Looking Backward


BOSTON—In comments leading up to John Edwards’s moving acceptance speech here Wednesday night, the Democrats provided a somewhat clearer idea of their agenda should they be victorious in November.

When it comes to the Iraq war, it is clear there is no real difference in their overall approach. Kerry basically supports Bush’s war to overthrow Saddam—whether or not the facts and arguments employed by Bush to persuade the Congress and nation to go to war were at all truthful or, for that matter, made any sense.

Like Bush, Kerry would try to involve the U.N. for civil administration and NATO as muscle. Both the Democrats and Republicans seem determined to deploy enough troops—U.S. or other—to secure Iraq and maintain it as some sort of national state—more or less democratic in form—if only for propaganda purposes. They flatly dismiss demands from within Iraq to leave, so that Iraqis could determine their own future. As a result both the Republicans and the Democrats invite a growing insurgency and more American deaths. And both parties are firmly committed to more troops, even if that means a widening of the existing ad hoc draft in the form of National Guard call-ups.

Kerry apparently thinks that the country believes it needs, as Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm puts it, a new “driver”—in effect, a change of leaders to save a deteriorating position. Much of the world will heartily endorse this notion. Outside the U.S., people fear that we are far out on a limb of our own making and that they must now talk us off the limb to save themselves from some sort of nuclear or biological attack.

But whether the U.S. citizenry can be convinced of this is another matter altogether. We appear at all levels determined to press on behind Bush and to do whatever is necessary to achieve “victory.” And to emphasize, there would be no change in Bush’s basic line: to use NATO, the U.N., and other international organizations and alliances to further our own interests but, at bottom, using military force to achieve victory.

Playing to international fears, Kerry would try to restore a measure of dialogue with other countries. But this won’t be easy, because oil, to a great extent, will determine what happens there. Iraq is not just the second largest oil nation in the world. Because some of the country is still unmapped, its oil and gas resources may turn out to be even larger, perhaps more vast than those of Saudi Arabia. We currently take some of this oil, but Europe takes much more. The international oil companies that sell to the EU and the rest of Europe want access to the stuff. Any sort of international deal over Iraq means a division of oil assets, and the Europeans, wielding a growing economic strength, will almost surely demand more than their fair share of Iraq’s economic wealth.

And that means a cave-in by the U.S. Bush has abolished the Iraqi state oil apparatus and seized Iraq’s oil assets. There’s much talk about giving oil back to Iraq so its citizens can use profits from its sale to rebuild the country. But no one seriously believes the U.S. went to war in order to secure oil resources for competitive free enterprise in Iraq! A century of economic colonial history makes that very idea seem truly farcical. And any move in this direction by a U.S. president would lead to conservative cries of another Munich.

People in the U.S., because of their misperceptions, are not likely to tolerate it. And we will be back to the same old situation: Republicans are seen as the tough-minded ones who stick to their guns, while the Dems are viewed as a bunch of weak-asses. Like it or not, the conclusion will be that the country is safer in the hands of Republicans.

U.S. politicians of both parties and the media that shape their views have not confronted the oil history of Iraq. The rest of the world knows this history only too well. Just as it was at the close of World War I, divvying up oil resources will be the underpinning of any peace there. And here, Bush holds all the cards.