Wednesday, September 19, 2007


James Howard Kunstler is one angry and profane man, but, boy can he write, and man can he put together a wicked Jeremiad. Here's one passage from a previously quoted screed that's been on my mind as I listen to various critics of the war in Iraq (NPR, CSPAN, the blawgosphere, you name it), all furious that the troops have not been withdrawn as our democratic voices would demand. What Kunstler hammers home is that we are all complicit in the basic reason we are there - to ensure a steady flow of oil to fuel the American way of life, a way of life that Left critics enjoy more than most, and which they expect to continue ceaselessly all the while entertaining the fantasy that it can be fueled on good intentions and happy thoughts. True, many Right defenses of the war are not much better, since they attribute our presence in Iraq to any variety of reasons (WMD, 9/11, "democracy" in the Middle East) while going through contortions to avoid acknowledging the real reason (at least I think they have the perverse virtue of lying to us, and not to themselves). This is why Crazy Al Greenspan's frank acknowledgment that we're there for the black stuff is refreshing: he writes in his book The Age of Turbulence that "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." Until we face facts, we can't have a serious discussion about how we could begin to extricate ourselves not just from Iraq, but from our dependency upon what that region provides to us and why under the Carter Doctrine the region is considered to be a part of America's Vital Interest.

Kunstler should be required reading of these war critics, and its supporters would benefit too:

Now, as to the shock of Al's [Greenspan's] revelation that the Iraq war is about oil -- the media and the public have got this all wrong, too. The logic here seems to be that because the Iraq war is about oil it is therefore unnecessary, optional, a mistake, an indulgence, something we should not dirty our hands in. In fact, the Iraq war is not about oil, per se, so much as it is about America's behavior here at home, about the choices we make for how we live on this continent. None of those who complain most loudly about our military presence in Iraq have advanced any proposals for reforming how we live here -- and hence for our enslavement to oil, much of the world's remaining supply of which happens to be in the neighborhood of Iraq. When these complainers start complaining about the ubiquitous acceptance of suburban sprawl and abject car-dependency -- and this includes the environmental boy scouts out there who want to get merit badges for buying hybrid cars -- then they will deserve to be taken seriously. Until then, the American people have got exactly the grinding war that they deserve. Let them whine about it all the way to the Nascar tracks, and let them console themselves with giant plastic bottles of Pepsi Cola and buckets of chicken raised on corn grown with oil byproducts.

Kunstler typically goes too far, scoring a point but then going out of bounds. First, it's pretty clear that our complainers aren't really among the NASCAR and Kentucky Fried Chicken set, but they do enjoy Starbucks and Restoration Hardware and all the carbon we burn being global cosmopolitans (you can be sure many of them are accustomed to using the term "flyover country" with unselfconscious ease). Where do they think all those wonderful hydrocarbons comes from? Umm... gas stations?

And, Kunstler is wrong to say that "the American people" have got "exactly the grinding war" we deserve: we don't have a war so much as a very small segment of our population. Our war critics and supporters alike are almost wholly unaffected by this war. Our republic does business as usual while our soldiers do the hard and deadly work of enforcing the non-negotiability of the American way of life.


Black Sea said...

"Regardless of whether we say so publicly, we will go to war, because Saddam sits at the center of a region with more than 60 percent of all the world's oil reserves."
--Anthony H. Cordesman, Senior Analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

I don't know exaclty when Cordesman wrote this, but you will note that the verb is in the future tense. What's more, these are the words of a man not exactly given to Chomsky-like outbursts, as anyone who has ever seen him on TV can attest. My point here is that that Cordesman - and he was not alone - made this observation well before the invasion of Iraq had become a fait accompli. And? Nothing.

The question of our collective complicity in the events of this war (or invasion, or liberation) is an interesting, though not a comfortable, one. The most striking feature to me - particularly as an American recently returned from living overseas - is the emotional lethargy of most of the arguments, pro and con, surrounding the war. The prevailing sentiment seems increasingly to be one of collective boredom, and some mild annoyance tossed in.

Since we're talking of complicity, I include myself here as well. What do I do about the war in Iraq? Well, since the war seems to have made more likely a number of really nasty local outcomes, I don't really have know how to how to fix Iraq. I'm kind of tired of seeing people on TV who claim, on the basis of what, I don't know, to have some insider's wisdom as to how events there should unfold.

What I do about Iraq is occassionally write little messages to myself on the internet about it. And I'm reading a few books, such as Thomas Rick's "Fiasco." That's really about all.

So far as I can tell from the people aroun me, Iraq is a kind of unfortunate event that has befallen us. It doesn't even rise to the level of a natural disaster, nothing that catastrophic. At least, not for now. Rather, it's something over which decriers of government waste will grumble while TV pundits opine. The rest of us seem not to be involved.

Iraq has become a failing TV melodrama, sometimes bloody, and often boring, which long since lost its narrative drive. It's likely to be cancelled soon, but if you've already become disenchanted, you can watch something else.

There seems to be little recognition that the war in Iraq is something which we as a nation did, and are still doing. Maybe, as a nation, we don't talk about why because we don't want to know why.

Black Sea said...

Sorry about the sloppy editing. I was trying to post my comment before my wheezing laptop computer shut down, which it had already done one time before.

Anonymous said...

The oil reserves of the Middle East are necessary for the entire world's economy, not just the US.

The world's economy is a system on interlocking pieces, and oil fuels the system. Sure, the US is the only superpower and that puts us on the stability front. But in the end, it's not just the US that would be in trouble if oil stopped flowing out of the region.

Oengus said...

I've read James Kuntsler's book The Long Emergency, and even if one doesn't agree with his basic thesis, he is nonetheless an interesting writer who has an important point worth considering.

I for one definitely think that the U.S. is in deep chimchee, and its problems are only going to get worse. And I also think that Dubya's little adventure in Iraq may go down as the worst foreign policy disaster in all of American history, maybe even in world history.

It's just too bad that Kuntsler lets his peevishness and obscenity get the upperhand sometimes, because they tend to alienate readers who might otherwise be very inclined to sympathize with his viewpoints.

For example, consider his snide remarks of September 17th, where evangelical xtians are dismissed as "the greatest believers in unearned riches." Whatever else they may, the majority of evangelicals hold down jobs, support their families, and pay their bills and taxes; they have to work just like everybody else. (In fact, the Bible commands people to work for a living, see 1 Thess. 4:11.) Therefore, what Kuntsler's little tirade really says in this regard is that he is sometimes plain old ignorant about how a whole category of people actually live. It makes one wonder about whom Kuntsler has for neighbors. Does he even know any flesh-and-blood evangelicals? Or is he just reacting to some stereotype that exists only in his mind?

Anonymous said...

The "war for oil" explanation is simplistic, and the author should fight the temptation to turn it into an easy homily about American excess. "War for oil" may explain our interest in the region, but it does not explain the reasons for the fight, namely, a mix of ideology, political opportunism, simple mistakes, etc. The best way to keep the oil coming would have been to continue the cold war/containment policy (1991-2003) that had, it should be added, costs, both to the US and the Iraqi people, although it is much preferable to the current course.

cheeze_doodles said...

Kunstler's tone is SO snarky and derisive of All things American (listen to his lectures, the way he says "cheeze doodles" and "pepsi" and "747s") that he's only going to have the opposite effect- that is he'll piss people off so much that they'll all run out and get Hummers just to annoy him further.

And he has no real solutions, he just says "Yep, we're all screwed. We'll be living under a rock, rubbing 2 sticks together. starving in the streets. I hate suburbia."

he does not advance the discussion in any way.