Archive for June, 2008

[Originally published in the Randolph Herald.]

Americans are more upset and more unified about the prices of crude oil and its byproducts than they are about Iraq or abortion.  We are, after all, incredibly dependent on that commodity in our daily lives.  And just wait until next heating season!

The automobile is absolutely indispensable in suburban and rural America. What happens when gas costs the commuter who lives 25-50 miles from his job, as is so often the case, an additional $50-100 a week?  He can’t afford it.  All he can afford is public transportation, but outside our major population centers, there isn’t much of any.  Much of rural America, including Vermont, is crisscrossed by abandoned rail, trolley and bus lines, facilities we have given up injudiciously during our love affair with the automobile.

Everyone has a special demon to blame for the price of energy.   We blame Iran, Venezuela, the Arabs, OPEC, Russia, international oil companies, in short, anyone we don’t like who is in any way involved.  How easy that is!  Unfortunately, the real reason is even simpler.  The real reason is that the international demand for energy has skyrocketed in the past decade.  Thousands of new automobiles constantly hit the roads of India, China and the rest of the world.  There are daily almost 20,000 additional humans inhabiting our planet, demanding food, housing, heating and cooling and all the other things that people feel they need.

And through all of this, Americans remain by far the highest per capita users of energy on the planet. As it is, our energy self-indulgence is forcing up the price we pay for it, damaging our balance of payments problems and our economy, lowering our standard of living and making our lives more precarious.

The solution to this problem is tightly entwined with global warming.  The two simply cannot be separated.  Calls to drill into the Alaskan reserve and all the other untapped suspected pools of crude hardly will solve the long-range dual problem.  Ditto coal reserves.  Such activity may add to established reserves, but it will exacerbate climate change.   Even the Bush Administration, traditionally denigrators of climate change theory, have now acknowledge it exists and is a problem.

For that reason, many of the so-called “solutions” to the energy problem are purely political – typical pandering hogwash.   The “gas tax holiday”, the cessation of replenishing the strategic oil reserve, a windfall profits tax on the oil companies and the otherworldly Chrysler offer for $2.99 per gallon gas for three years to help them sell unsellable, gas-guzzlers, are all really useless suggestions that do not address the real problem.

This country needs to stop all the political and commercial grandstanding and accept two realities:  Oil is in sort supply and burning oil threatens the planet.  The solution to the problems lies in investment in new energy sources over which we have control and which do not exacerbate global warming.  None of that includes finding and pumping new crude or digging more coal.  It involves cutting our self-indulgent use of energy and that means, God forbid the word should be used, conservation:  new mileage standards, better public transportation, new searches for alternate power, a nationwide 55 mph speed limit, etc, etc.  The four-day work week (20% energy saving) isn’t even a bad idea!

If you don’t like these ideas, you are not only part of the problem, in a democratic society, you are the problem.   We Americans are truly self-indulgent folks – unlikely to apply the necessary political pressure to change things quickly.

Over the past couple of centuries, America has repeatedly demonstrated one basic characteristic.  We do not easily plan ahead!  In this case, we love our cars and the sense of freedom they give us.  If there is more crude to be found, let’s go ahead and pump it wherever it is and to hell with the economic ramifications or climate change!  And so, we move forward on paths that do not have rational bases and do not lead to solutions to the root problems.  And guess what?  We don’t find needed solutions because they are not being sufficiently vigorously sought.   Then, we suddenly are faced with disaster!

The better side of our national character is that, faced with imminent disaster, and perhaps only then, America has always, at least until now, come up with real solutions.  The issue to consider right now is whether America is still up to that performance, and even if it is, why not face reality today, get on with finding solutions and avoid real pain before the situation goes completely critical?

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in East and West Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff.

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[Originally published in the Barre Times-Argus and Rutland Herald.]

America’s military presence in Iraq was legally established by a United Nations Security Council resolution that expires at the end of 2008. At that point, unless the United States has negotiated a security agreement directly with the Iraqi government that authorizes the continued presence of troops, there will be no legal basis for a U.S. military presence in Iraq.

In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will be faced with the humiliating prospect of trying to get the UN Security Council, which has never supported our Iraq invasion and occupation, to renew our license to remain there. Given the attitudes of China and Russia, not to mention those countries that used to be our closest allies, such as Britain and France, that seems like a fool’s journey. So, we are faced with negotiations.

Early this year, the United States began those negotiations with the Al Maliki government on Iraq’s future and America’s role therein. Early media reporting on this process was focused on whether or not the negotiations would produce an agreement or a treaty. If it produced a treaty, as appeared to be the case, given some wording which committed the United States to maintain the stability of Iraq’s government from internal and external threats, it appeared that it would require congressional approval, something on which the Bush administration clearly could not count.

By March, media reporting, which has remained minimal throughout this process, began to focus fuzzily on the real issues at hand, which included a formalized U.S./Iraq relationship and the future military role of the United States in Iraq, in effect, a status of forces agreement.

Earlier reporting between 2003 and 2005 alleged that the United States was planning for a long-term military presence through the establishment of “enduring bases” in Iraq. Additional reporting at that time said that the United States was planning to establish four super-bases in Iraq into which we would consolidate American forces. Congress has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars for such construction and the presumptive Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain has since added his contribution of a 100-year occupation.

In the past few months, little has been written about the negotiations. We have been told by the Bush administration only that the details of U.S. negotiating positions were – and would remain -secret.

Early this month however, the Iraqis apparently began to leak details to European media. These U.S. demands reportedly include: U.S. control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000 feet, long-term use of dozens of military bases, the right to pursue the War on Terror inside Iraq, wide U.S. arrest authority, the right to launch military actions without consultation and the grant of immunity for all American personnel in Iraq from arrest under Iraqi law.

What we know for a fact is that on June 4, a group of Iraqi parliamentarians presented a letter to the U.S. Congress, which demanded that the United States establish a specific timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq before any agreement on conditions could be reached. The letter was signed by a majority of the members of the Iraq Parliament. The letter further stated:

“The majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq.”

In the face of such a statement, it is reasonable to believe that reporting on the demands attributed to the United States above are likely to be accurate.

So, where does that leave this matter? We do have some choices – none of them good. We can literally attempt to browbeat the Iraqi negotiators into agreeing to our demands. That might well cause a flat refusal, or a mass Iraqi withdrawal from the negotiations that could precipitate a real crisis. Or, the Iraqis might accede. In that case, the agreement would go to the Iraq Parliament where it would almost certainly be rejected.

Or, we can go hat in hand to the UN, an organization that excites only scorn from the neocons in the Bush administration and beg them to validate our continued stay in Iraq. That might be rejected out of hand, or those nations in the Security Council that do not agree with us might well attach humiliating conditions to it.

Or, we can give them a fixed timetable, acceptable to the Iraqis, for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Presumably that would not be in 100 years.

Whatever we do, in the absence of the existence of an overall agreement with the Iraq government, our lease on the continued U.S. military occupation of Iraq expires on Dec. 31.

Perhaps the Iraqis are going to do what we have been unable to do ourselves ­ get us out of Iraq. In the process, perhaps they, rather than our own impotent Congress, are going to put an end to the Bush dream of bequeathing to his successor an entanglement from which he cannot escape for decades. Do not believe for one minute that a U.S.-initiated withdrawal from Iraq would be a simple matter, or that it would not have major political consequences here in America. Perhaps the only smooth way out is to be tossed out!

Such an end to our occupation would come from our own misbegotten policies. The Iraqis appear to be sick and tired of us and clearly want us out of their country on their terms. We truly have no one to blame but ourselves.

We cannot legitimately feel aggrieved by this. It is part of the democratic process in Iraq where we have relentlessly pushed democracy. This is precisely what happened when we pushed successfully for democracy in the recent Palestine elections that brought Hamas to power. We might start being more careful what we wish for.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston.

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