thought he had our permission to throw Kuwait out of the oil-rich borderlands, then cooked up unwarranted excuses to invade Iraq under Bush II. Oil in Iraq had been a state monopoly, but while we were disentangling ourselves we made sure -- see Ambassador Christopher Hill's account in his memoir, Outpost, in which he describes how "the bidding got underway" in Baghdad on June 30, 2009 among the major international oil companies for the important Iraqi fields -- pp. 379-380. The organizers of ISIS were no doubt watching.
Much the same appears to have been true in Afghanistan. The Taliban, the founders of which the CIA trained as the mujahedin, reportedly came into existence to resist plans by a consortium led by Unocal to run a pipeline through the country to bypass Russia with what was getting pumped out of Kazakhstan. Our destiny is profoundly entangled with the politics of oil
More war? More sanity is what we need.