The U.S. 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 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 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 new book, "A War Against Truth." What's more, Iraqi oil is remarkably easy to extract, and thus remarkably profitable.
Anyone who controls 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 U.S. 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 U.S. economy is now in an advanced state of decadence and cannot win its way to continued dominance by peaceful means. The U.S. 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 a U.S. ally. He had to be removed because he would not allow U.S. 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 opposed to this horrific military action are prepared to pay the actual cost of ending it -- that is, to relinquish 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.
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