The disastrous impact on the economy of George W. Bush’s response to the attacks of September 2001 is still being measured. On Friday of last week the Bush Administration announced that it would not renominate Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Administration’s decision to throw a loyal supporter overboard avoids a messy confirmation hearing that would have further focused a war-weary nation’s attention on the past. But sometimes looking backward can help us anticipate the future.
In February of this year, Rep. Henry Waxman’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform revealed fresh details of how the Coalition Provisional Authority dumped $12 billion in cash–in $100 bills–into Iraq in 2004. Multiple flights of huge C-130 transport planes were required to deliver 363 tons of greenbacks–a modest portion of the $510 billion we have spent so far in Iraq and Afghanistan. By certain measures, this may not be America’s most expensive war. But the worst economic effects are yet to come.
No matter how the Iraq War ends, it is clear that the United States is incapable of militarily securing territory against the wishes of a hostile population. And the Iraq War is at the heart of two alarming trends that are likely to have a negative impact on America’s position in the world: The demand for oil is rising while the supply is declining, and the demand for the US dollar is declining while the supply of dollars is rising.
In the four years since the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi oilfields and associated infrastructure have sustained 400 attacks. And because of the situation on the ground, Iraqi oil production, at 1.95 barrels per day during the first quarter of 2007, was far short of the government’s goal of 2.5 million barrels per day and the previous peak of 3.7 million under Saddam. In this asymmetrical war, our enemies are spending a fraction of our costs on improvised explosive devices, chlorine gas and suicide bombers, while we invest heavily in noneffective weapons systems and force structures.
US oil and gas production peaked in the early ’70s, and we are now by far the world’s largest energy importer. The largest oilfields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Syria, Yemen and Oman are in decline, as are most oilfields in the former Soviet Union, Canada, Central and South America, and on-shore Africa. New fields will be discovered and new technologies brought to bear, but costs of production will be higher than in the past and will require more expensive investments in equipment and technology.
Even as existing fields age, the new economies of India and China require more and more oil to fuel their impressive growth. Although a worldwide depression might result in a temporary drop in the price of oil and other commodities, the long-term imbalance between growing demand and declining supply will eventually reassert itself, creating price increases over time.