First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Are Inspections Working? Is It All About Oil?
"We should let the inspections continue! After all, they're working!"
It's hard to believe such a statement could actually come from the French ambassador to the U.N. But such is the Alice-in-Wonderland world we live in.
In what sense are the inspections working? For months, Saddam has claimed that he already turned over all the pertinent documents. Now, suddenly, with battle looming, he starts turning over documents about poison gas and biological weapons. Documents he had all along. Documents he said didn't exist.
It wasn't inspections that made him turn those documents over now. It was American and British military preparations and the fact that he finally believes we're going to use them.
So it isn't inspections that are working. It's military maneuvers that get results with Saddam.
I suppose, however, that you can say that "inspections are working" as long as you don't specify what they're actually accomplishing.
I mean, if your goal is to keep the Western nations from uniting in opposition to Saddam, then the inspections are doing a bang-up job.
If your goal is to help Saddam protect his weapons and keep his lies from being exposed for what they are; if your goal is to allow him to continue to stonewall, withholding documents and refusing to let Iraqi scientists leave the country, with their families, to give honest reports to inspectors; if your goal is to allow him to continue to transfer technology and know-how to terrorist groups while the world looks on complacently ... inspections are indeed working all too well.
Every now and then in the mainstream media you come across evidence of actual thought. This does not mean that the thinker agrees with me. Indeed, it often means the opposite -- for if by "intelligent" you always mean "shares my opinion," chances are that intelligence is not what is going on.
Of course, neither is the opposite true -- that is, the intelligent person does not necessarily always disagree with the mainstream opinion.
But there can be an element of bravery in it -- of saying that which your friends don't expect you to say, that which will bring down on your head the opprobrium of those who have declared themselves the arbiters of either virtue or intelligence.
Mostly, though, intelligence can be identified by its rejection of self-deception; by its willingness to admit that it might be wrong; by its insistence upon evidence rather than mere impression; by reasoning that cannot easily be assailed.
Let me give you some examples from recent publications.
Michael Kelly, editor at large of The Atlantic Monthly, uses his two pages in the March issue ("What Now?" pp. 23-24) to take on the widespread complaint that (in John Le Carre's words) "The combination of compliant US media and vested corporate interests is once more ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press."
Nowhere in his editorial does Kelly come out and say how he feels about the war with Iraq. Instead, he ridicules -- by using the evidence -- the idea that debate is somehow "stifled." On the contrary, the debate is overwhelming, with the views of both sides easily available to Americans everywhere.
Indeed, the only story he found that seemed to have been stifled was the outrageous (and false) statement by Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington that Osama bin Laden has "been out ... building roads, building schools, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities." (It's worth pointing out that the only schools he has built are terrorist propaganda mills, the only roads and infrastructure have been in support of his training camps, and as for day-care, what civilization is Murray talking about?)
Only 162 mentions of her gaffe were found in a Nexis search of American media, compared to 2,886 mentions of Trent Lott's no less -- but no more -- stupid statement about Strom Thurmond.
Admittedly, Atlantic has long been willing to present both sides of an issue, unlike the ridiculously one-sided, relentlessly anti-Bush, conservative-hating Harper's Monthly and New Yorker magazines. So it should be no surprise to find actual even-handedness from its editor. Still, it's rare and refreshing to find a mainstream publication holding the huffer-puffery of offended "intellectuals" to the simple test of evidence.
In the February/March American Heritage, Fredric Smoler interviews Ralph Peters, a noted military theorist and historian who has been influential in shaping American military thinking in recent years. He has also reached out to the public with novels like Red Army, back in the Cold War era.
Just a couple of quotes, to entice you to pick up this magazine and read what Peters has to say: "Overvaluing stability is a heritage of the Cold War, over the course of which we rationalized our support of some very cruel regimes and we deposed elected governments we didn't like. You could justify it in terms of the greater struggle. But you can't justify it now" (p. 45-46).
Of course, I would argue that you couldn't justify it then, either, but ...
Another quote from Peters: "When we say that borders are inviolable, that we always respect sovereignty, we pretend that somehow humanity has achieved this magical state where existing borders are perfect. Well, they're not perfect" (p. 46).
He goes on to suggest that the borders of Afghanistan, drawn to meet British security concerns during the "great game" in which Russia and Britain struggled for control of South Asia, bear no relation to any actual nation or language group.
I have long believed that the colonial boundaries in Africa, too, are a cruel burden that divides and combines tribes and language groups in meaningless "nations" that are doomed to disunity and eventual civil war or revolution.
Rational boundaries don't guarantee peace, but irrational ones almost invariably lead to war, persecution, revolution, or instability.
Of course, I don't think much of Peters's current application of cheap Freudian psychobabble to the Muslim mind ... but that doesn't stop me from recommending that you read the words of a guy who is smarter than me.
Besides, I've got to love anybody who can say "I personally feel that we've made a grotesque mistake aligning ourselves with the most oppressive of the Arabs, with the Arab world's Beverly Hillbillies.
"Other Arabs built Damascus, Cordoba, Baghdad, Cairo. The Saudis never built anything.
"The fact that they came into their oil wealth was a disaster, not for us, but for the Arab world, because it gave these malevolent hicks raw economic power over the populations of poor Islamic states, such as Egypt" (p. 49).
I never thought of it that way before. But it sounds true to me, and maybe it's about time we stopped being allies with a nation that schools its children to hate Jews and Americans even as it pretends to be our ally in the Middle East.
It's about oil.
That's what Nelson Mandela claimed, in his excoriation of America's stance on Iraq. All we want is to get control of Iraqi oil.
What a laugh. OPEC already learned its lesson back in the seventies. Sure, they could bring the rest of the world to its knees with an oil embargo. They could jack up the price of oil whenever they wanted.
But then what? When they embargo oil, they cut off their only source of income. And when oil prices go up, so does the price of everything that is manufactured or transported using oil -- so that when they go to spend their windfall money, it buys about as much as it bought before.
There was a serious danger, in 1991, of a lunatic getting control of Iraq's, Kuwait's, and Saudi Arabia's oil, and it would have been perfectly legitimate for Western nations to step in and stop him.
Oil is the lifeblood of our economy, and when critics of Republican presidents sneer about how the Gulf War of '91 was "just about oil," one wonders what they put in their cars, or how the food they eat is transported to their grocery stores. By ox cart?
But the fact is that neither the Gulf War of '91 nor its continuation today is primarily about oil. We could get Iraq's oil any time we wanted by simply lifting the embargo -- Saddam is eager to sell, and the world is hungry to buy.
We threw Saddam out of Kuwait because bullies shouldn't be allowed to conquer their neighbors, and we were the only ones who could lead a coalition to stop him.
We face renewed hostilities with Saddam today because he persists in his dangerous behavior, amassing weapons, lying about them, and sharing with terrorists whose avowed purpose is to use such weapons against the rest of the world with the openly stated goal of waging aggressive war to force the rest of the world to live under the tyranny of Islamic law.
But that doesn't mean we aren't dumb as bricks to continue to use up oil as if it were water.
Water recycles. Every speck of it that we use eventually gets restored to the oceans or the atmosphere.
Oil, once used, is simply gone.
I read the smug statements of conservative anti-environmentalists who jeer at the dire warnings that the world would run out of oil in the seventies, then the eighties. "We still have oil," they say.
Of course the dire warnings of environmentalists were wrong. They always are. The religion of environmentalism is the most ridiculous collection of Chicken Littles the world has ever seen, unless you count people who go into mental freefall whenever the calendar year ends in three zeroes.
Everything is a panic with them. Everything is an emergency. They demand that we dismantle our entire civilization for fear of completely unproven dangers, and anyone who disagrees with them and demands actual evidence is evil and stupid and therefore not worth answering -- especially not with any of that evidence they keep asking for.
But the fact that environmentalism is dominated by intellectually bankrupt panic-mongers doesn't change a few simple facts about planet Earth.
Like the fact that there is a finite supply of recoverable oil.
Like the fact that there's enough oil to keep us in cheap plastics forever if we would only stop burning it.
We should have been pursuing alternative fuel research and development with the same vigor that we pursued, say, the Space Program in the 60s or the Marshall Plan in the late 40s and 50s. Or, more to the point, the Interstate Highway system.
We should have closed the SUV loophole in the fuel-economy laws years ago. We should be requiring -- and funding -- serious efforts at mass transit that is so well located and frequent that people really don't need their cars.
We should be zoning for pedestrian-centered cities instead of our current zoning laws that require everyone to drive a car in order to get the simple necessities of life.
You don't have to be a nutcase don't-build-any-dam-or-dig-any-well environmentalist to know that only an idiot burns down his own house to keep warm.
Only a civilization determined on self-destruction decides as a matter of policy to remain dependent on an exhaustible resource -- especially one that is in the control of its enemies.
Copyright © 2003 by Orson Scott Card.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.