A naive and recurring question that wakes me up at 2 a.m.
in a cold sweat: Why are we still fighting in Iraq?
The first answer I usually come up with is the one that
once seemed most obvious: We're fighting in Iraq because of the
horrendous 9/11 attack on us. But then I remember: the guy we're
told was responsible for 9/11 isn't an Iraqi. He wasand still is,
we believea resident of Afghanistan.
You remember him: Osama bin Laden.
He doesn't much like Iraqis and they don't much like him.
And how long's it been since our administration mentioned him? He's
become the invisible man and we don't seem much alarmed about it.
So if Osama bin Laden isn't the reason we're fighting in
Iraq, it must be the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. He not only
tried to kill the first President Bush, he killed thousands of his
But then I remember. Saddam isn't with us anymore, having
left last year via the hangman's noose.
So if Saddam is dead and Osama bin Laden is hiding out
somewhere in Afghanistan, the question comes up again: Why are we
still fighting in Iraq?
Are we having a hard time reading a map or what?
But if you're a serious cynic like me, you've got a
sneaking suspicion that we're still fighting in Iraq at least in part
because ofyou guessed itoil. Say it loud and there's music
playing; say it soft and it's almost like praying.
Iraq and Iran sit atop lots and lots of high grade oil.
And if various factions in the two countries would stop killing one
another, the oil would be relatively easy to get at, and it would
appease those of us who consider war a seriously expensive price to
pay for filling our tanks.
How expensive? Pretty damned if you consider how it
causes us to lose support of several political groups in Iraq,
including one called the Sadrists who object to a proposal before the
Iraqi parliament. They object, according to an A.P. story last
Tuesday, because the proposal is being "pushed by the United States
because it would allow foreign investment in the oil industry, which
they say is a plot to give American companies control of Iraqi oil."
Picky, picky, picky.
And another A.P. story on Tuesday rubbed our noses in this
bit of our wild spending:
"The boost in troop levels in Iraq has increased [our]
cost of war there and in Afghanistan to $12 billion a month, with the
overall tally for Iraq alone nearing a half-trillion dollars,
according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which
provides research and analysis to lawmakers."
How many zeros in "a half-trillion dollars"? As an
English major, I always thought that "trillion" was a number like
"gazillion," and that it meant "a whole helluva lot more than you can
The Truth, Mainly
But hold on. There's some good news out there, news that
offers some hope that we might some day be able to reduce our
gargantuan reliance on foreign oil.
Most of that reliance, you already know, is tied up in our
love affairs with our cars. And often the cars that titillate the
most are those that burn the most gasoline.
But last Monday, I was reading the Denver Post and on page
3B came upon a news story that has kept me titillated for seven days
now. That's a titillation longevity record for me.
Here’s what set me off:
Eleven undergraduates from Dartmouth College in New
Hampshire went to Colorado to show off to the state legislature what
they'd done to drive oil companies crazy: they had messed around
with two vehiclesa bus named Big Green Bus, and a Volkswagen Jetta
so they'd run on used (and filtered) vegetable oil that they got free
from "greasy spoon restaurants that normally have to pay to have the
oil taken away."
One Colorado state legislator, Rep. Debbie Bedfield, said
that cars that can run on used vegetable oil constitute "a great hope."
It's the kind of automotive great leap forward that might
help set us free from our dependence on big oil, no matter the
country of origin.
An indelicate question: If undergraduates can come up
with vehicles propelled by used vegetable oil, why can't car company
engineers come up with something better than we've got now?
I'm not going to end this by saying naively that the more
cars that can run on vegetable oil, the less we would need oil from
Iraq and Iran and the earlier we could bring our troops home.
But to a befuddled old English major who likes to lift
lines from Hemingway, it's awfully pretty to think so.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail