The Real Case For War

July 28, 2006

by Martin ‘HStorm’ Odoni

First published October 2004.

It might appear that I was always firmly opposed to the war in Iraq, but in fact that was never quite the case. The rights and wrongs of invasion I was ambivalent about more than anything else, and that was because there was a strong, positive case for it. It’s just it was never articulated.

My anger toward the war was always based on its illegality in the face of the United Nations, and the blatant lies that the Governments of the USA and the UK were using to support their case. Those lies were in themselves quite bad enough, but they were made all the cheaper and more feeble by their needlessness. This was because the genuine case for invading Iraq was based on pure fact, and by instead using such hysterical gibberish about weapons of mass destruction that were launchable at forty-five minutes’ notice, Tony Blair and George W. Bush only undermined their own credibility. While I couldn’t, and still can’t, accept the legitimate argument for war as a sufficient justification, I could at least respect it. And ironically, the basis of the argument for was also the basis of the argument against.

One of the unspoken motivations for the war was to improve the West’s control of oil sources. World’s worst-kept secret there of course. But the thing is, it’s not as bad a reason as you might think. I repeat that, in the end, it’s not a good enough reason on its own for me to support the war, but it’s not as greedy or as avaricious as it sounds.

The reason I say that is that there are some long term dangers in the current international climate that we need to consider, and they all relate to oil. Basically, the entire Western capitalist way of life does depend on the stuff, more and more so with every passing year. Oil fuels vehicles and is crucial in powering homes and industries. And the problem is that sources of oil are strictly finite.

It’s a scary thought, which is why Western Governments are so loath to address it publicly, but the sad truth is that the known petroleum oil reserves on (or rather, beneath) the face of the Earth are running out at a frightening rate, and the nearer we get to crisis point, the faster our consumption increases. Current estimates suggest that there could be a massive fuel crash in as little as twenty years’ time, and as the sources suddenly choke and dry up, economy after economy in the West will choke as well. And when that happens, entire societies could cave in, especially as the price of what oil there is left will rocket as it gets rarer and rarer. Industries will fold as they have to pay ever higher prices for the fuel they desperately need to function. More and more people will find themselves out of work, unable to support themselves and their families, while transport becomes a very exclusive preserve of the rich. Dare we imagine the unrest, hardship and poverty that a heavily-mechanised society would be reduced to in a world where oil is as rare as gold? We must, because if things carry on the way they are, that society will be ours within our lifetimes.

For me, stealing the resources of other countries is not the solution, as that can do no better than delay the disaster, not to mention cause untold harm to the developing world. But at the same time, I’m not sure what the practicable solution really is, and there can be no moral acclaim for any Government that refuses to address the problem at all. Even delaying the disaster is better than burying heads in the sand altogether and pretending it’s not going to happen.

Furthermore, the nature of regimes like those that controlled Iraq and Afghanistan should not be overlooked. The perpetuation of democracy and freedom is also not a good enough reason to invade another country, as the justification becomes entirely an arbitrary matter of opinion over what is evil enough to face military retribution and what is not, and is therefore not measurable within International Law. But there’s a very practical side to the moral argument for war. That argument was always, “Surely deposing a tyrant like Saddam Hussein can only be a good thing! Look at all the terrible things he does/has done to his own people!” Which is of course undeniable, but, as I say, too arbitrary, as there are many dictators of Saddam’s type round the world and it’s therefore impossible to judge which ones should be dealt with first. (It also sets a dangerous precedent when individual nations decide to invade other countries on ‘moral’ grounds without the consent of the majority of the nations of the Earth, as such grounds can be manipulated very liberally to justify virtually any atrocity.)

The practical side of the moral matter is paramount though. With the Gulf providing such a huge amount of the oil reserves we need, it really isn’t in the interests of a free and fair international market for such a huge world resource to be controlled by a tiny handful of oil sheikhs and petty dictators. To be fair, I can’t bear the thought of those resources being controlled by a handful of US politicians and Texan oil barons either, but at least the nature of the US economy would leave some of the power over the oil in the hands of a free market. If Saddam Hussein had succeeded in his ambitions of conquering the Middle East, he would have created an Imperial superpower the like of which the region hasn’t seen since the times of Saladin. And for him to have had so much power over the world’s richest oil reserves, he could have held the West to ransom for years to come. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

As such, capturing the Middle East’s oil could well be more of a misguided way of protecting our way of life, an attempt to prolong the time that Western economies are propped up, than an outright act of malicious greed. At least I’d like to think so, but the way Bush and Blair lied about it makes that hope difficult to maintain. Very difficult indeed.

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