The American conquest of Iraq is an emotional matter. Passions flare at white
heat on both sides of the issue. This is understandable. It is indeed very difficult
to remain dispassionate while watching a mass murder take place. Opponents of
the conquest are naturally driven into chaotic furies of outrage and despair,
while supporters are necessarily pushed to rhetorical and political extremes in
their frantic attempts to countenance such an appalling crime. It is not a situation
conducive to rational analysis.
Nevertheless, it is instructive to step back from the barricades now
and again, to remind ourselves of the hard ground of reality so often obscured
by the blood-red mist of emotion clouding our eyes. The chief reality, of course,
is that the invasion and occupation of Iraq is primarily about oil and the preservation
of the American way of life. It is based on the premise that the latter is a
question of supreme importance, a moral value overriding all others. That "the
American way of life" is itself riddled with gross inequalities is beside
the point here, for these inequalities greatly benefit all those who have the
power to make or influence policies in "the national interest."
Once this basic premise is accepted, the conquest – which otherwise seems
a pointless, reckless paroxysm of elitist greed – can be seen as a logical
if difficult step undertaken in accordance with a carefully reasoned strategy.
War, mass death, torture, repression and the monstrous lies surrounding the
instigation of the conquest can thus be justified as "necessary evils"
to secure a greater good.
To put it simply, America must have unfettered access to Persian Gulf oil in
order to maintain the infrastructure of its economy – indeed of its entire
society, which is based on the availability of cheap gasoline and other petroleum-based
products. In the coming decades of oil scarcity, the vast reserves in the Middle
East will be even more crucial. The Bush Administration estimates that Iraq's
current reserves, when fully developed, could reach as high as 220 billion barrels;
if the still unexplored territories of its western wasteland are counted, this
figure could top 300 billion – far surpassing the reserves of Saudi Arabia,
as Canadian journalist Paul William Roberts reports in his important book, A
War Against Truth. What's more, Iraqi oil is remarkably easy to extract
– hence remarkably profitable.
Anyone who controls or dominates Iraq's oil industry will ultimately be able
to break the Saudi-led OPEC cartel, inhibit or at least modulate the rise of
China and India to superpower status – and squeeze Russia, whose economy
now depends on exports of its increasingly expensive, hard-to-extract oil, as
Roberts notes. Thus none of these potential rivals will be able to challenge
America's global hegemony – the "full spectrum dominance" that
has been publicly touted as the
overarching goal of American policy by Bush Factionists such as Dick Cheney,
Don Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz since 1992.
Such hegemony can only be maintained by military means; hence the more than
700 U.S. military installations, ranging from vast city-fortresses, like the
permanent U.S. bases now being built in Baghdad
and Balad in Iraq,
to small "lily-pad" jumping-off points for quick strikes around the
globe. Hence the Bush Administration's ongoing
militarization of space and its accelerated drive to test and develop
new nuclear weapons. Hence the unleashing of secret Pentagon forces to conduct
"military operations other than war" in dozens of countries without
any legal restraints, as
noted here last week.
Military force is essential because the American economy is in an advanced
state of decadence and cannot win its way to continued dominance by peaceful
means. The American elite is now given over almost entirely to the manipulation
of financial instruments to produce vast private profits, disconnected from
the surrounding community. The actual production of actual goods is in steep
decline, bringing with it a corresponding decay in the quality of American life
below the elite level. Without cheap oil – and despite the panicky sticker-shock
at the pump today, Americans still pay far less than most people for fuel –
the whole fragile house of cards could fall. Thus dominance and survival have
become intertwined; and both depend on mastery of the Middle East's resources.
Saddam Hussein became a target not because he oppressed his people or warred
with his neighbors or threatened Israel or once developed WMD – all of
which he did during his
years as an American ally. He had to be removed because he would not allow
American and British oil firms to exploit Iraqi resources, but was instead signing
deals with Chinese, French and Russian companies. This was intolerable. It put
the preservation of the American way of life – and the global dominance
on which it now depends – in the hands of foreign interests. With global
reserves dwindling, Iraq's oil was simply too important to be entrusted to others
any longer; direct intervention was required.
And so the war came, with its lies, murder, ruin, and corruption. Yet
how many of those now opposed to this horrific military action are prepared
to pay the actual cost of ending it: i.e., relinquishing the guarantee of cheap
oil and the lifestyle it sustains? The number is doubtless very small. The large
remainder should perhaps be seen as the true "Bush base." For while
they may oppose his tactical incompetence in this instance, they share, wittingly
or unwittingly, his strategic goal. With this basic common cause between the
elite and the majority, the wars for oil will go on – no matter who sits
in the White House.