Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

So What WAS The War About?

Merrick, 15th February 2004ce

We knew it wasn’t about Weapons of Mass Destruction. And now, despite Colin Powell’s satellite photos and Tony Blair’s confident assurance that he had ‘no doubt whatsoever’ that WMD would be found in Iraq, the inevitably fruitless search has been called off.

It clearly wasn’t about removal of a despotic regime; not when so many others are so actively supported by the West, not when we could’ve removed Saddam Hussain at any time since he came to power (rather than giving him money and guns).

The continued interest in the David Kelly case is not really to do with one politically-inspired death or politicians lying to parliament. Those things happen all the time. The interest is great because the Kelly affair assaults the flimsy and fake premise for the war. It adds to the evidence that we were lied to.

The case for war is being frequently and convincingly rubbished, yet the bit that's always missing is the obvious follow-on question. What was it really for?

A common answer is that it is ‘empire building’. But we live in a time when empires are unpopular with the citizens of the colonists as well as the colonised. Empires bring with them the troublesome responsibility of government and political administration. When we were a colonial power we had to take responsibility for what happened in the empire.

In the old days of Empire we’d train local people to use our guns on their own insurgents. It’s still the same today, they just don’t wear our uniforms. Nowadays if, say, the Indonesian military use their training from the British army and their British weapons to commit genocide, the British can point the finger at the Indonesian government and deny any responsibility. The modern big powers know they can get the best of both worlds by forcing smaller nations to give us what we want and buy from us what we dictate.

The leaders of western nations are not stupid. Sure, Bush himself is no bright spark, but the administration he’s mascot for are very shrewd and experienced politicians and business people. In the UK our leader is the most accomplished politician of his generation. These people know that empires are not popular with the electorate. They know that a long-term war – as Iraq surely is – is difficult to sell to the public, that it will cost them in terms of popularity. Indeed, it may still prove to be Tony Blair’s undoing.

So the only logical conclusion is that the real reason for war is something so great, so vital that it easily outweighs the unpopularity of having some your electorate killed under a banner of bare-faced lies.

There are very few issues that could be so important to us. There is only one that could involve occupying Iraq and putting it into the hands of a compliant regime. It is, as so many have said, all about oil. This war is a tiny issue within a far greater one, a dependency so omnipresent and intrinsic that we don’t even notice it as an issue.

Our consumption of fossil fuels, what happens when they run out and how their use ruins the environment are the most important issues we have to face; all else is pathetically trivial by comparison. We have to awaken and realise that we cannot depend on ever increasing consumption of an ever decreasing resource. It has to stop sometime and that time is, by all credible accounts, starting now.

Oil is not just cars. It is the fuel that transports all our goods. It is the fertilisers that give us such bumper crop yields, it is the machinery that harvests and delivers it to us, it is the plastics that keep it fresh. It is the raw material for everything from pacemakers to binliners, it is the essential power for all our goods and services. It is the main prop upon which our present civilisation rests.

Whilst we may hate a leader who would kill and maim in our name, it is nothing compared to how we will feel about the leader who takes our oil away from us. The time has come when the two things are one: we can have our oil consumption only if we have war.

The Bush administration is comprised of people from the top of the oil industry, all intelligent and well-informed on oil issues. They know that demand will exceed supply within 15 years, and that to preserve the western way of life for longer they must have strong military control of the oil supply.

Furthermore, that is also the time when the oil companies will make their biggest money. Whilst the trappings of cheap plentiful oil will go, those who will pay for the remaining oil will really pay for it.

Having troops in the middle east not only keeps the oil coming to the west, it puts the west in control of everyone else’s oil. As China’s industry expands at a flabbergasting rate the expansion of the middle class and car ownership makes China ever thirstier for oil.

And herein we find the reason for the war in Afghanistan. It was clearly not to do with building a pipeline to tap the Caspian oilfields - not when that oil can come to us by a Western-friendly route without the Afghan mountains and their ungoverned armed militias.

Some of the biggest US military bases in the world are in Afghanistan. Why do this to simply install a western-friendly power?

It falls into place when you just look at a map. Afghanistan is the buffer between China and the middle eastern oil fields. In 10 years time, with China's oil consumption rocketing and the middle east being the only sizeable oil supply left, a Fortress Afghanistan is the way to defend the oil for us in the west.

Frighteningly, by that point the Chinese population will not only have a massive thirst for oil. The Chinese single-child families policy has led to people killing their baby girls, and a disproportionately large amount of boys in the under-10s. In 10-15 years, that's hundreds of thousands of spare 20 year old men. An army ready to sacrifice.

The oil wars are only just beginning. As long as we have leaders who have vested interests in oil companies and who have no interest beyond five or ten years, we will not have a long term solution. We will have war.

Aside from war, there are two other possible approaches to the coming Oil Crash. One is to simply pay the vast prices the oil-producers will charge once scarcity begins. Such funds would have to come from somewhere, and if we take that route we can start by kissing goodbye to the entire welfare state and try to deal with the ensuing social collapse and unrest.

Both war and paying the profiteers merely delay the social problems of the end of cheap plentiful oil while we keep guzzling.

The second alternative approach is the one with the long-term view. Oilfields run out slowly. Unlike gas, where you wake up one day and it’s gone, oil production will decrease by about 3% a year. If the people of the world want it, we could simply agree to cut our oil consumption by 3% a year, every year. Everyone who consumes oil can do it.

This would give us time to shift some of our energy production to other sources and, because no alternative source can give us anything like the amount of energy we currently consume, we will also have time to figure out less intensive and simpler ways of living. This is clearly not only the humane solution, but the only one that thinks beyond the end of oil. It is the only sensible way forward.

It’s not enough to do this in your own life. It takes pretty much everyone – certainly all us westerners - to be on board. It will not be popular at first; very few people want to join a campaign to have less than they do now. But once people are clear that the cheap plentiful oil is going to run out, once they can envision the terror and misery they are inflicting on their children if any other route is taken, it will be the one we have to choose.