Saturday, November 1, 2014

Gas Wars

There is a profound geopolitical move on Saudi Arabia’s part right now that is resulting in lower gas prices, and countries with significant but not voluminous oil export capacity, like sanctions-crippled Iran, are the ones who are most feeling the pressure. Ordinarily when oil prices become depressed, Saudi Arabia cuts production and keeps prices high. Right now though, they seem to be in a frame of mind to toss a stink bomb into Iran’s tent. The question then, is why?

Of course there are the Sunni versus Shiite national profiles of Saudi Arabia versus Iran. Iran is one of only a few predominantly Shia countries, and Saudi Arabia is currently in a position to punish them for it. What’s the real problem though? It takes awhile to grok the difference between Sunni and Shia, why it matters, and why the level of commitment to the schisms is as great as it is.

Apart from the stylistic, academic, jurisprudence and other departures of the practice of Sunni versus Shiite Islam, the Shiite’s professed sole claim to direct lineage from Mohammed to the exclusion of the Sunni is offensive, and it is a gripe that has sustained itself through the oral tradition and manifest itself through the tradition of Civil War for centuries. The question then ought not be about why Saudi Arabia is trying to rupture Iran’s economy. The question instead is, why now?

One piece of circulating conventional wisdom is that Saudi Arabia is leveraging the economic sanctions that have been applied to Iran by the US over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s production and markets are so hobbled by sanctions that even what little they can bring to market can only sell for half of what it did a month ago. So, the same pain that Saudi Arabia oil barons will experience from lower profits will generate a more acute blow to the Iranian economy than it would absent the US sanctions, thereby being a more efficient expenditure of resource.

The United States government, as a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil and munitions industries, has been doing what it can to add to the glut by practically fracking its Grand Tetons off. It’s easier to get a fracking license in Texas right now than it is to get proper voter ID. The reason for that is because what’s bad for Iran is bad for other oil-exporting countries that do not have oceans of the stuff lying around in easily accessible desert regions, Russia for instance.

Russia is as crippled by this current glut as Iran is, and for those Obama haters who think he’s a ninny and not up to playing big boy games, this is the one to watch. Russia and Iran are nasty little nests of capacity, resource and a cultural ability to withstand prolonged agony and inflict unimaginable pain on their enemies.

The US has pulled the strategy of Arab collusion to bankrupt the Russians before, playing footsy with Iran and Iraq while draining Soviet resources with a covert CIA war in Afghanistan in 1985. Add in the Cold War arms race, burgeoning secessionist movements among the Soviet protectorates, most notably the Baltic states, and come 1991 under Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s long-outlived reason for being collapsed.  You can bet that Russia is leery of this move right now and will in all likelihood react with some show of belligerent irksomeness.

In the late 1980s under the Reagan presidency, there was a more or less symbolic downward pressure on oil prices in letting James Watt savage the southwest and putting ANWR drilling back on the table, but the philosophy of the times matches the Obama response right now.  The administration, in cooperation with big bomb and big oil, is in search of anything to heighten a real or expected glut that will further damage the Soviet economy, and fracking is obviously it.

So yes, the final acts of a horror show are going on in Afghanistan and Syria right now, but the real war just may be happening at a gas pump near you.

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