There is something to be said for the obvious, although we can be sure there is somewhere an economist, politician, or pundit willing to explain why the prescription suggested by Michael T. Klare, writing for the Toronto Star would not be a particularly effective palliative for the spiraling costs of oil:
… the Bush administration’s greatest contribution to rising oil prices is its steady stream of threats to attack Iran, if it does not back down on the nuclear issue. The Iranians have made it plain that they would retaliate by attempting to block the flow of Gulf oil and otherwise cause turmoil in the energy market. Most analysts assume, therefore, that an encounter will produce a global oil shortage and prices well over $200 per barrel. It is not surprising, then, that every threat by Bush/Cheney (or their counterparts in Israel) has triggered a sharp rise in prices. This is where speculators enter the picture. Believing that a U.S.-Iranian clash is at least 50 per cent likely, some investors are buying futures in oil at $140, $150 or more per barrel, thinking they’ll make a killing if there’s an attack and prices zoom past $200.
It follows, then, that while the hike in prices is due largely to ever-increasing demand chasing insufficiently expanding supply, the Bush administration’s energy policies have greatly intensified the problem. By seeking to preserve an oil-based energy system at any cost, and by adding to the “fear factor” in international speculation through its bungled invasion of Iraq and bellicose statements on Iran, it has made a bad problem much worse ….
…. And if this administration truly wanted to spare Americans further pain at the pump, there is one thing it could do that would have an immediate effect: declare that military force is not an acceptable option in the struggle with Iran. Such a declaration would take the wind out of the sails of speculators and set the course for a drop in prices.
Klare’s article obviously hung around in the back of my mind when, earlier, I considered a cynical proposition regarding the Bush administration:
But look what stays on the back burner. Health care? Education? Prison reform? Even something so fundamentally necessary as general poverty relief is cast into doubt by the spectres raised over the last seven and a half years. If the Bush administration has succeeded at anything, it has laid stumbling blocks of all size and manner along the path to American progress. It seems almost a cynical proposition, since everyday life has no obligation to make any sense whatsoever, but Bush may have accomplished one of the greatest evil coups in American history: If you can’t beat ’em, just make it impossible for ’em to do what they do.
And indeed it seems ludicrous to consider that the whole New American Century promoted by the Bush administration should be an atrocious sleight of hand. Indeed it sounds nearly schizophrenic, a conspiracy theory of cyclopean proportion: National security is just a cover story, a convenient excuse to stem the natural flow toward a more complete justice, a stronger democracy, and a more communal American endeavor.
While it sounds crazy, though, how does the whole national security argument really look under close scrutiny? Critics of Bush’s War on Terror point out that the administration has largely ignored our Public Enemy #1, Osama bin Laden, and most of those would also suggest that the Iraqi Bush Adventure has, at best, done nothing to increase American security at home and abroad. Certainly, there are plenty who would claim the conduct of the Bush Wars has only increased the terrorist threat by denigrating American prestige in general and inspiring new generations of extremists to action. And even the extremists are confused by the Bush agenda. It does not really seem like four months ago that I considered that point:
- Atrocity, egocentrism, ineptitude: So many people have flung so many bitter words at President Bush over the years that it seems at best an exercise in futility. Indeed, what supporters he has left still pretend the criticism is politics as usual or, worse yet, some sort of vapid pop-culture fad. Yet, as Bush has become the public face of the New American Century, we are left to wonder at the pax Americana that seems to demand wars and rumors of wars. The point is not lost even on embittered Fatah extremists such as Khalid Jaberi, who told Rose that “since the takeover, we’ve been trying to enter the brains of Bush and Rice, to figure out their mentality. We can only conclude that having Hamas in control serves their overall strategy, because their policy was so crazy otherwise.”
And yet ….
It has been a while since prominent Republicans were willing to extol the president’s intelligence, although Bush’s apparent “toxic” effect on GOP campaigns might have something to do with this. Either way, we must consider that, on some level, the president knows damn well what he’s doing. Despite all the appearances of bumbling incompetence and blissful idiotic cluelessness about Bush’s tenure in the White House, he has brought conservative necessities to the fore.
The disparity between earlier positive economic outlooks and sentiments among American workers that things were not so rosy only highlights the point. Almost any route to economic recovery will be painful, but the conservative prescription—which slashes jobs in favor of executive earnings for some perverse variation on a trickle-down theme—will certainly find fertile ground in the foreseeable future. Even in trading over the White House to Democrats, the GOP will be well-positioned to sell their snake oil. A four-year loss of the Oval Office seems a steep gamble, indeed, but no society is ever refashioned in such a period. Long-term economic woes bode well for a broader conservative outlook, one that seeks to stave off the natural evolution of a society toward something that many fear.
The rich and powerful have no reason to care who occupies the White House if their fortunes and influence increase in the meantime. And a consolidation of wealth and power serves well the conservative tradition that, despite its attractive appeals to independence and personal accountability, aims to throw the greater portion of a society to the wolves—to turn people against each other in socioeconomic competition—in order widen the chasm separating them from the commoners.
So while the average American feels the pressures borne of economic spectres, the elite are positioned to increase their gains over the common. Exxon Mobil, for instance, reported its second-highest quarterly profit ever after a period that saw production decline. BP and Shell, meanwhile, saw impressive profit increases for the first quarter of the year that defied flat production trends. We may be paying thrice over for a gallon of gasoline compared to when President Bush took office, and those increases may have outpaced costs, but why should we expect otherwise?
Certainly, seven years ago, the answer would have had something to do with cynicism. The fact of an oil man as president was not cause to predict this outcome. How cynical, how shallow a presumption. Yet from Bush’s inauguration in January, 2001, to the present, the average price of gasoline has shot up from $1.511 per gallon to $4.131. And what some of us would give to pay $4.13 a gallon. (It’s up around $4.46 in my neighborhood.)
Which brings us back ’round to Bush and Iran. Shall we pretend that any amount of offshore drilling or befouling of Alaskan wilderness will bring us any real relief? The payoff for those proposals comes years down the line, if ever at all. And while it seems that sooner or later we will need that oil, the political value of such proposals far outweighs any real potential benefit. After all, the more Bush & Co. can hand to major corporations—in this case the oil companies—the better he’s done his job.
And in the meantime, energy and the economy move to the fore. Health care? Education spending? Those move to the back burner, at least until conservatives figure out how to maximize corporate profits from such reforms while building and selling a system that will only require even greater reform down the line. How long, we might wonder, before deregulation and privatization become the hot issues in solving our economic woes? With terrorists running amok amid the constant, buzzing rumors of wars, it seems remote at best that we might rein in as much of our economic chaos as possible by simply coming to our senses.