Friday, July 15, 2005

War of the Prepositions

So who knows the difference between "for" and "because of"?

Froma Harrop has an interesting piece over at RealClearPolitics:
It is oil's fault. The London bombings are almost surely Al Qaeda's work, which means oil paid for them. Oil keeps the Mideast backward. It funds the madrassas that fill heads with anti-West poison. And it pays the terrorists who plant bombs on European trains and drive airplanes into American buildings. It is time we did something about oil.
She goes on to argue for alternative fuels, then returns to geopolitics:

We're in Iraq because of oil. That's not to say our intentions were ever to take over Iraqi oil fields. Our interest is to transform Mesopotamia and the rest of the Mideast into stable democracies. The theory is that angry theologies and genocidal tyrants frustrate economic advancement and breed dementia. Change all that, and the Mideast will become a peaceful and prosperous region.

But were it not for oil, that part of the world would have long ago moved toward modern economies. The people would have had no choice. They would have done it themselves. Americans would not be sending their soldiers to build democracy for them.

This is partly true, but I do not believe that a lack of oil would have necessarily created more "modern" states. It is possible, but they also could have taken the path of Africa (or even Afghanistan).

Speaking of Africa, one fallacious anti-war argument was that the U.S. and our allies were not going to war against every tyrant (especially ones without oil) - implying that if you can't fix everything at once, you should do nothing. One of these tyrants is Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. His "chaotic land redistribution campaign... caused an exodus of white farmers, crippled the economy, and ushered in widespread shortages of basic commodities."

Zimbabwe once was southern Africa's breadbasket, exporting food to neighbors. After Mugabe's illegal land seizures, Zimbabwe is a basket case, where nearly half the population goes to bed hungry every night. Last year Mugabe turned down international food aid so he could use scarce food as a political weapon to reward his supporters and deny his opponents. He has cracked down on the free press, jailed political opponents and stolen elections.

While people go hungry and are homeless, Mugabe has the use of two official residences in Harare and others in Bulwavo, Gweru and Mutare. He owns a mansion in Zvimba and the Nyanga highlands. He has just built another palatial mansion with 4 acres of floor space lined with Italian marble and 25 bedrooms. Meanwhile, the economy has shrunk by 40 percent. (Richard S. Williamson in the Chicago Sun-Times)

Oppression, starvation, palaces - he sounds a lot like Saddam. But we didn't attack Mugabe because Zimbabwe doesn't have oil, right? Actually, yes. Or to put it another way, if Saddam lacked oil we probably wouldn't have attacked him either. Along with the Oil-for-Food (Oil-for-Palaces) scandal, oil gave Saddam the resources he needed to build his terror machine. Without oil, could he have afforded the world's fourth largest army which he used to invade Kuwait (to get more oil)? Could he have afforded to fund terrorism by, most specifically, paying $25,000 to Palestinian Arab terrorists? Could he have afforded his 40,000-man terror-army (the Fedayeen Saddam)?

If we wanted Iraq's oil, we could have bought it. Besides, we don't own it now and gas prices more and more reflect refining capacity and China's growing energy demands (the reason that six different countries are fighting over the otherwise largely-useless Spratly Islands). Oil is what made Saddam a threat. In fact, "threat" diminishes his role. Oil let Saddam be a belligerent.

On a related note (addressing the theme of the rest of Ms. Harrop's article), I have continued to object to the demand for an alternative-energy "Manhattan Project." The original Manhattan Project was created to focus a vast effort on obtaining a specific technological goal - an operational and deployable atomic bomb. The project was motivated by fears of a German atomic bomb - an achievement that never came to pass partly because "the Germans never had a clear mission under continuously unified leadership." To use the analogy today would have to be immensely more specific, such as developing a solar cell within specific price and performance parameters and an ability to store excess power with a specific efficiency. The problem now is that no one can pick the one technology that is the goal. Proposals look more like the German failure than the American success.

Personally I'm interested in alternatives that more directly replace oil, like ethanol and hydrogen, if they can be made cost-effective. Hydrogen fuel would probably require a new distribution infrastructure, for which a federal role is not too unthinkable, but it must be cost-effective and that takes time. Ending dependence on foreign oil requires technology, not rhetoric.

See also the War of the Punctuation: "No War" for Oil

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