Pull out the troops?

In the light of the appalling recent events in Iraq, should we pull out all coalition troops soon? John doesn’t know and neither do I.

Option 1: Don’t pull out the troops.

The best case scenario here is that the coalition troops will protect the people of Iraq while local forces are built up. Arguably we owe them this. We will keep the insurgency under control until such a time as the Iraqi security forces have the training and resources to take on that job.

The worst case scenario is that the continuing presence of allied troops will actually make matters worse. By appearing to be a military occupation, it will stoke the fires of the insurgency. Those susceptible to the view that the Iraqi administration is a puppet of the US will have that view confirmed, and more attacks will follow. Coalition troops, as well as Iraqi recruits and civilians, will suffer heavy casualties.

Option 2: Pull out the troops.

The best case scenario is that with no allied troops on Arab soil, the ferocity of the insurgency will gradually die down, and normal life in Iraq can begin. Meanwhile, no more coalition soldiers will be killed.

The worst case scenario is that the embryonic Iraqi administration will be unable to cope unaided with the insurgency. It’s credibility will be damaged every time there’s a major attack, and confidence in it will be undermined, even to the point of collapse.

Posted by Larry

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53 thoughts on “Pull out the troops?

  1. Well I think the collapse of the current Iraqi administration is probably a necessary precursor to any apocalyptically bad scenario isn’t it?

  2. The United States is digging in for a good while. Whether or not British troops come home is probably fairly irrelevant in the long term. At least from a practical standpoint.

    Though from an ethical standpoint they should be withdrawn immediately of course.

  3. I think S2 might be referring to an Iranian take-over, or something similar.

    This is a new position of the pro-war types, that pulling out the troops will leave a power vacuum in the Middle East, which will inevitably (miss out some stages) lead to Radical Islamist governments in control of all our oil.

    "Once we’re in, we never dare leave", so to speak. They didn’t mention this at the time of the invasion of course.

  4. So, it was all about geopolitics after all… who knew?

    As a data point it must be noted that a large, large majority of attacks is made on coalition troops, and coming second are the Iraqi police.

  5. Matthew,

    Firstly, that’s not what I said.

    Secondly, what a puerile criticism. You’re complaining that proponents of the war now say something different with respect to the extended aftermath of the war to what they said before the war started? Well, yeah. A failure to develop one’s opinions in response to real events is called "stupidity".

    All I meant was that the government could be overthrown or exterminated, which would be far worse than its mere collapse. Wasn’t thinking about Iran at all. To be honest, since Al Qaeda, Ba’ath, and their like tend to be pan-Arabists, it doesn’t make a lot of difference whether Iraq is retaken by Iraqi Ba’athists or taken over by Syrian Ba’athists or the Ayatollahs. (Yes, I’m aware that Iranians aren’t Arabs. But Iranian traditionalist Islamist extremists would side with Arabs against the US.)

  6. Not a puerile criticism at all. The critique is not that pro-war types have changed their mind, it is that they refused to think through the consequences of their actions to begin with, instead dressing up the future of Iraq with Wolfowitzian over-confidence about being greeted as liberators.

    When people have been so wrong before it’s wise not to listen to them again.

  7. S2: the government could be overthrown or exterminated, which would be far worse than its mere collapse

    When I wrote the original post I meant "collapse" to cover all of the above, (perhaps that wasn’t clear).

    Mat: a large, large majority of attacks is made on coalition troops, and coming second are the Iraqi police

    Do we deduce from this that if the troops were withdrawn that the number of attacks would drop significantly , or that it would remain about the same, but with the Iraqi forces taking the full force?

  8. Mat asks: "So, it was all about geopolitics after all… who knew?"

    Er, well, me, actually! I said from the beginning that it was all about getting US armed force into the heart of the middle east. The dafties on the Left with their infantile cry that it was all about oil, missed the crucial point – it wasn’t Iraqi oil the Yanks were (and are) concerned with, it was Saudi oil. The house of Saud is trembling, and the oil from that country dwarfs every other producer. We all, repeat *all*, have an interst in whoever controls Saudi oil because it keeps our cars, central heating and industry running. I hope that the Americans maintain a huge presence on the edge of Saudi, ready for future events. As a bonus, it has, "like a hanging in the morning" concentrated minds wonderfully in Syria, Iran and Palestine. No such thing as a free lunch, but it was a masterful move.

  9. Everyone knew that, Dave! What’s weird is anyone needed to make up silly stories about it. I mean, it’s obvious it’s not about terrorism, because we’ve been putting up with it for years. In fact, why didn’t they do it years ago?

    Back to your idea, which is probably quite correct, except… Don’t you think that if the proprietor of your local shop was a really rude bugger, you’d simply stop buying his produce, and tell all your friends?

  10. David, yes the Saudi reserves are vast… But Iraqi reserves come just behind. The second largest in the world. It’s probably significant. And note that the war was never sold as a geopolitical game.

    "the troops were withdrawn that the number of attacks would drop significantly"

    It’s hard to tell of course but given the dilemma you posted above I think it tips the balance in favour. The Iraqi police are seen as fodder for the US army, this is why they are attacked (the good old war tradition of the dark-skinned human shields). Would they be attacked if the US leaves? I think it depends on the popularity and the (linked) independance of the Iraqi government.

    I think the key here is that the US must relinquish its strategic interest in controlling Iraq for peace to happen, but it will never do this having spent $200 billions on it. So the death toll will mount. It’s too late now.

  11. David Duff: The dafties on the Left with their infantile cry that it was all about oil were absolutely right. WMD and terrorism were total red herrings (which the dafties said and the UK and US governments both strenuously denied). I fail to see what’s infantile or daft about correctly spotting when you’re being led down the garden path.

    it wasn’t Iraqi oil the Yanks were (and are) concerned with, it was Saudi oil. I think the Americans have got fairly strong feelings about who should control (the large reserves of) Iraqi oil. But anyway from the point of view of a daftie on the left it, this is totally irrelevant to the question of whether or not the war was justified.

    The war was indeed like a hanging in the morning>/em>, in that it was an indefensible barbarity.

  12. Mat, yes, there is considerable oil in Iraq, *but*, as I never ceased to point out at the time, if *all* the Americans wanted was Iraqi oil, they could have gone along with the French and Russians, lifted sanctions, and just bought the stuff on the open market at a fraction of the price this war has cost them. It was screamingly obvious to anyone with half a brain that there was something more to this war than just Iraqi oil or enforcing UN resolutions.

    N.I.B. claims that "everyone knew that", ie, the war was about geopolitics, but they didn’t – just re-read, at the risk of terminal boredom, some of the anti-war stuff of the time. And the reson Blair made up "silly stories" is because he was trying to sell a bill of goods, which is what you have to do in a democracy. For an excellent analysis of what lies behind New Labour’s propoganda methods, I urge everyone to read Peter Oborne’s essay in last week’s Spectator (registration might be required) http://www.spectator.co.uk/article_archive.php?id=6041&issue=2005-04-30

    The problem for all democratic leaders is the almost total ignorance of the general population to the brutalities of real-politik, and their aversion to it when it is explained to them. So what else can a leader do but design his own ‘narrative – see Oborne’s piece. And remind yourself of the 1930s, when one man warned and warned of the growing menace in Europe and was shunned and ignored for his troubles. There’s none so blind as them wot don’t want to see!

  13. David Duff: Blair made up "silly stories" is because he was trying to sell a bill of goods, which is what you have to do in a democracy

    Call me a naive idealist, but I don’t believe that lying to the populace about a mythical threat in order to justify a war about something else entirely has any place in a democracy.

    remind yourself of the 1930s, when one man warned and warned of the growing menace in Europe and was shunned and ignored for his troubles

    Is the analogy here Saddam with Hitler? That’s pretty inappropriate if the war’s about who controls what oil.

  14. David, you’ll have to elucidate. If what Tony said was just propaganda, that implies there’s no actual threat, not the sort Churchill was warning about anyway.

    So what was all this supposed to achieve that simply buying the Saudi oil wouldn’t have? Are you saying that the Saudis would rather put a match to their oil than sell it?

    By the by, please don’t get me wrong here because I don’t fancy going on your Trot list! I’m simply trying to understand this from a free-market point of view, but spending oodles of taxpayers money on military action doesn’t strike me as awfully laissez-faire approach. As I said in my last message, I think, given a *real* chance, I think many of us would rather ‘starve the beast’, as it were – even if that required a period of wartime-style austerity.

  15. Larry and N.I.B., my apologies, in my haste, I obviously failed to express myself clearly.

    First, Blair’s "lies". I think that he (and everyone else on the globe, including most of the Iraqi ruling class) believed that Saddam had WMD. That, following 9/11, was excuse enough for George Bush; and for Blair, it was enough that he be part of a policy he had expressed support for long before, that is, to change regimes of tyrants who represented threats to the world or to their region. However, behind this there lay the deeper geopolitical imperative contained in the knowledge that the ruling house of Saud is under threat internally from Al Qaeda. Even the slight chance that, following a revolution, Muslim fanatics might control the crucial Saudi oil reserves justified an operation that would provide the Americans with bases right on the Saudi frontier. And, yes, N.I.B., Al Qaeda would indeed rather set light to the oil than let the western world have it. You use the phrase "starve the beast" but, if I may put it this way, I don’t think you have realised how exactly true that statement would be. Western civilised life would crash in the economic catastrophe that would follow. Millions of workers would be thrown out of work, transport would grind to a halt, black-outs would put hospitals out of commission, and so on. (We ‘enjoyed’ a *little* taste of that back in Ted Heath’s days when the miners went on strike!) Of more concern to you, I suspect, is that the populations of the already poor nations of the world would indeed literally "starve"!

    No, Larry, I wasn’t seeking to equate Hitler with Saddam – a silly notion. The point I was making was how difficult it is to persuade a western democratic population that sometimes you have to take pre-emptive action in order to avoid even bigger troubles to come. Churchill tried, my God, how he tried, to get this across, but the British people in their peaceful complacency ignored him – up until the bombs started to fall! You call it ‘lying’, I call it ‘selling a bill of goods’, but somehow Blair had to get the country to do what he genuinely believed was in its essential self-interest. And remember this, whether he was right or wrong, Blair *genuinely believed* the war was absolutely necessary, because otherwise, why would he risk everything – splitting his party, losing his leadership, possibly losing the next election, losing his reputation in the history books – when he could have taken the easy Euro route with the French and Germans?

    (I don’t know how long this discussion will go on for, but I’m away for two days, so please excuse me if I don’t reply to any comments.)

  16. > When I wrote the original post I meant "collapse" to cover all of the above

    Fair enough. That’s not what "collapse" usually implies, though.

    > The critique is not that pro-war types have changed their mind, it is that they refused to think through the consequences of their actions to begin with, instead dressing up the future of Iraq with Wolfowitzian over-confidence about being greeted as liberators.

    Well, the forces were greeted as liberators by many Iraqis. And they’re being fought by many others, not to mention the imported terrorists from Syria and Iran. The invasion was the fastest sustained march in the history of mechanised warfare, so any prediction that it would be pretty easy to overthrow Saddam was, in fact, completely correct.

    I don’t understand why so many people expect a country to be completely stable and non-violent immediately after its defeat. Has that happened in wars before? This is normal, isn’t it?

    As many others have pointed out, this was all going to happen anyway. Saddam wasn’t immortal, and his death would inevitable have been followed by a huge power struggle, which would probably have looked much like what we’re seeing now. Like most dictators, he divided to rule, to make coups less likely: he had been engineering Iraq into mutually-detesting groups for years, and he was the only thing keepign them off each others’ throats. Not letting this happen to Iraq wasn’t an option that was on the table. The choice was between being involved and trying to stop another Stalinist bastard taking Saddam’s place or sitting back and letting it happen. I think we took the better option, from both the realpolitik and the ethical points of view.

    > When people have been so wrong before it’s wise not to listen to them again.

    I agree. Which is why I didn’t listen to the predictions of people who said it would take many years to defeat the Taliban, if they could even be defeated at all, and that no-one had ever conquered Afghanistan because it simply could not be done, and that it was only being done so that an oil pipeline could be built through the Hindu Kush anyway, and that there would be over a million casualties.

    > I mean, it’s obvious it’s not about terrorism, because we’ve been putting up with it for years.

    What atrocious reasoning. Let’s apply that logic to some other situations, shall we? It’s obvious that Thatcher’s fighting the unions had nothing to do with strikes, because we’d been putting up with them for years. It’s obvious that Labour’s pledge to pour more money into the NHS has nothing to do with people dying of preventable causes, because we’ve been putting up with that for years. It’s obvious that Jubilee 2000 don’t really give a shit about Third-World poverty, because we’ve been putting up with it for years.

    Anyway, to answer the original question. The terrorists currently blowing people up have been killing innocent Iraqis for many years. Why would they stop if the Americans pull out now? They’ve never stopped before, regardless of America.

  17. Thatcher didn’t fight the unions by going to Iraq, Labour aren’t improving the NHS by going to Iraq, and Jubilee 2000 aren’t fighting poverty by going to Iraq, so I don’t really see what you’re getting at there.

    What we are doing is spending a big wad of taxpayers money to secure the oil, rather than allowing the market to take its course. The people who want to sell us the oil would be doing what’s necessary to secure it, and we should be paying for that work when we buy the stuff.

  18. Before everyone jumps on me, I should probably suffix all that with ‘But meanwhile in the real world…’

  19. I’m also sceptical of DD’s idea that the Saudi oil is in imminent danger of being taken over by people who’d rather torch it than sell it to the west. As NIB points out that would involve a lot of very powerful people becoming a lot poorer than they’re used to, and the market should prevent it.

    But even if it that is a risk, it’s been said many times before, but having US troops invading Arabic countries and killing hundreds of thousands of Arabs is only going to increase anti-western feeling in the Arab world, correspondingly increase the support-base of Al Qaeda, and make the likelihood of AQ doing bad things (flying planes into our buildings / nicking our oil) far greater.

    In other words, in my view, the pre-emptive action that DD wants to see only makes the very scenario he wants to avoid more likely.

  20. > Thatcher didn’t fight the unions by going to Iraq …

    Yeah, and? That means that the "to stop anything we’ve been putting up for for years cannot possibly be a motive for our actions now" reasoning is good, does it? Gosh.

  21. No… But if Thatcher had said "I’m going to Iraq to stop the Unions" I’d hope we’d all have seen right through it, because the two are clearly unrelated.

    Maybe I should have said "dealing with terrorism" rather than "putting up with terrorism". I’ll give you that! But it’s not like we suddenly started bombing the Catholic areas of Glasgow to stop the IRA, is it?

  22. Can I point out that it all makes sense if you acknowledge the approach of a global peak in oil production.

    "Why invade rather than just buy it on the open market?"

    Well, because the open market in oil is about to start working against the United States. I read an estimate that China extracts almost ten times the economic value out of a barrel of oil than does the United States (due to a number of factors). This means that – in effect – they are purchasing oil at a significant discount versus the USA.

    When (not if); when over the next decade the world is facing a shortfall in oil production, the United States needs to ensure that the oil flowing from the Gulf ends up in US refineries and not Chinese ones. It will be unable to do this by outbidding the Chinese (because of the disparity in economic value of that oil), so needs to do it by force.

    Incidentally, the string of US bases in Afghanistan is coincidentally directly between China and the fossil fuel basins of the Gulf and the Caspian. And it seems unlikely that US forces are engaged in joint military exercises with the armies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan just for the hell of it.

  23. > When (not if); when over the next decade the world is facing a shortfall in oil production

    Is that the shortfall that was due in 2000, or the one from 1990, or the one where we were going to completely run out of oil by the end of the 80s, or a brand new previously unavailable shortfall?

    > But if Thatcher had said "I’m going to Iraq to stop the Unions" …

    There’s a difference between refuting an argument and ignoring it, you know.

  24. Maybe I should have said "dealing with terrorism" rather than "putting up with terrorism". I’ll give you that!

  25. Ah, so all those bomb factories Scotland Yard kept telling us they’d found over the last 40 years were just feelgood propaganda. What we really needed to be doing all along was invading a country in the middle east.

    …I’ll get my tinfoil hat.

  26. >
    > Is that the shortfall that was due
    > in 2000, or the one from 1990, or
    > the one where we were going to
    > completely run out of oil by the
    > end of the 80s, or a brand new
    > previously unavailable shortfall?
    >
    No. it’s the one that’s been predicted all along by the world’s petrogeologists, and is now also predicted by the US Dept. of Energy, by the CEO of the world’s largest energy investment bank and advisor to Bush on Energy Policy; Matt Simmons. I’m not sure which "earlier" shortfalls you’re referring to; but you’re surely not suggesting that just because someone made a claim in the past that turned out to be false; that all other claims on the subject must also therefor be false.

    Because that’d be just silly, right? It’d be like predicting that the car you’re driving will run out of petrol after 100 miles, and then assuming – as you pass the 101st mile – that you’ll never run out.

  27. Even if we accept Squander Two’s argument that the predicted shortfall in oil supply is no more real than those previously predicted, this does not prevent US military planning being influenced by a belief in the reality of the currently predicted shortfall. The question is, do those with influence over US military deployments and strategy believe that there will be a shortfall in oil supply?

  28. Bad analogy. The thing is that not only have we not run out of oil as predicted by "experts" on many occasions now, but that the world supply of oil has increased. Some of the world’s petrogeologists are rethinking whether we’re ever going to run out, whether oil might in fact be a renewable resource, and whether it’s even a fossil fuel at all. The new theories might be right and might be wrong, but to present this impending running-out as an established fact, undisputed by the experts in the field, is plain wrong.

    > I’m not sure which "earlier" shortfalls you’re referring to

    You could Google Paul Ehrlich, for a start.

    > those bomb factories Scotland Yard kept telling us they’d found over the last 40 years

    If you’re looking for an example of dealing with rather than putting up with terrorism, you couldn’t have picked a worse one than the British Government’s attitude towards the IRA.

  29. So all those bomb factories Scotland Yard kept telling us they’d found over the last 40 years were just feelgood propaganda!

    And we musn’t listen to the peak oil "experts" because oil might not be a fossil fuel after all!

    Wow. I’m getting my mind opened today.

    TRUST NO ONE!

  30. The new theories you refer to are a clumsy repackaging of the work of Thomas Gold in the 1970s and his "abiotic theory" of oil. That you give any credence to them at all is evidence that you know very little about the subject of petrogeology. And it’s really only after you can demonstrate that the issues raised in Jean Laherrere’s paper; A Critique of Thomas Gold’s Claims for Abiotic Oil; have no merit, that you should use that particular fringe theory in a serious debate.

    As for googling "Paul Erhlich", when I said that I wasn’t "sure which earlier shortfalls you’re referring to" it was part of the basic rhetorical point about the complete irrelevance of past predictions.

    There is very good data that we will begin to see crude oil supply shortfalls before the end of this decade. Previous predictions based upon previous data sets may well be demonstrably false. As yet, nobody has managed to demonstrate any error in the calculations demonstrating an imminent peaking of oil production. Even the USGS (a very optimistic bunch of geologists) accept that Peak Oil will be a problem in our lifetimes but say we don’t need to worry about it until 2037.

    They base that number on what’s known as a P5 prediction of future oil discovery; i.e. a 5 percent chance. Using the same data set and a P40 (which historically tends to be the closest prediction), you get a peaking in 2007 or thereabouts.

    If you claim that current predictions of peak oil production are false then you need to address those current predictions, and not the predictions made by someone else using different data and different methodology.

    And you really need to do better than crackpot theories and silly statements about "increasing reserves" if you want to dismiss my analogy.

  31. So… we could have just bought Iraqi oil on the market, but Saudi oil needs to be controlled; democracy means lying to the public with distorted evidence to force geopolitical decisions made between leaders; and oil will never run out!
    You can’t say you never learn anything on the net.

  32. They’ve got a car that runs on water, you know. Now that is scientific fact – there’s no real evidence for it – but it is scientific fact. But they don’t want us to know about it so they paid off the inventor to keep quiet.

  33. Sorry, are you saying that reserves haven’t increased? Because that would be wrong. But you knew that.

    > That you give any credence to them at all is evidence that you know very little about the subject of petrogeology.

    So, presumably, the fact that some petrogeologists give credence to them is evidence that those petrogeologists know very little about petrogeology.

    Past predictions aren’t irrelevant: they teach us about the reliability of the predictors. The scientific method, as you may be aware, involves testing theories by comparing the predictions that result from those theories with observable facts. When it comes to predicting shortages, petrogeology has an appalling record.

    Anyway, you’re saying we’ll be short of oil by 2015. Well, let’s just wait and see. I predict that your prediction will prove to be wrong. If we’re short of oil in 2015, I’ll admit I was wrong. But I also predict that, if we’re not short of oil in 2015, you won’t admit you were wrong; instead, you’ll just pick a new date.

    > So all those bomb factories Scotland Yard kept telling us they’d found over the last 40 years were just feelgood propaganda!

    My God, you’re thick.

    I didn’t claim that the police did not find bomb factories. I claimed that the British have been putting up with, not dealing with, terrorism. It was the British Government who coined that wonderful phrase "acceptable level of violence". They may have prevented the occasional bombing, but they didn’t stop the campaign, and eventually decided to hand political power over to the terrorists. They could have stopped the IRA, but didn’t. They’re willing to treat the IRA as civilised politicians as long as they only kill Northern Irish people and leave the English alone. Meanwhile, the fucking English chattering classes explode in outrage whenever an IRA killer so much as stubs his toe while in custody. This you call dealing with the problem? Feh.

  34. >
    > So, presumably, the fact that some
    > petrogeologists give credence to them
    > is evidence that those petrogeologists
    > know very little about petrogeology.
    >
    Yes. It would be. But I’m interested in which petrogeologists these are. I’ve provided you with a link to a paper that comprehensively debunks Gold’s work. Krayushkin, the one man who seems willing to publish in favour of Gold has failed to respond to Laherrere’s paper despite having had over three years to do so.

    So, if it’s not too much to ask for; could you provide a reference (post 2001 and Laherrere’s objections) to substantiate your claim that petrogeologists are giving abiotic oil any credence whatsoever.

    And note: you did say petrogeologists and not economists. Plenty of them seem to have become experts in abiotic oil of late.

    Also; and I didn’t make this point clear earlier; I’m not disputing that abiotic hydrocarbons do exist. I’m not – for instance – claiming that the methane in the atmosphere of Jupiter is organic in orgin. Nor am I saying that abiotic hydrocarbons cannot be found on the earth… merely that the claim that "crude oil is of non-biological origin" is rubbish.

    Abiotic hydrocarbons exist in small deposits, but they are not an exploitable resource in the same way that fossil fuels are, and nor do they have anything to do with the oil and gas that we use to fuel our civilisation.

    >
    > When it comes to predicting shortages,
    > petrogeology has an appalling record.
    >
    Really? Could you provide a single confirmed example when a Hubbert analysis of oil production has been false? Just one.

    >
    > If we’re short of oil in 2015, I’ll admit
    > I was wrong. But I also predict that, if
    > we’re not short of oil in 2015, you won’t
    > admit you were wrong; instead, you’ll just
    > pick a new date.
    >
    Nope. In fact I believe we’ll start seeing the first obvious signs of oil peaking long before 2015. Perhaps as early as next summer. And North America will probably reach a natural gas cliff by 2010. But because there are large variables in fossil fuel resource analysis (unreliable inventory figures so completely manipulated by the market as to make them almost unusable) all predictions should be taken with a +/- 5 year margin of error. When Hubbert predicted US continental peak production to be 1970, it was remarkable was that he was only one year out.

    And you needn’t worry; I won’t be revising my estimates. If oil consumption continues at roughly the same rate and we fail to hit supply constraints sometime between now and 2015, then I will acknowledge a flaw in my methodology and rejoice in the infinite abundance of our finite planet.

  35. My God, you’re thick.

    I know that, but it’s a bit rude for a stranger to point it out, you know?

  36. (there I go again being trite! Sorry…)

    S2, I agree with what you’re saying. Short version being, we were/are expected to put up with terrorism, when we shouldn’t have had to put up with it. For some reason the Governments concerned thought fannying about would be the best approach. But put up with it we did, as though it were a spot of bad weather, good old grumbly Brits that we are!

    Now, we’re ‘doing something’ rather decisive about this new problem, which is good/bad (delete as applicable). But what’s the one big huge difference between Northern Ireland and the Middle East? Cue David Duff, who’s post I was originally replying to…

  37. > it’s a bit rude for a stranger to point it out

    Well, I wasn’t the first to be rude.

    > what’s the one big huge difference between Northern Ireland and the Middle East?

    The ignorance, size, wealth, and power of the Irish-American population.

    To be fair (to myself), I’ve often said that it’s Bush, not Blair, I support. And Bush’s attitude towards Northern Irish terrorists is more hostile than any previous President’s. I don’t think it’s reasonable to compare Bush’s approach to Islamist terrorists to, say, Clinton’s or Reagan’s approach to the IRA. Bush has made it clear that he sees no reason why anyone should put up with IRA terrorism either.

    Jim,

    You misunderstand my argument. I’m not a petrogeologist, don’t claim to know much about the field, and have little to no idea what a Hubbert analysis is. However, I’m not stupid. We have been told that the oil is just a few years away from running out since the 1920s, if not earlier. The theories behind these predictions are, therefore, bollocks. Those predictions were made, and were either made or supported by experts in the field. Saying "Ah, but, they weren’t Hubbert analyses!" doesn’t cut it.

    Reading up on the subject a bit, it seems clear that there’s a debate going on about the origins of oil. There was a conference a couple of years ago, which implies that the ideas are taken seriously enough in the field that they can’t simply be dismissed as crackpot lunacy. All I originally said was that there was a debate amongst the experts, which there is. You’re telling me that, because I can’t prove which side of the debate is right, I shouldn’t be allowed to mention that the debate’s occurring. That’s odd.

    Fifty years ago, any mention of plate tectonics would have made you a laughing stock among geologists. Just saying, like.

    > If oil consumption continues at roughly the same rate …

    You mean, assuming that technology doesn’t improve, become more efficient, or start switching to new fuels? Why on Earth would you assume that? One of the many reason past predictions have been so wrong is that they failed to take into account changes in technology. We were supposed to run out of copper sometime in the 80s, then fibre-optics came along. BMW and others are planning to have hydrogen cars on the market within five years. Assuming constant consumption is probably wrong.

  38. Well, I wasn’t the first to be rude.

    You were – I was merely being sarcastic. Which is just as bad, really. Erm, sorry and all that…

    The ignorance, size, wealth, and power of the Irish-American population.

    Does this mean you don’t agree with David Duff’s thesis (which is what my hasty reply was agreeing with in the first place)?

  39. I agree with a lot of what David’s written, but not all of it. I genuinely don’t think it was all down to realpolitik, because Bush has been so critical of realpolitik, has blamed the realpolitik of the past for the current problem with Islamist terrorism, and, of course, Bush completely changed policy after 9/11. Unless you subscribe to the idea that Bush engineered 9/11, it seems obvious that his policies are shaped by that event, otherwise, he’d have had them since 2000.

    David’s right that it’s about far more than Iraqi oil, but I think it’s also about far more than Saudi oil. I think the main aim is to bring as much democracy to the Middle East as possible, and especially to Saudi Arabia and Iran. I don’t understand why people are so dismissive of this idea on the grounds that America don’t give a damn about everyday Iraqis. Even if America doesn’t care about Iraqis or Arabs or Iranians, a large number of America’s enemies are dictators, and democracy works against dictators. Even from a purely cynical and selfish point of view, promoting democracy is still a great idea. It means you can attack the House of Saud without openly attacking them and while being friendly enough with them that they keep selling you oil. Allowing Iraqi ex-pats to vote wherever they were in the world was, in my opinion, the masterstroke of the anti-terrorism campaign so far. Arab citizens got to watch their Iraqi friends and neighbours vote while they still aren’t allowed to. They’re not happy about that, and it’s not America they’re not happy with.

    I quoted on here before, so I’ll just link to it this time. In my opinion, it expresses one of the most ethical and self-interested foreign policies ever adopted by a powerful nation. If Bush ever does anything to make me doubt he’s sincere, I’ll reavaluate. So far, he hasn’t. I wish he’d be a bit more ruthless with those parts of the CIA and the State Department who refuse to adapt to his way of thinking, though.

  40. I don’t believe I’m not misunderstanding your arguments, Squander Two, just pointing out the flaws in them.

    The article you linked to ends with an interesting line from one of the geologists… "I’m a scientist, so I have to keep an open mind. But I need to see some evidence." There is – in the views of most geologists – absolutely conclusive evidence that crude oil is a fossil fuel. However, no evidence has been provided by the abiotic theorists that it is not a fossil fuel. All that’s been done is to reveal possible sources of small quantities of abiotic hydrocarbons in the Ukraine. To extrapolate from that "evidence" that crude oil is non-biological in origin is scientific daftness of the highest order.

    It doesn’t surprise me in the least however that the abiotic theory has been resurrected lately. It’s a clear symptom of the desperation of oil industry economists. In August 1999 Goldman Sachs quietly issued the following advice to investors…
    "The rig count over the last twelve years has reached bottom. This is not because of low oil price. The oil companies are not going to keep rigs employed to drill dry holes. They know it but are unable and unwilling to admit it. The great merger mania is nothing more than a scaling down of a dying industry in recognition of the fact that 90% of global conventional oil has already been found."

    And interestingly, despite sustained high oil prices, the rig count isn’t exploding all of a sudden to exploit the near infinite quantities of abiotic oil. In fact, what little increased drilling is going on is largely occurring in deep sea regions.

    Drilling dry holes in deep water is a very very expensive business compared with drilling dry holes on land. If the exploration department of any oil company (the one place you can still rely on finding geologists and not economists) took abiotic oil even half seriously, they’d be doing land-based drilling (after all, surface geology has precisely no impact on the likelihood of discovering abiotic oil, right?) rather than attempting risky and expensive deepwater drilling into "the right geology".

    Anyway, the idea of abiotic oil is – in a way – irrelevant. If it turns out that the earth is generating abiotic crude oil at a sustainable level contrary to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, then "peak oil" is a complete myth.

    But Squander Two, you have to appreciate my own perspective… I’ve been studying petrogeology for the best part of 7 years; have visited numerous oil fields, rigs and exploration projects; and have not met a single field geologist, drilling engineer, or academic petrogeologist who isn’t 100% certain that they are dealing with a fossil fuel that is formed at a specific depth by a specific geology. It’s been borne out by every single well ever drilled by a major oil company.

    So when people like yourself, who acknowledge that you "don’t claim to know much about the field" point to a couple of google links that contradict all of that. Well, it’s hard not to be very sceptical. I’m not saying that you "shouldn’t be allowed to mention that the debate’s occurring"; just that you can find evidence that alien technology is powering the stealth fighter if you look hard enough on the net.

    Anyways, you again fall back on the idea that because past predictions were false, so all future predictions must be false. Yes, in the 1920s there were people making warnings. So what? They were using incorrect data and methodologies.

    We now have excellent data. And M. King Hubbert discovered the correct methodology for predicting depletion. That’s why saying "Ah, but, they weren’t Hubbert analyses!" about previous predictions does, in fact, cut it.

    There are a thousand wrong ways to predict oil flow from a reservoir, but there is also a right way. In the 1950s Hubbert demonstrated a particular depletion curve based upon the known physics and geology of oil reservoirs. When he applied it to the cumulative fields of the continental United States it predicted a peak production year of 1970.

    He wasn’t given particular credence. But production peaked in 1971. Since then Hubbert curves have been applied to individual fields, to regions and to entire nations. With one or two exceptions (leaky reservoirs, that kind of thing) it always works.

    It’s important that people get this… fringe theories aside; the geology of oil reservoirs and the physics of extraction is actually very well understood now.

    For millennia people have been speculating as to what the moon is made of. From blue cheese to silver pixie dust. But we eventually discovered a scientific methodology for actually working it out. And one day an astronomer said "it’s made of certain kinds of rock and has a light powdery surface". Just because previous people had said that it’s made of blue cheese wasn’t a reason to discount him. And a few years later, when we went to the moon, he was proven right.

    I use that example mainly because the astronomer in question was one Thomas Gold. A brilliant astrophysicist who in his mid-70s wrote a very strange book on a subject he had no real expertise in.

    On the subject of peak oil there’s now what I’d call a "consensus of the informed". The debate about whether it’s happening is all but over; the question of what to do about it, is what we face now. And Britain and the United States appear – rather unimaginatively – to have chosen to apply a military sticking plaster to a fractured skull.

  41. Also, Squander Two, with regards to the "constant consumption" issue. Demand for oil has increased roughly in line with economic growth. This is because, from a physics point of view, energy is "the ability to do work". Energy is not a commodity like copper, it is fundamentally different type of thing. It can’t be replaced with fibre optics or anything else for that matter.

    Oil accounts for 98% of the energy used in the global transport sector and – combined with natural gas – almost 75% of all the energy consumed by the world’s economy. Fibre optics won’t cut it when it comes to filling up your car or heating your house.

    And hydrogen isn’t an energy resource by the way. It takes more energy to produce a quantity of hydrogen than can be extracted from the hydrogen. It’s like electricity, or batteries… a storage container for fossil-fuels.

  42. > With one or two exceptions (leaky reservoirs, that kind of thing) it always works.

    Yet, puzzlingly, we keep getting these predictions that don’t come true. Can you perhaps begin to imagine why that undermines faith in your methodology?

    > This is because, from a physics point of view, energy is "the ability to do work". Energy is not a commodity like copper

    You’re not comparing like with like here. You could compare energy to matter, or copper to oil.

    Anyway, like I said, I’m not disputing your expertise, and certainly don’t claim to be capable of evaluating all the scientific evidence. I’m simply pointing out, correctly, that, so far, every single predicted oil shortage has failed to come true. I am well aware of the problems of inductive reasoning and that past predictions don’t influence the accuracy of future predictions, but I have also heard the story of the boy who cried wolf.

    Must dash.

  43. >
    > Yet, puzzlingly, we keep getting these predictions
    > that don’t come true. Can you perhaps begin to
    > imagine why that undermines faith in your methodology?
    >
    I’m confused. Which "predictions that don’t come true" have been made using the Hubbert curve methodology?

    And I think the point about the Boy Who Cried Wolf was precisely that the wolf did actually come in the end. Remember?

  44. The point about the boy who cried wolf was that, by the end, whether or not there really was a wolf was completely immaterial to whether anyone believed him.

    I was in a hurry earlier; had to go and plant a strawberry patch. Let me explain more carefully what I’m on about.

    Since my grandmother was a small child, we have been told by the experts that the world is just about to run out of oil. It’s always in the next ten to fifteen years. You’re saying that you expect a world shortfall within the next decade. Ten years ago, there was supposed to be a world shortfall within the next decade. Twenty years ago, we were told to expect as a matter of certainty a world shortfall within the next decade. And, thirty years ago, guess what? When your predictions are that consistently inaccurate, you can expect the occasional bit of sarcasm from people like me when you tell them that we’re certainly about to run out of oil.

    As I’ve repeatedly said, I’m not an expert in the field, so I don’t claim to be able to tell who’s right and who’s wrong in a technical debate about why the predictions might be wrong. And no, I have no idea what methodology was used to make the predictions. The fact remains that they were made, they were publicised, and there wasn’t a chorus of voices from petrogeologists telling the public to ignore them. If you and your colleagues thought the predictions were nonsense and failed to let that be known, then you were remiss, to say the least, and the scepticism you now face from people like me is your own damn fault. If, on the other hand, you thought the predictions were true, then there’s a problem with your theories and methodology. I don’t need to know anything whatsoever about petrogeology to be able to make that claim: I just need the ability to compare a hypothesis with observed reality. When they clash, I may conclude that the hypothesis is wrong. When they clash repeatedly, I may conclude that there’s a problem with the theory behind the hypotheses.

    You say that the Hubbert curve methodology is reliably accurate, and has been in use since 1971. That means that it was available when the claims were made that we would run out of oil by the end of the 70s, that we would run out of oil by the mid-80s, that we would run out of oil by the early 90s, and that we would run out of oil by the year 2000. So, either the methodology that you claim is infallible isn’t, or you and your colleagues had access to a genuinely infallible methodology but declined to use it. Either way, it doesn’t give me much confidence in your latest prediction.

    You claim that Hubbert curve analysis is consistently accurate at telling you where to drill for oil. I don’t know anything about that, and you clearly do, so I’ll take your word for it. Fine. But I don’t care, as I wasn’t discussing or making any claims about where one should drill. I was simply saying that predictions of worldwide shortfalls are consistently wrong, which they are. So far, in fact, not one such prediction has been correct.

    Which leads us on to alternative theories. Again, I don’t know enough about the field to say which alternative theories are correct, if any. I pointed out that some scientists are speculating that oil is a renewable resource and may not even be a fossil fuel, which they are. But, again, I don’t need to know anything about the field to work out why alternative theories are cropping up: because something has been going on which current theory has failed to explain. You say the abiotic theory of oil has been debunked. Again, fine; I’ll take your word for it. But, as long as your industry’s predictions of worldwide shortages fail to come true, you can expect more alternative theories to come along, as some scientists strive to explain what’s going on more accurately than you do.

    Now, if you were to say that, yes, those past predictions were wrong, but this latest one won’t suffer from the same problems because of differences in its methodology, I’d at least treat your claim seriously. Instead, though, you insist that those past predictions, of which everyone in the Western world is well aware, which we all grew up with, which a well-informed expert from the UN came to my school to explain to us, simply never happened. That makes me think you’re disingenuous. And then you bring up informed consensus. Science is not decided by consensus, as you should know, and history is littered with broad scientifically informed consensuses which were utterly, completely wrong.

    Now, go ahead and tell me that I obviously haven’t studied some technical theory or other and haven’t read all the latest papers, so shouldn’t be allowed to criticise the sayings of an expert like you.

  45. If we can’t trust the experts, can’t we at least listen to what the market is telling us?

  46. Squander Two,

    I’m constantly bemused by your claims that I’m trying to suppress your views in some way. First you implied that I was trying to say you "shouldn’t be allowed to mention that the debate’s occurring". Now you’re implying that I’ve said you "shouldn’t be allowed to criticise the sayings of an expert like [me]".

    I have no idea where you get those ideas from. I’m just trying to tell you that from the point of view of someone who has studied the subject for seven years and had discussions (both via email and in person) with some of the most respected people in the field (with 100s of years of combined experience) that there is now a consensus that we are going to hit crude oil shortages, because of production peaking, as early as next summer but no later than 2015.

    I understand that since your grandmother’s time and before people have been saying the sky was going to fall in. I understand that past predictions about oil shortages have proven to be false. But that’s wholly irrelevant in the face of the empirical data emerging from oil fields all over the world.

    The other issue with the Boy Who Cried Wolf, of course, is that the townspeople lost their food supply because they’d become too jaded to judge each warning on its merits. Understandable perhaps, but ultimately self-destructive.

    Also, I do have a little bit of a problem with unreferenced stuff. I’m more than happy to provide a reference for anything I cite here. Could you please refer me to at least some of these specific predictions about oil that you mention. Telling me to google Ehrlich isn’t enough; please point me to a prediction he made about crude oil. Or anyone else post-1971 in fact.

    I say this, because there has been a lot of guff written about false predictions. In the past I have had this very discussion with a certain Mr. David Duff who constantly referred to The Club of Rome and the "false predictions" made in The Limits To Growth.

    Now, having had a very entertaining email exchange with one of the authors of that book, and having read it several times, what strikes me is how few actual predictions are made in it, how heavily qualified they are, and how none of them can be possibly described as "wrong" because they relate to timespans not yet complete.

    That so many people point to the graphs which represent different models, choose the "worst case" model, and shout about how "it’s wrong!!!" merely demonstrates how few people understand statistical analysis or complex-systems-modelling.

    I know you never mentioned The Limits to Growth, Squander Two, but as you haven’t given me anything specific to go on, I’m having to assume which "false predictions" you’re talking about.

    Interestingly, The Limits to Growth deliberately avoids discussing crude oil in any depth (for a bunch of reasons). Indeed the only possible item in the entire book that could be described as a prediction about crude oil is the table on Page 58 (UK Pan print, 6th edition) which predicts a depletion of crude oil reserves in 50 years based upon exponential growth in its usage.

    What’s interesting about this table, is that it’s pure mathematics. It takes current known proven reserves (at the time of the study), multiplies them by 5 (to take into account probable reserves and future discovery), takes current consumption, increases it exponentially, and works out the end date. It’s non-controversial. A more complex calculation, but no less mathematically certain than 2+2=4. And it’s not a prediction of what "will" happen, but what "would" happen under those specific conditions.

    The oil embargo of the early 70s, of course, dramatically affected the shape of the production and consumption curve. It prevented anything like an exponential increase in oil consumption. [Aside: Hubbert's prediction for global peak actually points to the mid-90s if you exclude the impact of the embargo]

    Another thing:
    >
    > You claim that Hubbert curve analysis is
    > consistently accurate at telling you where
    > to drill for oil.
    >
    No I didn’t. And if I even implied that anywhere, I was completely wrong. Hubbert curves are predictors of production from a specific reservoir (or averaged over many) based upon initial discovery date(s).

    It is a totally different field to oil exploration. Nothing whatsoever to do with it. Apologies if I’ve been inadvertently confusing about that.

    My point about current exploration is a separate one, but an important one. If oil were abiotic in origin then near-surface geology would have no impact on where it would be discovered. Near-surface geology is only relevant if you claim that oil is a fossil fuel (i.e. formed by organic matter being trapped within unique geological structures close to the surface). If you’re interested in the more mainstream view of how oil is formed, this is a fairly accessible presentation by Colin Campbell.

    When people began drilling oil wells (back in the late 19th century) it was a relatively hit and miss affair. Because oil fields are pretty big things, you could usually up your chances by drilling close to someone else who had hit oil. But there wasn’t much else to decrease the odds of a dry well. Then, in the 50s there were some advances in seismic imaging technology and a rush to find out whether there was a commonality in the geology of oil-fields. As the technology improved, so elements of surface geology were discovered, without which oil was never present.

    Immediately the rate of discovery jumped, and it peaked in the late 1960s since when it has been steadily declining. By the late 70s most of the planet (Antarctica and a few smaller places excluded) had been subjected to detailed seismic imaging. There is very little more to be found. The South China Seas may hold a large field or two. Certainly the geology points towards it, and there are a whole bunch of nations engaged in a frantic naval arms race in the area in order to secure the rights to drill, by force if necessary.

    If oil were abiotic in origin, we wouldn’t have had a jump in discovery when better surface analysis became available. We would never hit a peak in discovery (to deny that we have is to claim a massive conspiracy). And Hubbert analysis would never work (because fields filling from below would have an entirely different depletion curve… mathematically speaking).

    I was amused by your line regarding past predictions:
    >
    > and there wasn’t a chorus of voices from
    > petrogeologists telling the public to
    > ignore them
    >
    Petrogeologists tend not to be listened to. When Hubbert made his prediction in the 50s, the only people who heard about it were other petrogeologists. And they did heavily criticise him (the prevailing view at the time was, oddly enough, that oil was seeping upwards from deeper and that 1970 was ludicrously early to expect a production peak). However you’d have to dig out some pretty esoteric journals to discover any evidence that this debate was even happening back then.

    Hubbert’s name didn’t become well known outside the field (he was justly renowned for other work) until his prediction had been proven correct.

    The petrogeology community has always been extremely conservative. When a maverick starts to make wild predictions they are always criticised by the rest of the field. Always. The fact that the wild maverick is widely publicised and remembered, but the dull safe voices of the establishment are ignored and forgotten is not perhaps the fault of the petrogeologists… but rather of a public who choose to trumpet sensationalism rather than actually learn something about an issue.

    So when you allege:
    >
    > But, as long as your industry’s predictions of
    > worldwide shortages fail to come true…
    >
    Please ,please, please provide one single occasion when the industry has made any such prediction. Just one. It never has, Squander Two. In fact it’s always been wildly optimistic about future prospects. Investors demand that.

    Oh, and it’s not "my" industry. I quit the corporate life seven years ago (I was an engineer working in complex-systems analysis) to focus on petrogeology and peak oil from an academic / political aspect. I am not affiliated with the oil industry in any way, though I know many people within it, and I like to make that clear as I have been asked to provide "independent" analysis in the past.

    Anyways, I’ve gone on waaaaay too long. Your point, such as it is, seems to be that certain vague undefined past predictions might have been wrong if we knew what they were and who said them. Therefore, chances are, the general consensus among those who have actually studied the issue of oil supply is probably wrong now.

    Here’s the thing. I’m not even saying that you should believe me. You should retain a healthy scepticism by all means. However, if the experts are right then ignoring them is plainly suicidal. And even if they are wrong, believing them will still have a demonstrably positive influence on our world.

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