In a recent piece, "The Pentagon v. Peak Oil," Michael Klare, expert on war and energy, gives us an unprecedented sense of what it means when the Pentagon hits the gas pump to fill its own tank (as well as its tanks). It is, after all, the Hummer of Defense Departments, the planet’s gas-guzzler par excellence. He writes that the estimated annual oil expenditure for U.S. combat operations in Southwest Asia is 1.3 billion gallons a day – and that that’s probably a gross underestimate.

On the other hand, in the occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration turns out to be unable to find a local gas station still in operation. As you all undoubtedly remember, before its invasion in March 2003, the administration was quite convinced that Iraqi oil would quickly pay for any future occupation, reconstruction, and — though this was never said — permanent American presence. Then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz classically pointed out back in 2003 that Iraq "floats on a sea of oil" and told a Congressional panel, "The oil revenue of [Iraq] could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We’re dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."

Over four years later, however, Iraq, under threat of an oil workers’ strike, seems to be pumping only 1.6 million barrels of oil a day — almost a million barrels below the worst days of the sanctions-strapped regime of Saddam Hussein. In addition, an oil law, essentially prepared in Washington and aimed at opening Iraqi oil to multinational (read: American) oil companies, that has been declared by Washington’s Democrats and Republicans as the crucial "benchmark" of Iraqi progress, seems dead in the water — or is it a pool of oil?

Given the Pentagon’s "daily petroleum tab" in the Middle Eastern war zone cited by Klare, you could, in a sense, say that the Bush administration is "running on empty" and that the coming of "peak oil" (a future crunch in supplies), the Bush Doctrine of "force transformation" (meaning the creation of an even more gas-guzzling, high-tech military) and "preventive war" will actually give the term "oil wars" new meaning. We may, someday, be fighting our "oil wars" just to preserve that very American right — to run our war machines on petroleum products.