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Iraq and Afghanistan Are about Enlightened Self-Interest, Not Oil

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Posted on June 27 2010 9:00 pm

The Left defames the American war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan with a “blood for oil” libel that is manifestly untrue.

One of the biggest myths about America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan — and indeed, our involvement in the Middle East and Islamic worlds writ large — is that we are there simply “because of oil.” Thus veteran defense reporter Tom Ricks today on Meet the Press:

[W]e are dealing with a phenomenon in the Middle East that’s going to be crucial to this country as long as we’re dependent upon Middle East oil. So the best exit strategy [that] I can think of is [to] emphasize alternative fuels.

Ricks’ admonition was met with a “here here” and an “amen” by his two of his co-panelists. This is not surprising. It has become conventional wisdom, after all, that oil is at the root of America’s war against radical Islam. But alas, this simply isn’t true. And perpetuating this myth unfairly debases the noble efforts of our troops.

America is in Iraq and Afghanistan not because of oil, but because after September 11, 2001, we belatedly recognized that we no longer could isolate ourselves from the world’s political and cultural cesspools. Instantaneous communication, jet travel, and an increasingly interdependent world had made the vast geographic distance between “us” and “them” much less significant and far less meaningful.

What good, after all, are the Atlantic and Pacific oceans if our enemies simply can hijack our commercial aircraft and turn these aircraft into weapons of mass destruction through which to destroy our cities? Thus, the United States began a decades-long effort to transform the world’s political and cultural cesspools along more peaceable and democratic lines.

Our efforts began in Afghanistan, of course, because that is where the terror masters planned and plotted for September 11, 2001. But we also took on Iraq because the Middle East is itself a breeding ground for terrorists — indeed, the September 11 terrorists all seemed to hail from the Middle East — and, among the countries there, Iraq offered the most ripe and opportune place for American intervention.

It is important to note that Afghanistan has no oil; and that oil is precisely what kept the United States from intervening in the Middle East for decades. Indeed, as Charles Krauthammer observed in a typically brilliant column on the eve of the Iraq War:

Ever since Franklin Roosevelt made alliance with Saudi Arabia, the U.S. chose to leave the Arab world to its own political and social devices so long as it remained a reasonably friendly petrol station. The arrangement lasted a very long time. Had Sept. 11 never happened, it would have lasted longer.

Sept. 11 brought home a terrible truth. It revealed a mortal enemy… [It] forever abolished the notion of benignity. It revealed an Arab world that had resisted modernization and democracy — and become home to the most virulent anti-Americanism on the planet. And that hatred threatens the most catastrophic consequences…

Sept. 11 taught that what the U.S. needs in the Arab world is not an exit strategy but an entry strategy. Iraq is the beckoning door… America is coming ashore.

Of course, transforming Iraq and Afghanistan by empowering its more moderate-minded citizenry has proven more difficult than most observers had predicted. Still, this doesn’t negate the fact that we are not there for oil. America is in Iraq and Afghanistan because we now realize that what happens “over there,” with or without oil, absolutely can and does affect us “over here.”

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