Thicker Than Oil

Putting to rest the Left’s Iraq deceptions.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

It has now been almost a year since the liberation of Iraq, the fury of the antiwar rallies, and the publicized hectoring of Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Sean Penn, and other assorted conspiracy freaks — and we have enough evidence to lay some of their myths to rest.

I just filled up and paid $2.19 a gallon. How can that be, when the war was undertaken to help us get our hands on “cheap” oil? Where is the mythical Afghan pipeline when we need it?

“No Blood for Oil” (never mind the people who drove upscale gas-guzzlers to the rallies at which they chanted such slogans) was supposed to respond to one of two possibilities: American oil companies were either simply going to steal the Iraqi fields, or indirectly prime the pumps to such an extent that the world would be awash with petroleum and the price for profligate Western consumers would crash.

Neither came true. Iraqis themselves control their natural resources; the price of gasoline, despite heroic restoration of much of Iraqi prewar petroleum output, is at an all-time high.

So did Shell and Exxon want too much — or too little — pumping? Was the Iraq conspiracy a messy crisis to disrupt production as an excuse to jack up prices, or a surgical strike to garner Third-World resources on the cheap to power wasteful American SUVs?

The truth is, as usual, far more simple. The United States never did intend to steal or manipulate the oil market — not necessarily because we are always above such chicanery, but because it is nearly impossible in a fungible market under constant global scrutiny, and suicidal in the Byzantine politics of the Middle East.

Instead we have pledged $87 billion to secure and rebuild Iraq — one of the largest direct-aid programs since the Marshall Plan. Tens of thousands of brave Americans risked their lives — and hundreds have died — to end the genocide of Saddam Hussein, alter the pathological calculus of the Middle East, and cease the three-decade support of terrorism by Arab dictators.

The only credible critics on the left are those who make the argument that Iraq never made any sense economically and “took away” money from health care, education, aid to poor, transportation, etc. (the litany is familiar) at home — although even this is a hard argument when domestic spending has increased 8 percent per annum under the Bush administration.

A year ago, almost no one claimed that we were far too naïve, idealistic, or stupid. No, Americans were forever conniving and larcenous. Remember the invective about perpetual American intervention? Tens of thousands of our troops poured into the Middle East after the “excuse” of September 11. Right-wingers alleged that we had turned from republic to a garrison empire in a new global ego trip. Leftists assured us that we were greedy colonialists replicating the British raj — perhaps keen to corner the Iraqi date market or exploit at slave wages the skilled workforce around Tikrit. Arab fundamentalists prattled on about the American Crusaders and Zionists out to steal holy lands and desecrate shrines — no doubt convinced that Billy Grahamites, if not blowing up ancient Buddhist statuary, would soon be attaching crosses to minarets.

Yet since the very day the war started, the reality has been just the opposite — a constant desire for the bare-minimum amount of troops abroad in as brief a deployment as possible. More sober military observers have always fathomed that the dangers of the American campaign were never that we were overrunning the Middle East in hope of perennial occupation. Instead we — as amateur interventionists who have always had a very short attention span — had too few troops to fight the war, and fewer still to rebuild the country.

Even the chief, albeit private, worry of most Iraqis was mostly that there were not enough American infidels to provide them security and that we would leave too soon — hardly the response one would expect to old-style, foreign, pith-helmeted imperialists who had stayed too long.

Then there was the third-world exploited-peoples angle. At least, I think that was one of the favorite themes of the peace rallies where various groups — from supporters of cop-killers to Puerto Rican independence zealots — spouted off about their shared racism, victimhood, and oppression.

Surely one of the most astounding intellectual trends in our lifetime has been this transmogrification of religious fascists and Middle East autocrats — the minions of Saddam, Arafat, Khaddafi, or the Iranian mullahs — into some sort of exploited peoples worthy of Western forbearance for quite horrific dictatorships, theocracies, and all the assorted pathologies that we have to come to associate with the modern Middle East. The way things were going, belonging to Hamas or Hezbollah soon might have earned one affirmative-action status on an American campus.

Let’s examine, instead, what really happened. While fellow Arabs did little or nothing to free the Iraqi people — but apparently both cheated on and profited from the U.N. embargoes — Americans set up a consensual government. And for our part, American casualties so far mirror roughly the racial make-up of our general population. So much for the old Vietnam-era myth that people of color always die in disproportionate numbers fighting rich people’s wars. Our three top officers most visible the last year in Iraq — Generals Abizaid, Sanchez, and Brooks — are an Arab American, Mexican American, and African American. The national-security adviser and the secretary of state are minorities as well. And so on. This was a war about values — not race, class, or ethnicity.

Another myth was that of the “noble European” — promulgated here at home by American shysters like Michael Moore, who cashed in overseas, fawning over the likes of Jacques Chirac (the guy who sealed the French nuclear-reactor deal with Saddam) and Dominique de Villepin (who wept over the Christ-like Napoleon’s demise at Waterloo).

The truth again is very different; and John Kerry should be wary about bragging that unnamed European leaders — if true — tell him that they favor his election. Each week we learn how European companies were knee-deep in the foul stream of forbidden supplies that flowed to Saddam in violation of their hallowed U.N. statutes. And the most recent European tired chorus — “We support the needed Afghan multilateral operation, but not the Iraq aggression” — is proven false by the fact that there are about ten times more American troops right now in Europe than there are NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.

Sorry, a few thousand troops in Afghanistan doesn’t cut it from a continent with a larger population than that of the United States, which in turn does the dirty work to ensure Europe’s security. Unilateral, multilateral, U.N., no U.N., Balkans, Iraq — it doesn’t matter: The Europeans are never going to risk lives and treasure for much of anything. The predictable NATO rule: The stationing of troops is to be determined in direct proportion to the absence of both need and danger.

But what about WMDs? Wasn’t that a Bush fable? Forget that most — from Bill Clinton to John Kerry — believed that they were there, and that all the evidence about Saddam’s arsenal is not yet in.

The truth is that almost everybody in the world believes that the war had something to do with WMDs and nothing to do with Halliburton — except Western leftists. By going into Iraq we probably will find more dangerous weapons in Libya than were stockpiled in Baghdad. The president argued that we must depose Saddam Hussein to prevent scary weapons from being used by rogue regimes. He did so, and suddenly Dr. Khan, Khaddafi, and even a few mullahs seemed to wish to come clean.

The danger of promulgating the old mistruths about sacrificing blood for oil, reviving colonialism, and suggesting the operation in Iraq has led to disaster are manifold. First, ever-so-steadily, such invective wears away support for an action that, by any historical yardstick, was as successful as it was noble. The only peril to the United States in Iraq would be a unilateral withdrawal before stability and constitutional government are achieved. And the only chance of that disaster happening would arise from our own continual harping that wears down the will of the American people — and those asked to fight for us in the field.

The other worry is that there were, in fact, real concerns about the entire campaign that have scarcely been addressed. While the media hold conferences on university campuses about the morality of using embedded reporters, they have simply refused to discuss the real ethical crisis of the reporting of the war: that dozens of Western journalists sent censored news accounts from Baghdad in the months preceding the conflict and in fact during the actual fighting. Unbeknownst to us, their dispatches always were monitored carefully by “minders” and transmitted only through pay-offs and blackmail. None of this was known at the time — leading to the absurdity that on the day Baghdad fell journalists suddenly came clean over uncensored mikes, as if to say, “Oh, by the way, everything I sent out to you the last two months was sort of censored by the Iraqi Ministry of Information.”

So here we are a year later. We fuss about the WMD “myth”; enemies scramble over its reality. We talk of our theft of third-world resources — and pay more for gas than ever before while the price of Iraq’s national treasure soars. We worry that we are too involved abroad; those in Europe, Afghanistan, and Iraq claim there are not enough of us over there. And we scream at each other that we are not liked, even as those overseas express new respect for us.

No wonder, when asked for specific follow-ups about his general criticisms of the Iraqi war in a recent Time magazine interview, a resolute Kerry variously prevaricated, “I didn’t say that,” “I can’t tell you,” “It’s possible,” “It’s not a certainty,” “If I had known,” “No, I think you can still — wait, no. You can’t — that’s not a fair question and I’ll tell you why,” — employing the entire idiom and vocabulary of those who are angry about Bush’s removal of Saddam, but neither know quite why nor what they would do differently.

© 2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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