Once upon a time there was a peasant woman and a very wicked woman she was. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell to God; 'She once pulled up an onion in her garden,' said he, 'and gave it to a beggar woman.' And God answered: 'You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.' The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her. 'Come,' said he, 'catch hold and I'll pull you out.' he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. 'I'm to be pulled out, not you. It's my onion, not yours.' As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day. -- Grushenka's story in The Brothers Karamazov
My guardian angel in New York City, T., must have remembered some onion I had given away, because he sent me the money to deliver me from my current hell. Now the question is -- am I any better than that miserly peasant woman?
Why do I have a heavy suspicion the answer is no?
Since my time, right now, is dedicated to finding an extra-literary position and finishing a novel I have idly been scribbling for the last couple of years, I am not going to be putting out these dense posts any more. But I'll put them out now and then.
Lately I've been thinking about the politics of oil. I felt, at the very beginning of the fight over the War, that the petro aspect of the thing was horribly distorted by misunderstandings about the oil business.
When OPEC formed, the seven sister oil companies did everything they could to destroy it. But after the seventies, the international structure of petroleum production stabilized, with OPEC in the center. Sure, some oil cowboys dreamed of upending the cartel, but oil companies adapted and, inevitably, took advantage of OPEC's structure.
Bush is a mediocre oilman, and absorbed all the floating prejudices in the trade. So I think, at least, that he was not inclined to upset a system in the Middle East that he, and his buds, were accustomed to. The revolution in his thinking occured after 9/11, when he was genuinely persuaded to act against his previous biases. In a sense, the belligerents were right: the War wasn't about oil.
But they were only half-right, and the half they were right about is typical. The thinking about the War didn't extend beyond the War. And that is turning out to be... another war. Actually, the second phase of the old one. The occupation, we think, is all about oil. The stupidity of the occupiers derives from their grand, and ultimately futile, scheme. This scheme is to resurrect that old dream of breaking OPEC.
In the oil business, such turn-about of projects are not uncommon. The wildcatter myth is a strong and persistent cultural constant among these people. And that is exactly what Bremer's administration is acting like: it's a wildcatter occupation.
Why are we in Iraq? Beyond the claims about security and democracy, there is always entwined a little phrase about promoting "free enterprise." When Colin Powell was last interviewed on NPR, he managed to slip that in to his responses so smoothly that he was never asked about it. However, it isn't a little thing: it is the only thing. The goal of selling off Iraq's nationalized oil business is at the dead center of the behavior of the occupiers.
It is, of course, futile. As we are learning, and will learn, oil in Iraq depends on a delicate and easily disruptible infrastructure of pipes. It is going to be quite easy for any resistance group to do significant damage to those pipes. But that is a minor technical point. The major point is that there is not only not a popular demand in Iraq to privatize the oil biz -- there is almost no demand to privatize the oil biz.
For that reason, the occupiers are keeping Iraqis from exercizing any authentic authority. But notice how these things build. As we try to move towards re-constructing Iraq in our fantasy image, we have to secure ourselves as occupiers. As we secure ourselves as occupiers, we alienate more and more of the occupied. As we alienate more and more of the occupied, we have to put off devolving power on Iraqis for fear that they will represent that alienation.
If, in fact, we simply wanted an ally in the Middle East, we had, and still, perhaps, have a perfect opportunity. We accrued considerable good will for evicting Saddam. How can that good will be dissipated most easily? By a continued resistance to giving power to Iraqis. The idea that Iraqis will like us more in the future, which is the premise of Bremer and crew, is counter-intuitive. That doesn't usuallly happen in occupations. Sure, when the US and Russia occupied Germany, and when Japan was occupied, that might have happened. However, that is because Germany and Japan were absolutely devestated. The firebombing of Tokyo that happened in one single night killed four times as many people as died on all sides in the late War. Having broken the spirit of the people, occupation was not resented -- at least consciously -- by the occupiers, who felt considerable guilt and shame. And even then, the traditional economic structures of both countries -- Japan and Germany -- survived pretty much intact. The Iraqi occupation is in the mode of Napoleon's occupation of Spain, Japan's occupation of China, or the Nazi occupation of France -- the people in those countries were not cowed. Or, one could say, in the case of France, gradually recovered their spirits. Iraqis in particular aren't cowed -- they don't feel defeated as a people.
Eventually, someone will ask Colin Powell about the 'free enterprise' he slips into his responses. Maybe in, what, a year?