$4 Per Gallon Gasoline And The War In Libya
April 07, 2011, 03:01 AM
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Perhaps one reason for the Obama Administration starting the Libyan War was to avoid a situation like in Iraq from 1991-2003, where international sanctions reduced oil exports, presumably making gasoline prices higher in America. If Gaddafi had won his civil war, the great and the good would likely have voted sanctions on Libyan oil exports, thus tightening world oil markets, with unfortunate effects on unemployment and Obama's re-election chances.

Of course, gasoline prices were pretty low in absolute terms during much of the 1991-2003 period. And as the Iraq War showed, war isn't really conducive to oil production. The presence of oil in the ground can generate civil war over who will control its future stream of wealth, driving down production in the present due to violence and sabotage.

The problem in Libya with this line of thought is that the lightly populated war zone contested between Gaddafi's westerners and the Benghazi rebel easterners is where most of Libya's oil comes from. This Washington Post graphic of east/central Libya shows the four major oil shipping ports. At present, the westernmost is controlled by Gaddafi, the easternmost by the rebels and the two in the middle are being fought over.

Now, things can change fast in Libya, as the back-and-forth war of 1940-1943 showed. The Obama Administration seems to be focusing on bribing Tripoli insiders to do something with Gaddafi so Obama can declare victory. The Benghazi rebels, however, as they realize how awful they are at mechanical warfare, are making noises about accepting a partition of Libya with them in control of some of the oil.

In Libya, you have a fundamentally tribal culture growing out of nomadism. If you wander around in the desert your whole life, the most effective way to organize your loyalties is into "segmentary lineages" defined by male ancestry. But the oil doesn't wander around in the desert, it just stays in one place. To paraphrase Winston Churchill on the Pashtuns, the life of the Libyan is thus full of interest.