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Motivations and speculations

February 21, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

This post of Mark’s got me thinking. I’m not trying to pick on him specifically, however.

During the run up to the Iraq war I was definitely in the far-left opposition camp. I can’t say I ever believed Iraq had WMDs. I turned out to be right, but I held the position with much more certainty than was warranted. I didn’t buy the other two arguments (links to al Qaeda and democracy) either. Of course, now that you’ve dismissed the main arguments a sort of logic compels you to come up with alternate explanations. Such explanations seemed to have little actual grounding. There’s the common oil argument, the Euro-Dollar currency conflict theory, containment of Russia, containment of China, and on and on. What such theories have in common is a complete lack of evidence. Does the Bush administration have connections to the oil industry? Absolutely. What does that prove? Very little, really. It gives you a place to start, but it isn’t evidence. Neither is CeCe’s post that Mark linked, for example; our government is perfectly capable of pushing for such agreements after invading Iraq for any reason.

The inner workings of our government are secret for decades, if not longer. We don’t have much to go on regarding contemporary issues. We have the work of enterprising journalists and not much else. If you read someone like Seymour Hersh, it very much appears that there weren’t really any sort of hidden sinister motivations behind the war. The neoconservatives in the administration have wanted Saddam gone for years, as part of a sort of “America as international messiah” ideology. That happens to be what they claim to believe, too (well, obviously they don’t put it like that).

That’s an explanation that does a pretty good job explaining the war and relies on little in the way of speculation. It’s based on the ideology held by influential people in the administration and people like Hersh have come to that conclusion through their investigative work. So I continue to be perplexed that people still insist on other motives. Let’s see the evidence.

Categories: Bush, Iraq
  1. February 22, 2007 at 6:29 am

    Fear that you might get what you ask for:

    Interesting that though you admit that they won’t say what they are up to, I have to put up evidence, presumably someone saying what they are up to. Evidence will necessarily be circumstantial, and will require a wholesale disposal of official truth. Such thinking is usually ridiculed in this country, called “conspiracy theory” – that is, fostering the idea that people may not be open about objectives, that people with power might use that power to achieve unstated ends. Only Americans, however – we are free to speculate on conspiracies of non-Americans – it’s a fascinating area of American propaganda, but another day.

    We can toss “containment of Russia”. Russia has its own supply of oil, and for that reason the US has no leverage over her.

    Let’s examine all of the possible reasons for attacking Iraq – WMD’s, desire to get rid of Saddam, love of Democracy, geopolitics and oil.

    WMD’s: You have dismissed this one. It’s highly likely that the US knew there were no dangerous weapons there. Such weapons in the hands of a small power serve as a deterrent – they are a poor man’s nuke. They prevent exactly what did happen – invasion by foreigners. More likely, had the US truly suspected the presence of WMD’s, as in 1991, we would have done exactly what we did in 1991 – back off.

    Love of democracy: This one can be tossed with great force. If the US so loves democracy in one instance, it will love it in others as well. Yet the record shows exactly the opposite. We have and continue to support brutal dictators around the globe – the list is virtually endless. Right now we are dealing with thugs in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia – supporting them wholeheartedly. Our past record is near spotless – support of tyranny all over the globe from Chile to El Salvador to Cuba to Nicaragua to Indonesia. And Saddam’s Iraq itself. The US has not loved democracy in other places, so likely does not love it in Iraq. If a democratic government also happens to support the US, fine. But it is not key. (Note how one Mideast government was at one time democratic, and how we overthrew that government: Iran, 1953. They remember, even though we don’t. ) In fact, were Iraq to become truly democratic, given that it has a Shiite majority, it would likely ally itself with other Shiites in the region, namely, the Saudi Arabia resistance and Iran. For that reason, it is far more likely that the US objective in Iraq is to contain democracy, to foster something it has done all over the globe throughout its history – puppet government.

    Saddam was a mixed bag for Iraq – he brought wealth and independence, first class education and medical care, a secular society where women were educated and treated equally. He had this nasty habit of attacking people – Iran in 1981 and Kuwait in 1990. And he had a secret police force that people feared. He killed people. He committed many crimes – he gassed Kurds during the Iran War in the early and mid-80’s, he slaughtered tens of thousands of Shiites in the wake of the First Gulf War in 1991. The problem with his being the focus of the 2003 invasion is that we supported him in the past. In 1982, Reagan took Iraq off the list of countries supporting terrorism in order to supply him with new weaponry and technological assistance. (That is the source of those famous photos of Rumsfeld shaking hands with him). The joke that we knew he had chemical weapons because we still had the receipts was … no joke. When he gassed Kurds, it went virtually unnoticed and caused barely a hiccup in US/Iraq relations. When he massacred Shiites in 1991, he did so with US permission and support – we allowed him to use captured weaponry to do so. His attack on Iran was oddly coincidental with the overthrow of a US-backed thug in that country in 1979, the Shah. And the US did supply him with military hardware during that war – even went so far as to shoot down an Iranian civilian airliner and position the US fleet in the Gulf in support of Saddam’s regime. Even with his invasion of Kuwait in 1990 – he first asked the opinion of the US on the matter (we told him it as an “Arab matter.”) Saddam was useful to the US, and the US supported him during the time he was useful. The US didn’t care about his crimes – in fact, supported him throughout. So the idea that in 1990 we suddenly became concerned about his crimes strains credibility.

    Geo politics – strategic location of troops and hardware, leverage over potential enemies, even those we call allies. Have you noticed that even though we have built fourteen new military bases in Iraq, one costing over half a billion dollars, that we never talk about them? That’s Halliburton and KBR’s primary role over there – building bases. Yet people are led to believe they are setting up power plants and sewage systems, which Iraq even now seems to lack. It only makes sense that if there is a strategic asset, that we do all in our power to control that asset. The Mideast has long been a problem and a focus of our attention. Iraq has been in our sights since the fall of the Soviet Union – she rested comfortably in that shadow until 1989. I don’t know how anyone can look at our situation in Iraq, how we have placed troops and hardware and trained local police to support us, and say that geopolitics did not factor in! She holds the most valuable strategic asset in history.

    Some time when you get a chance, read a book called The Prize , by Daniel Yergin. It’s not one of these left-wing US-is-evil tracts – just the opposite. Yergin is a well-respected establishment figure, the book was a best seller and the basis of a PBS documentary. The book is the history of oil. It’s fascinating – oil has been at the center of just about every international dispute, was a key objective in WWI and WWII, and the primary reason why Japan needed to control the Pacific and why they faltered, why Germany needed to expand. Mideast oil is the single most valuable asset in human history. The very idea that the US would invade and occupy the country with the second largest reserves in the world, and that that oil would not be a key factor, is absurd. It takes a special kind of intellectual discipline to ignore it, but I’ve seen this discipline, this tunnel vision at work. It’s rampant in intellectual circles in this country. If I were to now approach anyone in DC with my oil thesis, I’d be dismissed as a crank. But oil it the elephant in the room. Us cranks like to point out the presence of elephants.

    China is also a matter of concern, as is India, but so is Japan and Western Europe – anyone who depends on Mideast oil now must deal with the US – the US now has leverage where it had less before. Again, it takes special discipline to ignore this. But China especially scares US planners – she is on the rise, and will be a major competitor for global resources, is already. She has made lucrative energy deals with Iran and Venezuela, and also buys oil from Iraq. It’s a nagging problem – to bring Iran and Venezuela under control, and thereby gain leverage over China. We’ve got many a mile yet to travel, and success is not guaranteed.

    Footnote – read There’s Oil in Darfur Hills – there’s oil in Darfur, China is there, the US will soon be too. Humanitarian mission, you see.

    Two other reasons for invading Iraq not mentioned above, but not to be ignored: to secure our own source of oil, should our other sources falter, and to supply oil to Israel, which right now depends on Russia. Right after the invasion there was talk of rebuilding a pipeline from Iraq to a port in Israel – I haven’t read much about it since, as it was deemed unsafe due to the rebellion. I haven’t mentioned Israel at all. She’s a factor, not a small one. Enough, though.

  2. February 22, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    Interesting that though you admit that they won’t say what they are up to, I have to put up evidence, presumably someone saying what they are up to. Evidence will necessarily be circumstantial, and will require a wholesale disposal of official truth.

    I said that the inner workings are secret – meeting minutes, internal memos, etc. I also said that journalists can crack such secrecy and I gave you an example. That’s the sort of evidence I’m looking for. You’ll notice that it’s not the best evidence we could have, but it’s something.

    You said nothing to contradict the reason I gave for the war (it wasn’t “love of democracy,” you know). Military bases in Iraq support what I said. I’m not saying that oil played no role; I’m sure it was a consideration. I’m saying there’s no evidence for it being a major motivation for this war. I’ve been meaning to read Yergin’s book, but what I’m fairly sure he does is lay out the conflicts and role oil played in them using historical evidence to back up his points. The book looks fairly long to simply be an assertion of his thesis, as your post seems to be. Oil can play an important role in our foreign policy and not be the primary cause of every conflict, as well. You can say it’s absurd all you want, but it’s still nothing but an assertion on your part.

    Look, what I’m saying is this: oil and other concerns probably were considerations. However, we have decent evidence for another primary motive. To the extent there’s a main motivation that should be at the forefront of discussion, shouldn’t it be that?

  3. February 23, 2007 at 7:15 am

    It appears to me that the role of journalists has been support of this venture. They’re not of the burrowing type these days – mere sycophants.

    ANyway, read what Project for a New American Century (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle) wrote in urging Clinton to invade Iraq:

    “The U.S. must take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein is in power: While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

    Saddam was quite a useful ally over the years so that he likely merely became dispensable. Thomas Friedman wrote, in the wake of Gulf War I, of our decision to leave him in power at that time – that he was better than the alternatives available, especially Shiite rule. Since 1990 he’s been demonized in a way that he could easily have been before that time. Every war needs its demon. He seems more a poster boy than a real threat.

    Oil is not the only reason for invading Iraq, threatening Iran. It is only the most important one. Can we at least talk about it a little?

  4. February 25, 2007 at 11:37 pm

    Some of them have, sure. Not all, of course, and not now, particularly.

    It’s been a while since I’ve read anything out of PNAC, but I don’t remember their output contradicting anything I said. They want the U.S. to bring American values (or whatever) to the world and they’re unabashed about any means to achieve that goal. Hence, geopolitical concerns like the quote you mention above. It seems to have taken on a sort of dogmatism and an “ends justify the means” attitude (if it didn’t always have it, that is).

    I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t talk about oil and our foreign policy. At the very least, we need oil, so we need to talk about how it should influence our foreign policy. Asserting that it’s the reason we went to war (without much of a basis for such a claim) doesn’t really help anything, however.

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