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Did "oil addiction" lead to war in Iraq?

By Elizabeth Schulte | November 11, 2005 | Page 7

"TELL FORD to Get Serious About Breaking Its Oil Addiction" is the call issued by the antiwar coalition United for Peace and Justice for national protests at Ford dealerships on November 12. If the U.S. breaks its dependency on oil, the argument goes, the war on Iraq would be ended.

"Ford's frontline brand recognition gives it more power to drive the market in the right direction and the responsibility to do so," argues the Web site sponsored by the Ruckus Society, Rainforest Action Network and Global Exchange.

It's a fact that big SUVs are gas guzzlers and big polluters. According to, an SUV that gets 14 miles per gallon, like a Lincoln Navigator, will emit over 100 tons of carbon dioxide--the main source of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming--over its lifetime, twice the amount of more fuel-efficient cars. And this isn't to mention the nasty habit of SUVs to roll over and kill the people who ride in them.

But the question is this: Is decreasing dependence on oil the key to ending the war on Iraq?

Clearly, the U.S. would not be occupying Iraq if it "grew carrots," to quote a former assistant defense secretary from the Reagan administration. But to argue that the war in Iraq is only about U.S. dependence on foreign oil misses the bigger picture.

When the U.S. seizes control of oil resources in the Middle East--or in Latin America or elsewhere--this isn't about making sure American consumers can fill their gas tanks. It's about having control over who else in the world gets that oil.

The strategic importance of controlling the world's oil resources became clear to the world's most powerful governments after the First World War, when oil fueled the war machine--its cars, tanks and battleships. This became even more obvious during the Second World War. Since then, the world powers have waged wars with the purpose of controlling this most valuable resource.

Not only have U.S. oil companies--and the politicians they serve--profited from Middle East oil, but control over oil resources gives the U.S. government a strategic advantage over other powers. But ordinary Americans don't see a direct benefit--as is obviously the case with today's occupation of Iraq, as gas prices skyrocket at the same time.

Moreover, competition for natural resources alone doesn't explain the other wars the U.S. has waged--in, for example, Serbia or Vietnam--which were aimed at expanding U.S. power around the globe. That's why it's important to have a broader sense of why the U.S. government wants control over the Middle East. It wants to control oil resources, but it also is looking at strategic sites for U.S. military bases.

The other question worth asking is why Ford manufactures cars that waste resources and pollute? Certainly, the men and women who run the company know the problems with this. After all, as points out, Ford made a promise in 2003 to increase the fuel efficiency of its SUVs by 25 percent by 2005, and then reneged.

So why? The answer, quite simply, is profits. The technology exists to mass-produce much more fuel-efficient cars. The problem is that companies like Ford are thinking in terms of the short-term profit, whatever the long-term cost to the environment and the people that live in it.

To compete on the free market with other carmakers, Ford can't waste time or resources developing more efficient vehicles. Similarly, Ford's owners are willing to trade the long-term wellbeing of the people who work in its factories for the short-term financial gains they make by cutting health care benefits.

In the anarchy of the free market, these are the kinds of twisted conclusions that business owners reach every day.

Millions of people would benefit from more fuel-efficient vehicles and from a well-designed public transportation system. Yet few resources are devoted to these things--because they would cut into the profits of automakers and the oil industry.

When it comes to the topic of cars and SUVs, the finger often gets pointed at the people who drive them. Set aside the conspicuous consumption of yuppies in mega-Hummers, because for the most part, when someone argues against driving SUVs, they can't expect to convince these people. They're directing their case at the millions of ordinary people who drive to work or school--yes, sometimes in SUVs.

Telling people to "take personal responsibility" for their consumption focuses the blame away from the real culprits. And it leads people to the conclusion that it's personal choices--their buying decisions--that are the answer.

There isn't real "power" in our ability to buy or not buy products that we had no say in whether they were produced in the first place. Our power is in our ability to come together collectively--to protest the war in Iraq and to place the blame where it belongs, on the U.S. government's pursuit of oil and empire at the expense of everything else.

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