It Doesn’t Matter if ‘It’s The Oil, Stupid'

Editorial Notebook


A mildly amusing jpeg has made the e-mail rounds in recent weeks, purporting to transcribe a speech by President Bush. With the help of Photoshop, its authors have replaced key words with the logos of major oil companies: “We SHELL® not EXXON®erate Saddam Hussein for his actions. We will MOBIL®ize to meet this threat to vital interests in the Persian GULF®,” and so on. In case the none-too-subtle point manages to elude its audience, a punchline is included—“It’s The Oil, Stupid.”

Clearly this e-mail is more joke than geopolitical manifesto, but an important point still needs to be made about the grievance underlying its humor. Let us assume for the sake of argument that Bush really does care only for his cronies’ interests, that all the other reasons he has mentioned for military action in Iraq are mere show. This may well be true; but if so, the question should be not why Bush wants to invade Iraq, but why we do or do not support this action.

It is perfectly reasonable for peace activists to argue that the damages of a second Gulf War would outweigh its benefits—that the number of American soldier and Iraqi civilian lives to be lost, not to mention the desperate measures such a war might inspire in the hearts of terrorists, is simply too great to incur. And if we come to this conclusion, then let us not hesitate in our condemnation of military action. But the fact is that no sane supporter of human rights and democracy can deny that the world is better of without Saddam Hussein in a position of absolute power over a nation with potentially horrifying military and terrorist capabilities. And if such an end can be accomplished without unacceptable losses of life and liberty here or in the Middle East, then what do we care about the personal motivations of the American president who accomplishes it?

It is an embarrassing open secret that, contrary to his hallowed position in the secular sainthood of freedom, Abraham Lincoln was never a particularly passionate abolitionist. But he freed the slaves, and regardless of his real reasons for signing the Emancipation Proclamation, aren’t we glad he did? Likewise, many scholars maintain that knowledge of Hitler’s escalating program of genocide in Europe had very little to do with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s decision to enter World War II on that continent. Do we care in the slightest that he might have been more concerned with getting revenge on Japan than with liberating the Nazi concentration camps, considering that we saved the lives of those victims we could? Obviously, any equation of Saddam Hussein’s present or potential policies with the historical evils of African slavery and the Holocaust is wildly out of proportion. The point is that in the long run, all that matters in the military action up for debate is that action’s end results; motive is best left to future historians and biographers.

The question of invading Iraq deserves to be debated with vigor and candor on all sides. Afterwards, if we are convinced that a new Iraqi war’s results would not end up in the plus column for life and liberty—or, more chillingly, if we believe that Bush’s unspoken motives for invasion would distort his perceptions to the point that any positive results would be undone—then we should oppose war in Iraq wholeheartedly. But the time has come to leave behind this inordinate attention to the president’s motive and psychological state. For all I care, if he gets a dangerous dictator out of power in the hotbed of the Middle East without unacceptable losses of life on either side, Bush could be acting on the advice of Miss Cleo.