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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

17 April 2006

Why Iraq?

Bob Herbert writes in The New York Times: “We were attacked by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. What are we doing in Iraq? … That fear, and the patriotism felt by so many millions of Americans, have been systematically exploited by the administration. The invasion of Iraq was not about terror. It was about oil and schoolboy fantasies of empire and whatever weird oedipal dynamics were at work in the Bush family.”

Herbert is wrong on two counts, I think. The first is that Iraq had nothing to do with September 11. True, there was no direct connection, despite what Dick Cheney asserted time and again, between the September 11 terrorists and Saddam Hussein’s regime. The linkage between Iraq and Al-Qaeda may take years to probe fully, but in the strictest sense, September 11 was not made possible because of Iraq.

The more basic question, however, is whether September 11 was a political or a criminal act. If the answer is criminal, then going after Osama bin Laden would be the primary objective—to capture him and debilitate his terror network. If it were political, then two possibilities arose: the first would attribute this political act to the resentment that many Arabs and Muslims felt towards American foreign policy in the Middle East. Or, the act could be blamed on the political condition of many Arab regimes which have crushed dissent for so long and which maintain an airtight political space within.

It is in these terms that the invasion of Iraq ought to be understood. Criminal as the act may have been, eliminating bin Laden would have offered only temporary comfort. The underlying dynamics in the region were unfavorable to America. It is here that oil factors in: the explanation that September 11 was the product of Arab and Muslim hostility due to American foreign policy could not be accepted in full because an American retreat from the Middle East was not an option. A reorientation was necessary, and Iraq offered the easiest and most valuable target for such a reorientation, offering both the prospect for change and also offering the opportunity to withdraw American troops from Saudi Arabia.

It this logic that brought America to Iraq, and it is not unreasonable. Think what you will about the Iraq War. But when Bush’s critics resort to the most simple-minded explanations for the Iraq War, they are committing an error as basic as that which they accuse their opponents of committing: they are reducing a complex political event into its most reductionist components. And I have to confess that between the Bush motivations for the Iraq War and the accusation that America went in just for oil and “schoolboy fantasies,” I find the Bush view much more sophisticated.

Bob Herbert, “The Fear Factor,” The New York Times, 17 Apr 06



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