Iraq and a Hard Place

by Lindy Davies

Dr. Fred Foldvary, in today's editorial (March 24, '03) at the Progress Report, seeks to articulate the Real Reason for the Iraq War. He laments the poor and superficial analysis displayed by most of the people protesting the US invasion, who call it "imperialistic" and characterize it is as a corporate-led grab for oil. Foldvary suggests that the real motives are strategic, and that the war in Iraq is a necessary part of defending ourselves and our allies against terrorist attack.

In answer to the persistent charge that the Bush Administration has offered no evidence of any link between Saddam Hussein's regime and the September 11th attacks, Foldvary offers a strategic link, for which no smoking gun is needed. He points out that the brutal treatment of the Iraqi people under the trade sanctions, the continued bombing in the so-called "no-fly zones" has contributed to the widespread hatred of the US among Muslims that gave power to Al Quaida and other terrorists. Therefore, it makes little difference that the bin Ladenites despise Saddam, for it was not Saddam that suffered under the sanctions but the people of Iraq, who despise Saddam also -- so much so that (in what seem, at least, to be credible reports) many of them welcome advancing US troops with glee. It is at least conceivable, then, that if the United States seizes Iraq with few civilian casualties and manages the aftermath with skill, it could offer the Iraqis a viable alternative to both Saddam and the Islamists, and actually help them out -- for a while, at least.

Another rationale for invading Iraq is the positive good it might do for the Israel/Palestine crisis. Saddam supports Palestinian terrorists. Getting rid of his influence, the US hopes, will open up new possibilities for the Peace Process. That sure would be nice -- but it seems wildly optimistic. The Palestinian terrorists that have done such damage to Israel are low-tech suicide bombers. Their weapons are relatively inexpensive. Does anyone truly believe that if Iraqi support dries up, they would not be able to make any more bombs? And indeed, if Iraq, allegedly stuffed to the gills with Weapons of Mass Destruction, was truly such a major supporter of the Palestinian guerillas, why then did Saddam not slip them a few canisters of nerve gas, sometime over the last fifteen or twenty years?

It is likely that the Palestinians will continue to fight as long as they believe they are being occupied and oppressed by Israel; the removal of Saddam is going to do little to change their situation. Interestingly, Fred Foldvary himself has made what I consider to be the only truly workable proposal for Middle East peace. The people of Israel and Palestine must recognize that they all have an equal right to the land, secured by the formation of a confederation to which ground rent would be paid by all land holders, respecting the human rights of people of all faiths and nationalities. The only workable plan for Middle East peace has, alas, just about zero political viability at this point. And perhaps that shouldn't come as much of a surprise: if a politcally viable, just, workable proposal for Middle East peace were possible, surely someone would have thought of it in the last fifty years.

Unfortunately, conundra of this sort are all-too common in the world. Consider Iraq, a postcolonial state, like so many others, that has no organic history as a nation. The boundaries of Iraq were drawn in consideration of imperial spheres of influence. They were drawn around disparate groups with distinct cultures, languages and traditional allegiances. The nationhood of Iraq bears little resemblance to the nationhood of, say, France (which is not to say that France's nationhood is somehow more legitimate; it's just that France's bloody struggles of consolidation are much farther removed from recent memory).

In strategic terms, the upshot of all this in Iraq was that Saddam Hussein, awful as he was, was a useful piece in the Western chess game that sought to contain rising Shiite influence coming from Iran and Kurdish nationalism worrying Turkey. Saddam's stabilizing influence eventually became too horrible to bear, and he had to be removed -- only to be replaced by an occupying army from the United States, that the world will see as imperialist! They will see it as imperialist because of the paramount strategic importance of the oil fields, and the United States cannot deny that! Many other nations brandish their WMDs, and brutally repress their people, with no response from the US. It is utterly absurd to say that this war is "not about oil" -- if it were not "about oil", Saddam would never have been supported by the US -- and supplied with WMDs -- in the first place! It is hard, then, to see how the invasion of Iraq will do much to quell Muslim hatred of the United States.

What has happened here is that decades of resource-grabbing foreign policy -- intensified by Cold War strategic concerns -- have once again left the United States in a no-win situation. In strategic terms, we created Saddam. We created Mobutu too, for that matter -- but, once the Cold War was over, since Mobutu wasn't sitting on any strategic trove, we could safely let that situation play itself out. (Mobutu is a good example, because he stands roughly on a par with Saddam on the Dictator-brutality scale.) But Saddam sits on a bunch of resources, and stands poised to destabilize our access to a lot more. It is too about oil.

Is there any solution? Are we simply witnessing the end-of-times bummer foretold in Revelations?

No, there is a solution. It's not an easy one, and like Dr. Foldvary's solution to the Israel-Palestine question, it lacks political viability -- in the short term anyway. And the medium term. And, depending on how one defines the long term, probably that, too, but not forever, because it rests on a fundamental truth. If this war is about oil (and it is), it is not "about oil" in any short-term or provisional sense. It's about oil because oil is a valuable natural resource, the control of which affords wealth and power to a few at the expense of the vast many.

It would be possible, after all, to conceive of a United States that led the way in sustainable energy research and development, a United States whose transportation systems moved the most people in the most comfort, with the greatest efficiency and the least pollution of any nation, where hyper-efficient hybrid automobiles were all the rage, where the power grid were decentralized and participatory, where cities were unblighted and self-sustaining. That's not where we live, but it would be possible to envision such a place -- and we might be able to imagine some of the characteristics of that nation's foreign policy. Certainly, at any rate, hegemony over oil reserves in unstable postcolonial states would not seem so terribly important. Such a nation would never have had to be in bed with Hussein or Mobutu -- or Pinochet or Theiu -- in the first place. Such a nation could have thumbed its nose the absurd, top-heavy brutality of Soviet Communism (it was, after all, the United States who initiated every new technological step of the strategic arms race).

Lately, George W. Bush has frequently stated that the natural resources of Iraq belong to the Iraqi people. That is one of the few true and sensible things that I have yet heard him say, and I hope he means it. If he does mean it, I would ask whether it also applies to the United States. If so, then he has a great deal of work to do. It may not be too late to bring about that vision of a peaceful, prosperous United States. The first step would be to secure the equal right of every US citizen to the land of the United States. We have come so far down the wrong road that it seems otrageous to even consider the only sensible way out, but there it is.

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