Iraq: A War of Liberation

by John Quiggin on November 14, 2004

Supporters of both sides in the war in Iraq, and particularly those who are or were associated with the left, have described it as a “war of liberation”. Here, for example, is John Pilger and here is Norman Geras. Presumably Geras and Pilger each think the other is wrong.

The obvious position for an opponent of the war is that both are wrong. On reflection though, I think that Geras and Pilger are both right.

If you look at the many wars that have been justified as wars of liberation, it’s clear enough that the overthrow of a brutal dictator and the struggle against authoritarian Islamism in all its forms fit the general picture. Equally, so does the expulsion of a foreign invader responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and a wide range of other criminal and oppressive actions.

The problem, rather, is with the whole idea of a “war of liberation”. Just as with the Christian doctrine of “just war”, the doctrine is so loose that it can easily be claimed by both sides in the same war. Most wars of liberation, like most wars of all kinds, have done more harm than good.

This is obviously true of the failures, which have been many. But even the (usually temporary) successes have rarely been worth the cost. Are the people of Indochina better off, for example, than they would have been if the French had ruled there for another thirty years? For that matter, did the wars of liberation extended throughout Europe by the French after 1793 achieve anything to justify the hundreds of thousands of deaths they entailed?

Another important observation, particularly relevant in the case of Iraq, is that, even if you conceive of a war as one of liberation, it is almost always necessary to ally yourself with people who have less noble aspirations. Nationalist Iraqis, seeking only the withdrawal of the occupying forces, have inevitably co-operated to some extent (how much is not clear) with terrorist jihadis, who want to use Iraq as a base for their own global operations. Supporters of the American war effort find themselves in coalition with all sorts of unsavory parties, from thugs like Allawi and (until a few months ago) crooks like Chalabhi, to anti-Muslim crusaders in the West. As a rule, the least scrupulous members of a coalition are the most successful in pursuing their goals.

I’m not advocating a dogmatic position of nonviolence, or of opposition to revolution. The classic pattern of revolution is one in which a rotten regime collapses in the face of a relatively modest show of popular force, and we have seen plenty of examples of this in our own time. But the decision to embark on a the path of war is one that can only be justified by the most dire of necessities, and, preferably by the assurance of a rapid and relatively bloodless victory. This is particularly true of wars of liberation, which are inevitably fought without any of the constraints that (at least some of the time) mitigate the worst effects of wars between states.

{ 75 comments }

1

The Incorruptible, Paris, 1791 11.14.04 at 8:32 am

“The most extravagant idea that can be born in the head of a political thinker is to believe that it suffices for people to enter, weapons in hand, among a foreign people and expect to have its laws and constitution embraced. It is in the nature of things that the progress of Reason is slow and no one loves armed missionaries; the first lesson of nature and prudence is to repulse them as enemies. One can encourage freedom, never create it by an invading force.”

2

Messenger 11.14.04 at 9:56 am

This post in another example of “false equivalence”, an intellectually lazy ploy popular on blogs and in mainstream media.

To begin with, how can you even compare an intellectually limited right-wing blowhard, this “Norm”, with John Pilger? There is a huge credibility gap.

Then, to claim that “both are right” implies that there is no objective reality – that just about anybody who cares to use the “war of liberation” excuse may do so. This is nonsense. A “liberation” for extremely dubious motives, by illegal and violent means, imposed from overseas, with a view to establish permanent military bases, does not pass the bullshit test. Why else did millions of us protest against this criminal war before it happened? Because, like Pilger, we saw through the threadbare pretext. Anybody who did not was either ignorant or a fool.

Remember that the initial pretext were “WMD”, not liberation. That was just an additional, late secondary pretext added on to draw in the naive, useful idiots. Liberation of Iraq in any meaningful sense was NEVER a true objective of the Bush/Blair/Howard axis.

I suggest that calling something a war of “liberation” planned in another state far away, without a clear legal mandate (or proof that the vast majority of the oppressed are in favour, knowing the price in blood and destruction)is just so much transparent propaganda. Few people outside your own nationalistic chorus will fall for it.

The Iraqi Resistance, on the other hand, have a genuine “war for liberation” on their hands, and that is why they will eventually win.

3

abb1 11.14.04 at 10:04 am

If you look at the many wars that have been justified as wars of liberation, it’s clear enough that the overthrow of a brutal dictator and the struggle against authoritarian Islamism in all its forms fit the general picture.

John, could you give a couple of examples, please. Was there any war in which culturally alien foreigners invaded a country on a false pretext and justifiably liberated it? What are you talking about?

Thanks.

4

John Quiggin 11.14.04 at 10:20 am

abb1, I gave the example of the French after 1793. Another example is the Vietnamese overthrow of the Khmer Rouge (which I would regard as justified). In both cases, there were a range of justifications, at least some of which could be classed as false pretexts.

Messenger, I agree with most of what you say about the invasion, but I think you should take a long hard look at the resistance before endorsing them so uncritically.

5

Chris Bertram 11.14.04 at 10:21 am

abb1, I think your objection to John rests on misunderstanding the phrase “have been justified” in the sentence you quote. John doesn’t mean “were (objectively) justified”, he means that there were lots of people who engaged in writing speaking etc with the aim of justifying (whether or not they succeeded in producing an (objective) justification).

6

John Quiggin 11.14.04 at 10:36 am

Thanks, Chris, you’re exactly right. I’ve probably confused the matter further by using both senses of “justified” in my response to abb1.

To clarify, I think the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge was objectively justifiable, even if some of the purported justifications offered by various people were spurious.

7

Scott 11.14.04 at 11:11 am

The Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia is not relevant, because it was a response to attacks over the border by the Khmer Rouge – attacks that were very bloody, and which had been going on for some time.

8

abb1 11.14.04 at 11:20 am

No, I think I understand what kind of ‘justified’ we’re talking about.

I do agree that Vietnamese invasion to Cambodia was justified on humanitarian grounds which, I think, is different than ‘overthrow of a brutal dictator’.

Unfortunately I don’t know much about French revolutionary wars, but didn’t they begin as defensive wars, wasn’t France attacked first?

In addition, in both cases it was an invasion of a culturally similar nation over more/less arbitrary drawn borders; sorta like a civil war in a sense. Isn’t this important?

Maybe you should try the usual empirical we-occupied-Japan/Korea-and-look-how-well-they-turned-out argument, it seems more promising.

9

Messenger 11.14.04 at 11:23 am

I see what you mean about endorsing the Resistance uncritically – many or most of them are probably diametrally opposed to my liberal, European, agnostic, feminist world-view, and I do not like some of their methods (beheading, kidnapping NGO workers/journalists, assassinations).

BUT. I feel that groups fighting against foreign occupation within their own borders (and even foreigners come to lend them a hand), deserve to be given some leeway, particularly when the other side is disregarding the Geneva Conventions and other tenets of their supposed civilisation.

Just as the desperate actions of a Palestinian cannot be measured by the standard we should apply to the IDF, the French resistance had a lot of communists and were not squeamish in their methods, the ANC committed atrocities, etc. After their eventual success, as lamentable as it may be, these excesses are usually forgiven as necessary in the larger scheme of things.

Once the Iraqis have won, we neutrals can and should ask them to conform to the UN Human Rights declaration, Geneva conventions, etc., and put pressure on them to heed us.

But while your own country is waging an illegal war against them, you (and the nationals of other belligerent countries) have no moral standing to judge or condemn them, I feel. First look to your own governments’ behaviour.

By the way, a similar hypocrisy was noticeable the other day in a post by Kos that I thought in very poor taste, in which he expressed his “contempt” for Arafat. Why should a man pampered for all his life compared to the average Palestinian, whose tax dollars help to prop up the IDF, feel entitled to express contempt for Arafat when the latter had just died, no matter how flawed he undeniably was? IMO Kos lacked the moral credibility to do so with any authority. Now, if Mandela said it, it would be different.

10

messenger 11.14.04 at 11:32 am

In any case, no matter how reactionary and even morally repulsive a native Restance movement may be, when looked at by an objective outsider their struggle would still qualify as a war for liberation when the other side are foreign occupiers.

11

abb1 11.14.04 at 11:39 am

Yes, I agree with messenger above and this seems to be a commonly accepted notion; UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/45/34 says:


4. Affirms once again its recognition of the legitimacy of the struggle of the peoples under colonial and alien domination to exercise their right to self-determination and independence by all the necessary means at their disposal

This has been a consistent theme repeated every time former colonial people are allowed to express their opinion on this subject.

12

NBarnes 11.14.04 at 12:24 pm

Ghadi looks better and better with each passing decade.

13

NBarnes 11.14.04 at 12:29 pm

Ghandi. i r teh nekulturny!!111!!!

14

asg 11.14.04 at 12:59 pm

John, above you say you “agree with most of what” messenger says in his/her post, and that messenger shouldn’t be so quick to endorse the resistance. What did messenger say that you DON’T agree with? In particular, what about messenger’s post leads you think he/she hasn’t thought carefully enough about the reality of the resistance? I ask this because I can easily imagine what a right-winger would say, but I don’t know what someone on the left would say in response to messenger.

15

Brett Bellmore 11.14.04 at 1:41 pm

In order to be fighting a war of “liberation”, shouldn’t there be some prospect of “liberty”, if you succeed? It appears to me that the “insurgents” are fighting the exact opposite, a war to UNliberate Iraq.

16

Brautigan 11.14.04 at 2:30 pm

war of liberation?!

Puhleeeeeezzzzeeeee.

17

mark 11.14.04 at 3:02 pm

the incorruptible communard wrote: “how can you even compare an intellectually limited right-wing blowhard, this “Norm”, with John Pilger? There is a huge credibility gap.”

“Norm” is Norman Geras, an internationally respected political theorist. He is hardly intellectually limited, or a right-wing blowhard (last I checked, he was a Marxist). I don’t agree with his take on this issue, but he is no yahoo.

mark

18

mark 11.14.04 at 3:04 pm

I’m sorry. I misread; the poster to whom I wanted to respond was messenger, not the incorruptable.

my apologies to the latter.

mark

19

miriam 11.14.04 at 3:13 pm

Gandhi fought a war of liberation using non-violent methods and barely a shot being fired, and ended up with the world’s largest democracy, albeit still with lots of problems. The Palestinians have been fighting a war of liberation for over 50 years with the most violent of methods and have nothing to show for it. How many people got killed in Vietnam or fled in fear after their war of liberation? My point is that as a previous post said this is a war of liberation to UNliberate the population, it is one small group of people bent on domination. Not particularly noble in my opinion.

20

miriam 11.14.04 at 3:16 pm

Gandhi fought a war of liberation using non-violent methods and barely a shot being fired, and ended up with the world’s largest democracy, albeit still with lots of problems. The Palestinians have been fighting a war of liberation for over 50 years with the most violent of methods and have nothing to show for it. How many people got killed in Vietnam or fled in fear after their war of liberation? My point is that as a previous post said this is a war of liberation to UNliberate the population, it is one small group of people bent on domination. Not particularly noble in my opinion. I am not interested in supporting this side. The Iraqis would be better off with the Americans.

21

Giles 11.14.04 at 3:29 pm

I think Johns question would be more interestingly applied to Ivory Coast where we have

French Peace Keepers with UN endorsement

Who are not welcome by the recognised government of that country.

Who have attacked it and been attacked by it (were they justified in doing this by 45/34 – after all the french here are colonists)

but

Gabajano is most probably a genocidal thug – as are many of his supporters

But the rebels include a fair share phychopathic killers

So French intervention guarantees a degree of stability

but under French Rule Ivory Coast has experienced the longest and deepest fall in living standards in the world.

So what is right?

22

roger 11.14.04 at 3:44 pm

Obviously, both the Americans and the congery of insurgent bands both intend bad things for Iraq. The Americans are traditional colonialist looters, the insurgents seem to consist of both Islamicists and people who have the same background as the American puppet, Allawi — Ba’athist hit men. It seems to me that the bad news in Iraq is that no coalistion third force has been able to form. Sistani’s march on Najaf was a hopeful sign, and perhaps, as the Americans finish smashing Fallujah, the American side will be so discredited that a third way coalition in Iraq will have to show itself, or be forever annihilated.
It would be interesting, in the meantime, for those who support the American occupation to start supporting real liberatory gestures. How about this one: a moratorium on war reparations payments to Kuwait? That an impoverished country like Iraq, with an occupying force in its territory, being forced to pay a quarterly 200 million to the richest country in the Middle East is a pretty ridiculous situation. I’d love to see the Norms of the world work on things like this.

23

serial catowner 11.14.04 at 5:43 pm

Would the Vietnamese have been better off if the French had simply stayed another 30 years?

Well, the French DID stay another 30 years after the formation of Vietnamese national resistance in the 20s, and then the U.S. stayed another 20 years. How exactly did that make anything better?

But more to the point, without opposition the French would have stayed another 100 years- or forever.

And a major difference between VN and Iraq is that the Vietnamese did not end up with an occupying army of Chinese or Russians.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq was just tha- an invasion. An invasion that tightens the leash and steals more national resources is NOT a “war of liberation”.

24

Giles 11.14.04 at 8:35 pm

Actually if you look at the figures (Maddison)from 1954-1964 (i.e. the period from the end of French rule to the beginning of the Second Vietnam War) GDP per capita in Vietnam increases by 22.3%.

By comparison, the increase was 15.9% in Malaysia and 23.9% for Korea over the same period.

So methinks the Vietnamese were fighting for the right to become an Asian tiger, not an Ivory Coast.

25

coinneach 11.14.04 at 9:39 pm

I don’t think Roger’s characterization of Americans as ‘traditional colonialist looters’, is fair. Granted, there were plenty of American companies that took advantage — I would even say, in an unethical way — of business opportunities in Iraq. Plus, there was money to be made on Wall Street in oil. But I certainly don’t think that that was the intetion of the US government. It’s too risky and costly, economically, politically, and, yes, even from a humanitarian standpoint.

I AM of the belief that WMD was just a pretext for the war, and that the real reason to invade Iraq was democratization. The legal justification for invasion was a pretty thin veil, let’s face it. I’m convinced that the war is a sincere effort by people in the Bush/Blair camps to come up with a long-term plan for peace in the Middle East.

Is it misguided? Without a doubt. It was misguided because it probably will not come close to working. It will probably create more problems for everybody than it will solve. Plus, a democratic Iraq would probably not do nearly as much as a peaceful Israel/Palestine.

But I think that people should get it straight that this war is not about greed. It has nothing to do with looting Iraqi oil. Bush is an idealist. He’s not actually evil — (though I do disagree with nearly all of his policies). He believes that what he’s doing is a good thing that will change the world for the better.

I think he’s going in a terribly wrong direction. But if we characterize his position and the American role in Iraq as just some kind of greed-fest, then we’re as guilty as Bush is himself of seeing the world in black and white, good and evil.

26

Martin Wisse 11.14.04 at 9:42 pm

Norm Geras may have been a “marxist” as some time, but like Hitchens, he has sold his soul to the US hegemony.

And why shouldn’t he, when that is so much more comfortable and the issues at stake won’t impede on his comfortable little life at all?

27

anciano 11.14.04 at 10:32 pm

I agree with Messenger although he/she is simplistic in my opinion. We all need to appreciate the tragic aspects of human life. We talk about democracy, but much of our democracy is based on rallying against foreigners. Many British people told me that they never felt so right as during WW II, when they had been attacked and had to set aside petty disputes to keep from being overrun. They could concentrate on the common good. Politicians need foreign enemies and scapegoats and have no trouble finding them.

One of the tragic aspects of the Iraqi war is that here is justification for invasion, not very good justification, and no justification for invading without preparing for the aftermath of the invasion. It isn’t a black and white proposition. History teaches (see above) that there is nothing like a foreign invasion to make people set aside serious disputes and take up arms against the invader, especially if the invader makes no attempt to speak your language, encourages Christian missionaries (they left long ago or they would be all dead) and believes as Bush, Sharon, Richard Pipes and Bernard Lewis (in his later years) seem to believe that Islam has nothing good to teach the world. Wahhabism is a problem; Islam needs to come to terms with modern science. So do the fundamentalists in Georgia who want to place stickers in every science textbook saying that the theory of evolution is just a theory.

You’ve heard of proposition 13, which spread out from California as an understandable but shortsighted way to control property taxes. You’re going to hear about Proposition 200, as it spreads out from Arizona, because people are understandably angry with underfunding of education and healthcare. Whites want to blame all these problems on illegal immigrants. They curse Vicente Fox for not supporting the invasion of Iraq. There is a strain of American culture exemplified by Bush and Trump that says, save up your money and your food and screw the others, it’s their fault if they don’t save. That approach may bring another civil war. There are far more Latinos in the US than Muslims.

The European Union has humanely handled education, pensions and healthcare, with some bumps. Problems of paying for these things haven’t been solved. However, Americans are led to believe that we don’t have to pay for anyone but ourselves. The stupid ballot initiatives are mostly anti-democratic. Democracy is hoist on its own petard. That’s the tragedy of the media-driven modern world. Americans believe that they can pay less taxes and get more benefits and that Islam is our #1 problem.

28

mark 11.14.04 at 11:03 pm

Here is Geras on his continuing critical engagement with Marx and the Marxist tradition:

“I remain a Marxist, as one may remain attached to anything if one sees enduring value in it, and its faults and weaknesses as remediable. Here, in any case, are the reasons that are decisive to my still thinking of myself as one. First, I believe historical materialism is true. The claim invites misunderstanding, but I put it thus, categorically, to counter the enormous, indeed all but smothering, weight of contemporary intellectual and cultural fashion, according to which historical materialism is – just obviously – outmoded and wrong. I will moderate the claim, though, by saying that I think the materialist conception of history is more true than not. For all of the one-sidedness in its original formulation, and the qualifications that are needed to it, and the ways in which Marxists have historically neglected, understated or misconstrued other important bases of social identity or factors of historical causation, it is nevertheless true that one will understand an amount ranging between very little and next to nothing about the social and political world if one does not give central attention to the distribution of economic wealth and power and the class relations which flow from it. Second, there is Marxism’s enduring commitment to the goal of an egalitarian, non-exploitative society, a commitment I see as being stronger and less qualified than it has been within any competing intellectual and political tradition. Third – and an index of that strength of commitment – I value Marxism’s focus upon what is sometimes called the problem of agency: the problem of finding a route, the active social forces, between existing historical tendencies and the achievement of a substantially egalitarian society.”

http://mail.bris.ac.uk/~plcdib/imprints/normangerasinterview.html

Not exactly your typical “intellectually limited right-wing blowhard”; nor the surest route to a “comfortable little life”: bur rather a lifelong leftist intellectual thinking through a political position with which some of us disagree. That’s fair enough, isn’t it?

29

John Quiggin 11.14.04 at 11:58 pm

asg, my strongest disagreement with messenger is a point made in my post. A substantial portion of the effective fighting power of the resistance is made up of foreign and Iraqi jihadists who seek to establish Iraq as an enduring base for their side in the global struggle against the US, and who are happy to employ terrorist means against anyone, including ordinary Iraqis, who get in their way.

30

roger 11.15.04 at 12:34 am

Coinnech, let’s suspend, for the moment, the issue of American motivation. Surely, even the Americans can agree that the continuation of war reparations to Kuwait is insane. Little things like that would go a long way towards making Iraqis think that the American installed government has Iraq’s interest at heart — or at least are distantly interested in them.

31

roger 11.15.04 at 12:35 am

Coinnech, let’s suspend, for the moment, the issue of American motivation. Surely, even the Americans can agree that the continuation of war reparations to Kuwait is insane. Little things like that would go a long way towards making Iraqis think that the American installed government has Iraq’s interest at heart — or at least are distantly interested in them.

32

asg 11.15.04 at 12:38 am

That’s fair enough. Nothing in messenger’s post, however, indicates that s/he thinks any of those things are bad or, at any rate, worse than regrettable (e.g. the jihadis’ terrorist means against ordinary Iraqis, which might be written off as a “lamentable excess” that’s “forgivable in the scheme of things.”). I think this is what distinguishes the reasonable from the loony left.

33

Warlover 11.15.04 at 12:46 am

Very generous of Messenger to give the resistance “some leeway,” i.e., room enough to accommodate “beheading, kidnapping NGO workers/journalists, assassinations,” not to mention various random killings of innocent Iraqi civilians.
The point is simply that undeniably the fighters for liberation are killing many of those whom they supposedly aim to liberate, and that they would, if they came to power, rival even Saddam in brutality.
The Americans may be a bad lot, and certainly they had no business intruding themselves into Iraq. But now they’re there, and if those who are leading the fight against them and against many others whose motives are quite decent–if this lot prevail, then the Iraqi people will suffer greatly under their rule.
The coming to power of such men would not be a tragedy, it would be a crime. It may be that the Americans have created conditions such that “liberation” will occur. But they have a duty to try to prevent this outcome, and bugging out wouldn’t fulfull that duty.

34

bellatrys 11.15.04 at 1:11 am

A South Vietnamese refugee I used to know once told me that many pious Buddhist Vietnamese considered what we rather arrogantly call “the Vietnam War” and which they considered to be their Civil War, with foreign entanglements, to be a visitation of karma upon them for their own atrocities in invading Cambodia prior to the French occupation, generations back.

So it is always dangerous to ascribe one side the Just side and the other the Unjust side, particularly when you know diddly squat about the history of the region except for where it narrowly involves you.

Not that Americans are any much better at empathy or objectivity than that avatar of John Bull, Podsnap, was…

(The Cambodians however always seem to be getting the sharp end of the stick from fate, which either calls into question the notion of dharma::karma or suggests that this may need to be extended to the quantum theories of sequential universes.)

35

Giles 11.15.04 at 2:38 am

“Surely, even the Americans can agree that the continuation of war reparations to Kuwait is insane. “

Unfortunately only the Kuwaitis can agree to this – and why would the US disagree with them for doing this. – but just like the other debt forgiveness issue seem to have gone a bit quiet recently.

36

wonkie 11.15.04 at 3:27 am

I can’t imagine why anyone would want to glamorize the insurgents in Iraq. I say that as a person who is utterly opposed to this war.
I am opposed to this war because Bush was never honest about his real reasons for the invasion ,because the war has worsened our problems with terrorism, and because the long term effects of the war on the cultural/political changes in the Middle East are more likely to be detrimental than beneficial. To everyone.
The moral issue is that everyone who dies in this war has had their life wasted by an incompetent and dishonest President.
I can remember back when the anti-Viet Nam war movement discredited itself by making a father figure out of “Uncle Ho” and glorifying the VC.
Many of the insurgents are really awful people by any standards. But that doesn’t justify our presence. In fact they wouldn’t be beheading and kidnapping if we weren’t there.
So how do we get out without doing even more harm?

37

Tom T. 11.15.04 at 4:34 am

Thought-provoking post. It strikes me that the American Civil War provides interesting parallels. It was a war of choice (the South could have been allowed to go its own way), although the opposition’s ideology was undeniably ugly and oppressive. The war was initiated for political reasons (nationalism, perhaps a fear of European encroachment), and a humanitarian “liberation” basis was later grafted on. The liberation objective was achieved, in a narrow legal sense, but in practice proved to be largely ineffective (what with Jim Crow). The war left the conquered area governed by an essentially undemocratic one-party polity, heavily invested with religion and militarism. Certainly, as of today, I’m glad the war was fought and won, but is a hundred-year perspective too attenuated to justify such monumental carnage?

38

John Quiggin 11.15.04 at 5:39 am

I’ve thought a lot about the Civil War in this context, Tom. On the one hand, there can have been few more clearly justified cases than the liberation of four million slaves (no room here to comment on the limitations of the Emancipation Proclamation etc). On the other hand, the carnage was immense – more than half a million killed and a million wounded.

Sometimes I lean to the view that the war could have been won with smaller loss of life through a less aggressive strategy, but it may well be that the result would have been Lincoln’s electoral defeat and the recognition of the Confederacy.

Like you, I’m glad the war was fought and won, despite all the lives it cost, but like you, I’m not comfortable about it.

39

Chris 11.15.04 at 6:03 am

Gosh, these comments are amazing.

Pilger, credible???? The man is unhinged, beyond the selective conspiricism of Chmosky and without the IQ as excuse for his mucky ranting.

Murderers, bombers, kidnappers and beheaders struggling to destroy the rule of law so they can oppress the Iaqi people freely – this is morally superior to people and soldiers who operate subject to the uniform code of military justice, deliver squillions in humanitarian aid and are striving to build a country to take its free place in the world?

I remember my uncle and aunt, Communists and peace activists since the 1930’s, publishing justifications for USSR invasions and heading off on Soviet cruise ships in recognition of their efforts for ‘peace’. They could always claim that the mass murders of the Cadets or the Kulaks or the Hungarians or the Czechs or the Afghans or the Vietnamese or the Chinese were aberrations, because the information gap was so poorly filled.

Not you guys. There is plenty of evidence that you are delusional and supporting some of the worst criminals in the history of politics, and counter-evidence is available in real time.

Are you going to start killing your neighbors, like your heroes?

40

John Quiggin 11.15.04 at 6:23 am

Actually, Chris, I count only one comment supporting Pilger.

It would be more interesting if you would spell out your implied defence of the invastion and occupation, rather than spraying undirected vitriol.

Do you think the good intentions you impute justify the tens of thousands of deaths in the war so far? Or aren’t you satisfied with the real-time evidence on this point?

41

Sebastian Holsclaw 11.15.04 at 7:46 am

“Would the Vietnamese have been better off if the French had simply stayed another 30 years?

Well, the French DID stay another 30 years after the formation of Vietnamese national resistance in the 20s, and then the U.S. stayed another 20 years. How exactly did that make anything better?

But more to the point, without opposition the French would have stayed another 100 years- or forever.”

I realize that the French didn’t have as good a reputation for their dealings as the English, so perhaps Vietnam couldn’t have become a Hong Kong, but it wouldn’t have become the horrific monstrosity that it did become if they had not tried to throw off the French.

RE: the calculus of the Civil War, you have to count the children of the slaves who would have also become slaves.

42

John Biles 11.15.04 at 8:32 am

-John Quiggin said:
Sometimes I lean to the view that the war could have been won with smaller loss of life through a less aggressive strategy, but it may well be that the result would have been Lincoln’s electoral defeat and the recognition of the Confederacy.

I say:
Given the stubborness of the Confederate government, I don’t think a less aggressive strategy could have won the war. Many of the most ineffective Union generals were the ones who were less aggressive–Halleck blew the best chance to shorten the war by possibly a year or more by his super-slow advance on Corinth. An aggressive commander could have taken Corinth in half a week, then likely overrun Vicksburg, securing the Mississipi, shortly thereafter.

Ultimately, to defeat the South, you had to both occupy it and grind its armies down to nothing; so long as the armies survived, you hadn’t defeated them. And under the tech levels, this meant that, short of a Nothern super-genius general, there was going to be huge carnage.

43

abb1 11.15.04 at 10:25 am

A substantial portion of the effective fighting power of the resistance is made up of foreign and Iraqi jihadists who seek to establish Iraq as an enduring base for their side in the global struggle against the US, and who are happy to employ terrorist means against anyone, including ordinary Iraqis, who get in their way.

Maybe so, but the US invasion gave them a righteous cause, like Nazi invasion to Stalin’s henchmen.

Also, in another piece by Pilger that I read last year he makes a point that the Iraqi resistance is the only hope to prevent the next invasion, a series of invasions, in fact. Now, when the Bushies are in control for another term, this seems even more important, because a year from now we may be discussing whether Syrian resistance cutting two dozen heads is justified by the US bombing Damascus back into the stone age and killing 100,000 Syrians.

There must be a limit to liberal ambivalence, folks, especially in a case like this where one side is clearly an imperialist agressor (Coinneach’s ludicrous contrarian twist notwithstanding).

44

Brett Bellmore 11.15.04 at 11:15 am

Anyone who’d equate the US, as it’s currently constituted, to Stalinist Russia, is out of their mind. So obviously so that I’ll only point out the most glaring difference: You felt safe saying that.

One nice thing about reading liberal blogs; It’s made me feel more comfortable about having voted for Bush.

45

asg 11.15.04 at 11:54 am

Now, now, Brett, you should make an effort to get it right; abb1 wasn’t equating the U.S. with Stalinist Russia but with the Nazis who invaded it. Surely that makes all the difference. No?

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coinneach 11.15.04 at 11:55 am

Roger, I do agree with you. The US should be doing more to make sure that it is not perceived as an imperialist aggressor, and, even better, to make sure that it doesn’t ACT like an imperialist aggressor. But I don’t think we should forget about motivations, because otherwise we’re left with a very simplistic and inaccurate picture.

Here’s a caricature of what I see on a lot of blogs: the US is evil and greedy, wants nothing but to expand its empire, and doesn’t give a damn about anybody but itself and its money. As in every caricature, there are shades of truth, but that is all, just shades. The truth is a much more complex. I fail to see what is ‘ludicrous’ about this, abb1.

And frankly, I’m not entirely sure what there is to be gained, in a practical sense, from what I’ve said. I still oppose the war and I think the US is screwing up a lot more than the Bush administration recognizes. I didn’t vote for him the first time. I didn’t vote for him the second time, and I can almost bet my life that I won’t vote for a Republican next time.

I’m just not comfortable with black and white descriptions; they’re not an accurate reflection of reality.

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Brett Bellmore 11.15.04 at 12:12 pm

Got me there, Asq; It’s so much better to be compared to Nazi Germany, that I withdraw my objection.

For the record, I think we ARE acting like an imperial power. And I’m not too happy with that. But as these things go, we’re a relatively nice imperial power. Which will cause us to lose our empire even faster than these things usually go, because imperial over-reach is exacerbated when you don’t bother to extract tribute from your subject states.

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abb1 11.15.04 at 12:30 pm

Please. What I said is that the Nazi invasion gave Stalin’s henchmen a righteous cause to fight for in the WWII; this is to demonstrate that there are situations when bad guys fight for a good cause. I didn’t compare the US with the Nazis, of course.

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abb1 11.15.04 at 12:52 pm

Coinneach, here’s a piece of reality for you:

Poland seeks Iraqi oil stake

Poland, which has sent troops to support the US-led forces in Iraq, has acknowledged its “ultimate objective” is to acquire supplies of Iraqi oil.

The Polish Foreign Minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, said his country had never disguised the fact that it sought direct access to the oilfields.
[…]
“We have never hidden our desire for Polish oil companies to finally have access to sources of commodities,” Mr Cimoszewicz told the Polish PAP news agency.

Access to the oilfields “is our ultimate objective,” he added.

The first thing US troops did after crossing the border was securing the oil fields, the only building they guarded in Baghdad was the oil ministry.

You can’t be serious, Coinneach. If you’re just trolling – that’s alright, but if you really to mean what you say, then you certainly do have a problem with reality, my friend.

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Brett Bellmore 11.15.04 at 1:20 pm

But that was only a righteous cause BECAUSE the Nazis were agents of a (marginally) worse tyranny than Stalin’s, and were there to conquer, not liberate. That they were Nazis wasn’t some incidental detail, it’s the central point that makes the analogy work… But only if you accept that WE are the modern day Nazis, worse than Saddam, and there to conquer Iraq, rather than free it.

Which is nonsense on stilts.

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Brett Bellmore 11.15.04 at 1:26 pm

“The first thing US troops did after crossing the border was securing the oil fields, the only building they guarded in Baghdad was the oil ministry.”

And if they’d done anything else, it would have been utterly irresponsible. Since Iraq’s future was dependent on oil revenues, and setting all of the fields ablaze would have been an ecological disaster.

Any other course of action, and YOU would have tore Bush a new one for letting Saddam turn Iraq into a poluted economic basket case.

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Potemkin Cruise 11.15.04 at 1:29 pm

>There must be a limit to liberal ambivalence, folks, especially in a case like this where one side is clearly an imperialist agressor (Coinneach’s ludicrous contrarian twist notwithstanding).

Sorry, but I am more than a little ambivalent about beheadings of aid workers. Resisting imperialist aggression is fine, but I’ve yet to hear a good argument as to why “resistance” as a concept should be privileged over other moral concerns.

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ChrisDA 11.15.04 at 2:23 pm

Brett, are you saying that there were only two alternatives: leaving the 1990s sanction regime, or else invasion? If you really believe this, then this would explain how you can believe that the US’ intentions really are benign here.

Incidentally (and I’m sure people here appreciate a Bush voter making the effort to engage with these questions), of you believe liberation was the primary aim, what’s your answer to the perennial question of why Bush is so untroubled by the multitude of other tyrannies around the world?

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abb1 11.15.04 at 2:42 pm

Sorry, but I am more than a little ambivalent about beheadings of aid workers. Resisting imperialist aggression is fine, but I’ve yet to hear a good argument as to why “resistance” as a concept should be privileged over other moral concerns.

It’s not that “resistance” as a concept should be privileged, it’s just that IMO the blame should be assigned where it belongs – with the aggressor.

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Rob 11.15.04 at 3:23 pm

If there is a case to be made for the occupation of Iraq as a war of liberation, then surely the justification for the occupation which would flow that case would be dependent on the situation after the invasion. Or at least the parts of the situation that were foreseeable. Regardless of what we think of the members of the resistance, it was predictable that there would be resistance. If the war of liberation justification were to work, then the Coalition would have had to planned properly in advance to deal with the resistance in a vaguely sane manner. It clearly hasn’t. The same goes for reconstruction, quite apart from the scandal of the process of awarding contracts. Finally, those who make the war of liberation argument have to believe that Iraq is not going to end up with another leader much like Saddam (when I say much like Saddam, I do not necessarily mean on quite the same scale, but still basically a tyrant). Since the alternative for the US is a democratically elected and anti-American theocracy, I see no likelihood of anything but another strong man. This was all eminently predictable before the war. Thus, the war of liberation argument exists: it just has to deny the relevant facts on the ground.

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Rob 11.15.04 at 3:32 pm

I should add that if I thought that the war of liberation justification worked, I would have (with significant reluctance) supported the war (or at least not opposed it) as the least bad option, since the alternative was probably the continuation of the sanctions programme (because of US intransigence) which, if the justification worked, would have been (just about) worse.

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Coinneach 11.15.04 at 3:41 pm

Abb1 — that’s a disturbing piece from the BBC. It almost inclines me to drop my argument, but I’m not quite there yet. I am given pause because of two things: firstly, the article relates specifically to Poland which is not a major actor. Secondly and more importantly by a long shot, I’d be willing to drop my argument and be convinced if you would explain the following:

Why would the US engage in a policy that’s sure to raise oil prices for a few years — and which has already raised oil prices in the US — when such an outcome is terrible for a lot of US businesses, including those owned by friends of Bush and Cheney? There’s money to be made by some, sure. But the greater impact is bad news for any business in the US that needs to ship anything anywhere. And that’s just about all big businesses. If this is a war motivated by capitalistic intentions, then that move does not make any sense whatsoever. If it’s a war motivated by ideology then it does.

I’m not dogmatic and I’m willing to be convinced that I’m wrong. I’m just not there yet.

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Coinneach 11.15.04 at 3:51 pm

Rob says, “[T]hose who make the war of liberation argument have to believe that Iraq is not going to end up with another leader much like Saddam…”

That’s not necessarily true. I believe that it’s a war of liberalization but also that it’s a war that’s going to fail. It could very well end up with another Saddam Hussein. At this point, I think it would be best if it succeeded, but the chances of that are slim to none. What the war is about and whether there will be success are different stories.

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Rob 11.15.04 at 3:57 pm

What I actually said was that if the justification was going to succeed, they needed to believe that. I can live with the claim that it is botched war of liberation, but that rather undermines the force of the claim that it is a war of liberation when it is so botched, and for such foreseeable reasons.

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Brett Bellmore 11.15.04 at 4:28 pm

I’ll believe it’s a botched war of liberation, when it’s OVER, and still hasn’t worked. Too much of the criticism of the war is like looking at a heart transplant patient in mid-operation, and declaring it a botched operation because he’s lying there with a gaping chest wound, and no heartbeat.

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blueshoe 11.15.04 at 4:45 pm

This “war of liberation” is a manifestation of an energy crisis. “Liberation” and “democratization” and other theatrical terms (with “against terror” no longer so prominent in the script) give the enterprise the taint of nobility and help to sell the sacrifice of U.S. soldiers. We’re in Iraq because of oil: because there’s a finite supply of it and because our “way of life” depends on burning an extravagant amount of it. Beneath Iraq are the planet’s second-largest oil reserves–it’s a safe bet that the U.S. will never leave, unless we use it as a stepping stone to the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. It’s a safe bet that liberation and democratization are on the horizon for much of the Middle East.

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Rob 11.15.04 at 4:50 pm

Brett

accepting for the sake of argument that analogy, could you explain what techniques are going to be used to restore the patient to health?

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abb1 11.15.04 at 5:20 pm

Saudi Arabia is a good point. If the Bushies wanted democratization in the ME, all they had to do is to call thier friend crown prince Abdullah and ask him to hold an election next Friday. That would save us a hundred thousand corpses and a quarter trillion dollars.

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Brett Bellmore 11.15.04 at 5:35 pm

I see three basic obstacles to success:

1. An influx of foreign combatants into Iraq, whose goal isn’t to end up ruling the place, but merely to keep it ungovernable, and prevent the experiment in democracy from succeeding.

The answer here is some combination of better border security, local recognition that these guys are NOT your allies, and diplomacy persuading neighboring countries to stop.

2. Remnants of the Bathist regime, and other forces, who hope to reinstitute the former tyranny, only with them on top.

Key here is to deny them any hope of success, so that they decide as a matter of cost/benefit analysis that they’re better off trying to do well at civilian occupations, than betting their lives on winning the war.

3. Mistrust between the various ethnic groups, who each expect the others to use the government as a weapon of oppression, and so want to seize it preemptively as their weapon.

This needs the government to be established, and function for some period of time in a fair and even-handed manner, to build up trust.

Only part of this is military, but the military portion is esential before the third factor can be dealt with.

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Rob 11.15.04 at 6:03 pm

Brett,

I would add a fourth obstacle, that of Iraqis just genuinely pissed off at being occupied, tortured, swindled and bombed by the Coalition, a problem which of course increases the more military action is taken to deal with the first two obstacles you mention. How this is to be solved is unclear.
On the first problem, the key thing is clearly an ability to separate the foreign fighters from the local population. I do not see any way, short of herding people in ‘protected settlements’, of this being done.
On the second, long-run success against the first problem would obviously help in reducing its military aspect. However, absorption into civilian life will not prevent these groups from continuing to attempt to regain control: they’ll just do it other than by overt armed struggle against the Americans, through corruption, intimidation and so on.
On the third of your problems, ethnic tension, you say that fair and even handed government will gradually dissolve this problem. Where do you see the likelihood of fair and even handed government coming from, because I’d been under the impression that whoever got ‘elected’ would rule in the interests of those who were keeping them in power, the Coalition (as in: no government can survive unless either the problems are solved, or no-one can overthrow them by violence; not being overthrown means being dependent on the Coalition; solving these problems means being dependent on the Coalition; why would the Coalition support someone else they were going to get something out of it;).
By the way, I welcome your willingness to discuss this. Without meaning to seem snide or patronizing, although I think it may be unavoidable, it’s really pleasing to see a supporter of the war who is prepared to engage with those who opposed it.

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Giles 11.15.04 at 6:18 pm

“I’d been under the impression that whoever got ‘elected’ would rule in the interests of those who were keeping them in power, the Coalition “

I’d have thought the bigger problem is that they’ll rule in the interests of their ethnic/tribal group – which is not likely to be good for disoving the problem. By contrast ruling in the interests of the Coalition – which includes some diparate factions – Kurds and some shia parties (but no sunnis to speak of) might possibly be good for cohesion.

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kevin donoghue 11.15.04 at 6:30 pm

“Too much of the criticism of the war is like looking at a heart transplant patient in mid-operation, and declaring it a botched operation because he’s lying there with a gaping chest wound, and no heartbeat.”

My criticism of the war is that I wouldn’t trust this bunch of chancers to drill my teeth.

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Rob 11.15.04 at 6:32 pm

My use of the Coalition was perhaps misleading: what I meant was the invading forces. In this sense, since it is presumably in the interests of the Coalition not to have to provide all the support for any given leader, it is in the interests of the Coalition for any leader to provide benefits to the associated social group. Of course, it is in the interests of the Coalition because the prime interest of the Coalition is organizing a system which enables them to strip Iraq of its material resources, i.e., oil, which is undermined by (some forms of) widespread violence and the expenditure of resources on minimizing that violence.

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Brett Bellmore 11.15.04 at 7:02 pm

Iraq has very little use for the oil save to sell it, and in as much as the only sense in which the coallition means to “strip” them of it is to BUY it off of them at the market rate, their interests and the coallition’s are the same.

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Donald Johnson 11.15.04 at 8:24 pm

It’s encouraging to find so many people in a thread who condemn the atrocities of both sides in the Iraq war–as others have pointed out, far too often people are prone to utter unqualified condemnations of one side while rationalizing the crimes of the other. I think the US is the aggressor and the party most to blame and probably the party that has killed the largest number of innocents, but nothing justifies the murder of children and hostages by some members of the “resistance”. Some of the antiwar bloggers I’ve read (Under the Same Sun, for instance) think that some group is trying to start a civil war with the Shiites by targeting Shiite civilians.

I didn’t really have anything new to add to this thread–just wanted to add my vote, so to speak.

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roger 11.16.04 at 2:16 am

The disparity between the occupiers interests and the occupied can be measured in the same units one uses for the ever popular surgery metaphor –blood. The blood flows out of the bodies of Iraqis. Why are they dyingk exactly? because we cleverly flytrapped terrorists in their territory? Why, how could they be ungrateful to us for such a bountiful act? Or is it that we suddenly have a bloody interest in the internal politics of another country? What is it that required, for instance, killing two thousand Iraqis in Najaf? Seemingly, keeping a former Ba’athist in power by doing away with his opposition — a plan that has evidently failed.

Instead of arguing about whether deposing Saddam H. was good — and I’d argue that if the black plague had taken Saddam H., or an industrial accident, it would have been good — I’d love to see even one liberatory gesture by the Americans in the upcoming months. How about spending half of the 18 billion earmarked for Iraqi construction, regardless of the risk that that reconstruction might well benefit an elected government that is hostile to the Americans?
If the Americans can’t take such risks, than it is pretty simple. The occupation is solely an act of oppression designed solely to benefit a certain segment of the American population. Myself, that is exactly what I think the occupation is, and has been from day one. To disguise this by pretending that the Americans are really working in the interest of the Iraqis by, say, bringing that pesky petroleum price down to below fifty a barrel is sophistry of a low comic order. I guess the extra revenue would just make Iraqis feel guilty about all that wealth they were siphoning from their benefactors.

Conflict of interest is a llittle euphemistic for what is simply high seas piracy. Otherwise known as the Bush foreign policy. Let’s replace the stars and stripes with the skull and crossbones and be done with it.

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nic 11.16.04 at 8:50 am

I’ll believe it’s a botched war of liberation, when it’s OVER, and still hasn’t worked. Too much of the criticism of the war is like looking at a heart transplant patient in mid-operation, and declaring it a botched operation because he’s lying there with a gaping chest wound, and no heartbeat.

Gee, Brett, nevermind the frankly offensive ‘war as life-saving surgery’ analogy, just tell us, how long can your hypothetical patient lie with no heartbeat before the doctors do declare the operation “botched” which incidentally means the patient is dead?

2 hours? 2 days? 2 years? or maybe 20? That’d be some record-breaking heart transplant, wouldn’t it?

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ruralsaturday 11.16.04 at 9:45 am

Anyone who gets a glimpse of the inner workings of local politics when they’re young enough to not have an investment in the status quo ante gets radicalized, or at least thoroughly disillusioned, unless they had no illusions to lose.
It’s hard to insist on moral behavior once you realize how fragile it is, how thin and human, but that’s the task.
The best argument for the invasion and occupation is the hideous tyranny of Saddam, that’s the only basis for the use of the word “liberation” to describe the presence of the US military and the things they’ve done; but Saddam was a virtual employee of the US for years, as were the Taliban in Afghanistan. They wouldn’t have been what they were without American encouragement. That isn’t conjecture, it’s history, and complicity.
Geras, like John Wayne, wants to get rid of the bad guys, but simply getting rid of bad people is easy, it’s preserving the good that’s hard, protecting the innocent, things like that.
Allawi would not appear to be a particularly devoted champion of the innocent. And the presence of John Negroponte in Iraq now should put paid to any nonsense about humanitarian motives, though it won’t of course. Because no one who says there are humanitarian motives involved really believes it. What they mean is they’d like it be like that, it would be nice if it were.
Geras can only repeat the p.r. mantra about Saddam, mewling about “the torture chambers” over and over – and ignoring the overwhelming stench of Abu Ghraib completely. He has no other point than that Saddam was terribly bad and therefore anything that gets rid of Saddam is automatically good. Bad cops use that same inversion to justify themseves no matter what they do.
Pilger’s logic is of a substantially higher order, as this piece shows.
Though if it really is simply a matter of getting rid of the bad people, rest assured the extinction of the human race will remove every last villain from the planet, permanently.
Like I said, the hard part is keeping the good, preserving it, encouraging it.
Where’s the moral encouragement in Iraq? What’s being preserved?
The polite Left kowtows to the gloating Right by talking about “foreign fighters” in Iraq, as though coming to the aid of your brothers in arms is against the rules. What nonsense.
The only historical figure it’s acceptable to point to for an example of appropriate resistance is Ghandi. But Ghandi would have been assassinated already if he was in this.
Geras says “Stop The Denial” and I think that’s excellent advice for everyone. Quit pretending there’s anything decent about this nightmare, and while you’re at it quit pretending it was about oil too.
It’s about empire, and the subjugation of Iraq is intentional. Lies to the credulous and bullets to the rebels.
Mission Accomplished.

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Jeff Bogdan 11.18.04 at 5:40 am

“Why would the US engage in a policy that’s sure to raise oil prices for a few years — and which has already raised oil prices in the US — when such an outcome is terrible for a lot of US businesses, including those owned by friends of Bush and Cheney?”

That’s easy. No one knows better than the the Bush crowd that the world’s oil supply has already peaked, and that even ravaging Alaska will only postpone the final dry-up by a few decades. And with the rapid industrialization of China whatever oil is left is going to be very sought-after commodity. And while some like to say that Israel stands as an American imperial proxy in the Middle East, it really isn’t true. Israel is more than a match for any U.S. administration in ruthlessness, and to the extent that the two countries have been partners this has had more to do with a (possibly temporary) confluence of interests. If ever the interests of a U.S. President and Israel seriously diverged, Israel would not give two farts about its putative master.

And as the the notion of planting military bases in Saudi Arabia has turned out to be thoroughly unworkable–having Christians and Jews and women in pants so close to Mecca and Medina was like stocking Saudi supermarket shelves with canned pork-rind–the America’s only chance to guarantee that the bulk of the remaining oil continues to flow in its direction for the next few decades, at least, and not toward Asia or Europe, is to create its own “facts on the ground,” the most important of which is military bases right smack in the middle of what is still the biggest pool of oil on the planet.

In other words, it’s about insurance. And whether this or that business has to pay more for oil in the short run, and maybe some of them even go belly-up, well, that’s just the premium.

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Andy 11.18.04 at 2:31 pm

Jeff has it right. “Peak Oil” is the name of the game, the end of cheap oil – not the end of oil, although that’s visible on the horizon, but the end of cheap oil. The Bush administration is very well aware of the problem, seeing as Cheney has agonised publicly over this for some years. What scares me is that we, the corpulent comfortable West, may one day regard Bush and Blair as great heroes for having the foresight to seize the major oilfields at this critical juncture and to keep some of us in comfort for a few years longer. We’re addicted to oil and like all addicts we’re heavily in denial. Hate to say it, but the death and destruction to come will dwarf all that has gone before, and in the desperate scrabble for energy reserves, “civilization” will become regarded as some quaint notion peddled by our ancestors. Dog eat dog coming up next, let’s see who holds on to a “moral view” then.

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