June 18, 2007
It seems to me you can call the situation in Iraq a lot of things, but it's not a war. Not at this point, anyway. Call it an unsuccessful nation-building project, a failed occupation, a botched policing job, a monkey-in-the-middle clusterfuck. All the US political factions, from left to right, do the public a disservice by calling it a war, because it misrepresents what we're doing there.
We're involved in Iraq because we don't want to begin thinking about modifying our behavior at home. We are desperate to preserve our access to Middle East oil because that is the only way we can keep running our society the way we're used to running it. Mostly, we don't want to face the tragic misinvestments we've made in the infrastructure of happy motoring, and we don't want to face the inconvenient truth that there really isn't any combination of alt.fuels that will permit us to keep running all the cars the way we like to run them. Either we keep getting the oil or say goodbye to the American Dream Version 2.K.
The public has now decided that this nation's primary mission is to find some magic way to keep the cars running on a fuel other than gasoline. Everyone from the greenest greenies to the most medieval-minded Kansas Republican senator has joined in this collective wish. They are certain to be disappointed. All the Priuses in the world will not avail to save the Drive-In Utopia. The public will learn painfully what Iraq is all about.
Every time somebody blames the politicians for this predicament, I'm reminded that the politicians are actually doing a fine job of representing what their constituents want. What they want is to not change their behavior. Not even the science and technology folks want to think about changing our behavior. They just want to find new ways to continue the old behavior. They're invested in the triumphal effort to come up with a happy motoring rescue remedy. Their techno-cred is on the line. They all want to be the first kid in their housing subdivision to run a car on dark matter.
So, we've gone to Iraq on the quixotic mission to stabilize-and-pacify this key territory in the greater region of the Middle East, so we can keep getting oil imports out of there in a reliable and orderly way, so we can keep on driving all our cars. And the whole thing has turned out rather badly.
Now there is another consensus forming. Across the political spectrum, from the far left to the far right, elected officials are now clamoring to "stop the war in Iraq." By this they mean get US troops out. What cracks me up is their juvenile belief that being there is somehow optional for us, that we can keep on running Wal Mart and Walt Disney World without paying any price for it in the costs of policing the Middle East.
If we don't maintain a military presence in Iraq, it is perfectly plain what will happen: Iran will instantly gain control of the southern Iraq oil fields. Iraq doesn't have an army anymore. It is incapable of preventing Iran from acquiring control of its territory. From that vantage, Iran would also effectively threaten the sovereign existence of Kuwait -- or they could do the same thing that Saddam Hussein set out to do back in 1990: extract Kuwait's remaining oil by horizontal drilling across the borderline. Then there is the question of how much instability Iran could generate next door in the Shia-dominated Persian Gulf shoreline region of Saudi Arabia, where most of that nation's oil lies. (Meanwhile, there will be plenty more Iran-inspired mayhem in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.)
It seems to me the answer to all this is clear: the first thing the US has to do is reach a different consensus about our behavior here at home, starting with the proposition that the happy motoring era must end. If we're not willing to do that, we're eventually going to lose both at home and in our struggles abroad. You can be sure that coming disturbances in the oil markets will make suburban life untenable while exhaustion and bankruptcy breaks our military.
The air waves and internet sites are full of blather now about ending the "war" and bringing the troops home. The presidential candidates are agonizing over their various positions on the Iraq adventure. I'd like to hear one of them tell me how Atlanta is going to function without Middle Eastern oil, or how Wal Mart will move its merchandise from San Pedro to Lansing without a "warehouse on wheels," or how the thousands of yellow school bus fleets will carry on next September.
Actually, instead, I'd like to hear talk about drastically reforming our zoning laws to discourage any more suburban development or a pitch to allow some of our tax money to fund a US passenger rail revival. I'd like to see a candidate refuse to attend a Nascar race on the grounds that it's an unconscionably stupid fucking waste of energy resources. I'm waiting for one of these birds to tell the American people the truth: you can't have it both ways. you can't get our military out of the Middle East without changing the way we live.