Saturday, December 10, 2005

Over There and Over Here 

Earlier this week the Atlantic Monthly graciously permitted MoveOn.org to distribute Nir Rosen's article "If America Left Iraq," from the December issue, to its membership via e-mail. We offer here a few brief snippets from that mailing, with the strong recommendation that you subscribe to the print edition of the Atlantic so that you may read the entire article:
Would the withdrawal of U.S. troops ignite a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites?

No. That civil war is already under way—in large part because of the American presence. The longer the United States stays, the more it fuels Sunni hostility toward Shiite "collaborators." Were America not in Iraq, Sunni leaders could negotiate and participate without fear that they themselves would be branded traitors and collaborators by their constituents . . . .

Wouldn't a U.S. withdrawal embolden the insurgency?

No. If the occupation were to end, so, too, would the insurgency. After all, what the resistance movement has been resisting is the occupation. Who would the insurgents fight if the enemy left? When I asked Sunni Arab fighters and the clerics who support them why they were fighting, they all gave me the same one-word answer: intiqaam—revenge. Revenge for the destruction of their homes, for the shame they felt when Americans forced them to the ground and stepped on them, for the killing of their friends and relatives by U.S. soldiers either in combat or during raids.

But what about the foreign jihadi element of the resistance? Wouldn't it be empowered by a U.S. withdrawal?

The foreign jihadi element—commanded by the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—is numerically insignificant; the bulk of the resistance has no connection to al-Qaeda or its offshoots. (Zarqawi and his followers have benefited greatly from U.S. propaganda blaming him for all attacks in Iraq, because he is now seen by Arabs around the world as more powerful than he is; we have been his best recruiting tool.) It is true that the Sunni resistance welcomed the foreign fighters (and to some extent still do), because they were far more willing to die than indigenous Iraqis were. But what Zarqawi wants fundamentally conflicts with what Iraqi Sunnis want: Zarqawi seeks re-establishment of the Muslim caliphate and a Manichean confrontation with infidels around the world, to last until Judgment Day; the mainstream Iraqi resistance just wants the Americans out. If U.S. forces were to leave, the foreigners in Zarqawi's movement would find little support—and perhaps significant animosity—among Iraqi Sunnis, who want wealth and power, not jihad until death . . . .

What about the goal of creating a secular democracy in Iraq that respects the rights of women and non-Muslims?

Give it up. It's not going to happen. Apart from the Kurds, who revel in their secularism, Iraqis overwhelmingly seek a Muslim state . . . . The invasion of Iraq has led to a theocracy, which can only grow more hostile to America as long as U.S. soldiers are present.
Mr. Rosen's entirely worthy article is typical of the current debate on Iraq in that it focuses exclusively on the short-term consequences to Iraq of an immediate American withdrawal. Few commmentators bother to discuss the importance of Iraqi oil to the everyday texture of American consumer culture; one welcome exception is James Howard Kuntstler, author of The Long Emergency, who here decries the unfortunate tendency of Americans, and American policymakers, to dismiss the portentous oil disruptions of the 1970's as "a shuck and jive":
Many things have changed. One is that a potent segment of the Islamic world declared war on the west (jihad). Another is that OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, has apparently lost its spare capacity, and therefore its role as the world's swing producer of oil. Another is that the North Sea and Alaskan oil fields have passed their production peaks and are depleting at phenomenal rates -- in the case of Great Britain's fields, up to 50 percent a year -- because they were drilled so efficiently with the latest technology. Yet Another is that rising ocean temperatures have led to several years of massive hurricanes wreaking havoc among the oil and gas platforms of the US Gulf Coast. Still another is the industrial turbo-expansion of China and India, taking advantage of their ultracheap labor to become the world's factories and back-offices, while jacking up their oil consumption.

Oil trade has now become a dead heat race between supply and demand, with demand looking like the stronger horse coming into the home stretch. As it overtakes supply, even more strange changes will unfold on the world scene. These are likely to take the form of fierce geopolitical struggles to gain favor in or control those regions that still have a lot of oil, foremost the Middle East, with Iraq located at dead center of it.

There is really only one condition that will allow us to pull out of Iraq. That is if we make an enormous collective effort to change our behavior here in North America; if we break free from an economy pegged to suburban sprawl, reform the way we do agriculture and retail trade, make substantial investments in public transit and railroads in particular, and practice fiscal restraint at every scale, including an end to the reckless creation of mortgages. Unless we face these facts and the tasks associated with them, then we will find ourselves at the center of that geopolitical struggle.
We have never doubted that there is a powerful faction within the Bush administration -- one of several -- for whom it really was about the oil; that is to say, a faction that saw the invasion of Iraq as part of a longterm plan to secure America's access to the finite and dwindling energy resources of the Middle East. (Hence the fourteen permanent military bases that are now under construction: staging grounds for the next, necessary conquest.) We called it a "longterm" plan, but that's true only up to a point. It takes us only to that moment a couple of decades hence when the reserves begin to run out, when international demand (from China and India, among others) vastly outstrips supply, and when America, presumably, will have one hand on the spigot and another on the cash register. Plainly, much profit will be made by those who have positioned themselves to do so.

But after that . . . what?

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