eyes on the U.S.

It Was All About The Oil: A Chinese View As Curtain Closes On Iraq War

Op-Ed: As the US officially declares its military engagement over in Iraq, the toll can be measured in human lives, but also in a geopolitical chessboard ever more shaped by energy security.

US and Iraqi soldiers Al Muradia, Iraq, March, 13, 2007 (U.S. Army)
US and Iraqi soldiers Al Muradia, Iraq, March, 13, 2007 (U.S. Army)
Zhang Guoqing

BEIJING - After nearly nine years, the war in Iraq has officially come to an end. Its effects can of course be calculated in the heavy human toll, but the war has also left a lasting imprint on both global affairs and across America's political landscape.

When people feel the effects of high oil prices, they should remember that it was the breakout and ongoing stalemate of the Iraq war that prompted petrol costs to soar. One could even connect those skyrocketing energy prices to the financial crisis of today.

Years ago, scholars had already warned that the exploitation of petrol was going to extend to remote and unstable regions of the globe. This had long created concerns in the US, and was part of the motivation for America's attack on Iraq.

Already in 2001, the White House declared that the US could not risk the impact of Iraq's instability on the oil market; and that military intervention might very well be necessary.

The fact is plain that President George W. Bush had drawn up his black list of nations that included mostly major oil exporters such as Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Sudan. Whether it was his early passion for better relations with Russia, stationing soldiers in Afghanistan or sending troops to the Middle East, the most important starting point was always the oil and gas.

Prior to the Iraq War, The Nation, an American left wing weekly, had already declared that an invasion would be an "oil war." American military lives would be lost for this prize, and an even higher cost was paid by the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens.

Since all lies have been exposed, the fact that the Iraq War was an energy war is no longer a secret. Although under President Bush's administration the link to energy was denied, it was but the "Emperor's new clothes'.

The negative effects this brought are two-fold. On one hand, it stimulated the anti-American forces in Iraq, and on the other hand, it reminded other countries to commit themselves to focus ever more of their attention to energy security. This in turn required ever more delicate international relations, and objectively also pushed up oil prices. Not coincidentally, after the war started, oil producers like Iran and Venezuela both chose to stand in opposition to America. All of these effects added up in rising prices for oil.

US propaganda claimed at first that the Iraq War was launched to prevent Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction, while the argument later turned to the defense of democracy and prosperity. What we know now is that this country, with the second biggest oil reserves, is still facing chaos and unrest, and its oil production has yet to recover to its pre-war level.

Speculators love emergency

Between the start of the war in 2003 and the end of the Bush administration, international oil prices multiplied six-fold, while Iraq's production dropped from 2.6 million barrels to 1.1 million per day.

An unnecessary war buried Saddam, but left the oil speculators in seventh heaven. High oil prices have brought the Exxon Mobil Corporation, the Texan energy giant, huge profits. Its operating profit soared from $30 billion to $200 billion within six years. American petroleum companies took away most of Iraq's exploitation rights. It's not until the latter half of President Bush's second term that other countries were allowed in.

The reality proves that in any geopolitical crisis, there's always someone who is profiting. International speculators love emergencies. The rest of us are left to face the drop in output, and rise in oil prices that fuel inflation across the economy.

There's another side effect as well: the Bush administration's rash decision to launch the Iraq War instead of concentrating its energy in combating al Qaeda and finishing the war in Afghanistan. It took until last May to finally track down and kill Bin Laden. In the meantime, this international terrorists network had time to reestablish itself, and also allowed the Taliban to reemerge in Afghanistan, where the war indeed continues.

This look back at Iraq should give caution for those considering starting a war in Syria or Iran. If a war were to be launched in Syria, or the US and Israel were to attack Iran, the Gulf Region will be plunged into a great dilemma. The plague of uncertainty would again make oil prices soar, and hopes for a global economic recovery would quickly dim.

Among its many lessons, the Iraq War has taught us that however easy it is to start a way, ending one is much harder.

Read the original article in Chinese

photo - U.S. Army

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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