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It’s Not About Oil

Robert F. Eaton

Those opposed to the American liberation of Iraq validate their beliefs with poignant arguments. One cannot help but stop to reflect when confronted with the assertion that the looming war puts American lives at risk only to ensure access to cheap oil. More pragmatic objectors contend that an American invasion of Iraq will distract from and even set back the War on Terror, as well as the crisis on the Korean peninsula. These are inflammatory arguments indeed, but they are misleading and largely inaccurate.

If the Middle East were bereft of oil, dictators like Saddam would not wield the power they do, and we would not be going to war. But in reality, where the Middle East has bountiful oil reserves that fund tyrants and terrorists, it is incorrect to assume causality between Iraqi oil and an American attack. Were America motivated exclusively by the desire for inexpensive oil, a decade of sanctions and the threat of war would not be reasonable policies. Stifling Iraqi oil production for twelve years, and introducing into the oil market the uncertainly of war only increases the price of oil. Furthermore, once America liberates Iraq, ownership of Iraqi oil reserves does not thereby transfer to our nation. Rather, the administration has repeatedly said that oil revenue will be used to rebuild Iraq.

Conspiracy theories about an American desire to control the world oil market are as much nonsense as the accusation that the Afghan war served to ensure construction of a gas pipeline. It is much less of a stretch to say that France, Germany, and Russia -- all heavily invested in Iraq -- oppose the war for economic reasons than to accuse America of supporting war for the same reason.

More powerful than the oil controversy is the possibility that a war with Iraq will undermine America’s war on terror. It is often said that we are attacking Saddam simply because he is easier to find than Osama and his cronies. The recent arrest of top al-Qaida leaders, however, contradicts the notion that America cannot concurrently wage war against terrorists and tyrants in the Middle East. Opponents insist that an attack on Iraq has little to do with the war on terror, for it fails to address the root causes of resentment and anger among Muslim populations -- namely, the absence of freedom, and American support of dictatorships. If those are indeed the goals, then a liberation and democratization of Iraq will do a great deal to attain them, by bringing a real Muslim democracy to the Middle East, and lessening American reliance upon the region’s unscrupulous regimes.

It is easy to point out the flaws in others’ arguments, especially when said arguments are so intrinsically flawed, but it is more important to identify what this war is about, rather than what it is not. This war should be carried out for two reasons: one noble, both necessary. The liberation of Iraq will result in the creation of the first liberal, secular democracy in the Middle East besides Israel, and it will send a message to those who fund and foment terror that the consequences of continuing such actions are severe.

Although post-modernism tells us that no government is “better” than another, I nonetheless declare that Western democracy is a superior system to any endemic to the Middle East. The citizens of Iraq, and of the world, would be far better off with a secular, liberal democracy than a dictatorship. In a police state, however, it is virtually impossible for a popular rebellion to manifest, much less to succeed. The men and women who could become an Iraqi Washington or Jefferson are jailed or murdered well before they can pose a threat to the tyrannical government. Thus, without the chance for an internal impetus, a revolution in Iraq must come from without, and the only nations willing to risk their sons and daughters for the freedom of others are America and her allies.

The Bush administration sees the liberation of Iraq as the fulfillment of America’s commitment to protect and extend democracy throughout the world, and as the beginning of a global revolution whereby the nations that subjugate their own citizens and threaten their neighbors will no longer be permitted to do so with impunity. This is a daunting task of immeasurable magnitude, but one that is necessary if the inalienable rights guaranteed to Americans are to be returned to people worldwide whose leaders have taken them away.

More immediate concerns also underlie the defeat of Saddam Hussein. Weakness and strength, defeat and victory are far different in the Middle East than in the West. At the conclusion of the Gulf War, Saddam declared himself a victor despite his shattered armies and decimated nation. The same is true of Yasser Arafat, who emerges from a leveled presidential compound without an ounce of legitimacy in the eyes of his own people and world, yet nonetheless flashes the “V” for victory sign (note: that’s not a peace sign). Anything less than absolute victory is the Middle East is taken a sign of weakness on the part of the enemy, as an invitation to continue defiance.

The last two years of suicide bombings began when Israel withdrew from Lebanon, an act interpreted as weak rather than strategic or conciliatory. America’s failure to respond to terrorist attacks before Sept. 11 sent the message that we were unable and unwilling to address the threat terrorists posed. Carter’s botched attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran, Clinton’s failure to adequately punish the perpetrators of the first World Trade Center attack, the assault on the USS Cole, and the embassy bombings emboldened terrorists to continue their assault. The liberation of Iraq and destruction of Saddam Hussein will send a clear message that America will no longer tolerate individuals, organizations, and nations threatening us, and that the consequences of doing so will be severe.

War, by its very nature, is bad. But it is not always wrong.

Robert F. Eaton is a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry.