The Early Days of a Better Nation

Friday, October 06, 2006

Sheep, slaughter; slaughter, sheep

Right on schedule, the USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group has sailed for the Persian Gulf. Arthur Silber and Billmon can't quite believe this means what the sources cited by Lindorff suspect: that an attack on Iran is only weeks away. Retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner has argued that the summer of diplomacy (PDF) is over; the decision for war has been made. That it seems a somewhat risky and counter-productive venture is not, he insists, an objection to its likelihood: 'The "making sense" filter was not applied over the past four years for Iraq, and it is unlikely to be applied in evaluating whether to atttack Iran.' One takes his point, and the timing to this very month - an October surprise - has been predicted for over a year, but can it really be possible that we are this close to the abyss and the market isn't screaming?

Petrol in the UK is down from 96 pence a litre to about 85 pence a litre. Oil prices are down and still falling. Oil futures are at a ten-month low. It's hard to believe this would be so if a new Middle East war was seriously expected. You'd think at least speculators would be pushing the price up. Maybe they are, and price would otherwise be even lower! Speaking of speculation, Joe Kay of the World Socialist Web site wonders whether oil companies and energy investors are deliberately keeping the price down to take the price of gasoline off the minds of American voters. Is this kind of market manipulation even possible? If it was, would it be enough to over-ride the prospect of an oil spike? I don't know, but I doubt it. So, while I think an air attack on Iran is more or less a done deal before Bush leaves office, I'm not so sure it's coming before the elections.

But that line of thinking reminds me of one of those stories that are too good to check.

The story goes that in early summer 1941, Stalin, worried about intelligence warnings of an imminent German attack, told his man in Berlin to keep an eye on the price of mutton. He reckoned that if the Germans were planning an invasion, they'd need lots of wool for winter clothing, so mutton would be dear. (Or was it sheepskin, and mutton cheap? Whatever.) The answer reassured Stalin. The mutton market was steady. Which meant that all the incoming warnings were disinformation ...

Little did Stalin guess that the Wehrmacht expected to be in Moscow that summer, so it hadn't ordered any winter woolies at all.


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