Can You Spell Withdrawal without O-I-L?

Neither Jack Murtha, the congressman who set the cable news networks afire this weekend, or Frank Rich, the lead dog on the New York Times Sunday op-ed page, mentioned the word "oil" once. I only mention it myself because it would be nice if we could have a coherent public discussion about staying or going in Iraq, and you can't do that without talking about the oil of the Middle East.

But it does illustrate how deep the national denial runs and how foggy the debate gets. Even poor George W. Bush seems to think we're in Iraq in order to turn the people into Jeffersonian democrats, so the only issue for his opponents is whether that is possible or not.

Maybe we ought to ask: what happens to the oil supply of the Crusader West when none of its representatives maintains a garrison in the Middle East? I use the term Crusader not to be cute, but to remind you how Europe and America are viewed by many people of the Middle East. They don't like us. They have a longstanding beef with us. Some of them would like to punish us.

America is leading the current crusade because we are the society most desperately addicted to oil, and the Middle East is where two-thirds of the world's remaining oil lies. The one thing that we apparently cannot bring ourselves to talk about is our addiction itself. The commuters whizzing around the edge cities and metroplexes of this land probably got a big charge out of Congressman Murtha's anti-war blast taking over drive-time radio last Friday. I wonder if they thought about how it might affect their commuting.

This whole spectacle -- both the inept war itself and our debate about it here at home -- is particularly shameful for the official opposition, my party, the Democrats, because we could be talking about the so-called elephant-in-the-room, namely how we live in America and the tragic choices we've made, and the things we might do to change that -- but the party leadership is too brain-dead or craven to do that. As long as we don't, we're going to be wrassling a tarbaby in the Middle East.

Unless an anti-war opposition has a plan to withdraw from the project of suburban sprawl, we're going to have to keep soldiers in Iraq, if not in the cities, then out in desert bases guarding the oil works and keeping planes ready to fly in case some al-Zarqawi-type maniac mounts a coup in Saudi Arabia. It would certainly be legitimate for the Democratic party to oppose the idea that we can continue to be crippled by car-dependency, or that we ought to keep subsidizing that way of life -- which Vice-president Cheney called "non-negotiable." We'd better negotiate that or somebody else is going to negotiate it for us, and that is exactly what they are doing with IED's in Iraq and elsewhere.

But without that part of the argument, the debate in congress and on the airwaves is just stupid, because we've left ourselves no real choice.

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