Full price of oil
Tom Dispatch has an opinion piece on something we have not really considered. The US military has a huge appetite for oil and products. We have not quantified this on the blog. The Bush Administration I suppose has not asked for a volume discount for oil or services, but it made me curious…
Every day, the average G.I. in Iraq uses approximately 27 gallons of petroleum-based fuels. With some 160,000 American troops in Iraq, that amounts to 4.37 million gallons in daily oil usage, including gasoline for vans and light vehicles, diesel for trucks and armored vehicles, and aviation fuel for helicopters, drones, and fixed-wing aircraft. With U.S. forces paying, as of late April, an average of $3.23 per gallon for these fuels, the Pentagon is already spending approximately $14 million per day on oil ($98 million per week, $5.1 billion per year) to stay in Iraq. Meanwhile, our Iraqi allies, who are expected to receive a windfall of $70 billion this year from the rising price of their oil exports, charge their citizens $1.36 per gallon for gasoline.
When questioned about why Iraqis are paying almost a third less for oil than American forces in their country, senior Iraqi government officials scoff at any suggestion of impropriety. “America has hardly even begun to repay its debt to Iraq,” said Abdul Basit, the head of Iraq’s Supreme Board of Audit, an independent body that oversees Iraqi governmental expenditures. “This is an immoral request because we didn’t ask them to come to Iraq, and before they came in 2003 we didn’t have all these needs.”
Needless to say, this is not exactly the way grateful clients are supposed to address superpower patrons. “It’s totally unacceptable to me that we are spending tens of billions of dollars on rebuilding Iraq while they are putting tens of billions of dollars in banks around the world from oil revenues,” said Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “It doesn’t compute as far as I’m concerned.”
Certainly, however, our allies in the region, especially the Sunni kingdoms of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that presumably look to Washington to stabilize Iraq and curb the growing power of Shiite Iran, are willing to help the Pentagon out by supplying U.S. troops with free or deeply-discounted petroleum. No such luck. Except for some partially subsidized oil supplied by Kuwait, all oil-producing U.S. allies in the region charge us the market rate for petroleum.
Update: See Naked Capitalism on Wolf Becker and Posner on oil”
Take that as a striking reflection of how little credence even countries whose ruling elites have traditionally looked to the U.S. for protection now attach to our supposed superpower status.
Think of this as a strikingly clear-eyed assessment of American power. As far as they’re concerned, we’re now just another of those hopeless oil addicts driving a monster gas-guzzler up to the pump — and they’re perfectly happy to collect our cash which they can then use to cherry-pick our prime assets. So expect no summer tax holidays for the Pentagon, not in the Middle East, anyway.
Worse yet, the U.S. military will need even more oil for the future wars on which the Pentagon is now doing the planning. In this way, the U.S. experience in Iraq has especially worrisome implications. Under the military “transformation” initiated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2001, the future U.S. war machine will rely less on “boots on the ground” and ever more on technology. But technology entails an ever-greater requirement for oil, as the newer weapons sought by Rumsfeld (and now Secretary of Defense Robert Gates) all consume many times more fuel than those they will replace. To put this in perspective: The average G.I in Iraq now uses about seven times as much oil per day as G.I.s did in the first Gulf War less than two decades ago. And every sign indicates that the same ratio of increase will apply to coming conflicts; that the daily cost of fighting will skyrocket; and that the Pentagon’s capacity to shoulder multiple foreign military burdens will unravel. Thus are superpowers undone.
Is the general thrust of the argument reasonable as the price of oil rapidly increases? How does a military totally dependent on access to oil deal with prices that are its lifeblood? What are the obligations in the ME, and does this square with our rhetoric??