Oil in the Garden of Eden

While decision makers declare wars, ordinary people must try to live in the midst of destruction. Wars are about land acquisition, political power or strategic resources, and a declaration of war includes detailed assessments of the opponent’s land mass, and its access to the resources required to make and sustain a standing army. Soldiers never consider the well being of the noncombatants, the ordinary people of a remote location. That is our mandate as caring, concerned citizens. The decision to invade Iraq had everything to do with acquiring control of its vast petroleum reserves. Since that has been accomplished, how do we make the Iraqi people whole and get on with the business of healing and recociliation?

Mesopotamia, site of modern-day Iraq, has been the site of armed conflict throughout the duration of human history. Known as the Cradle of Civilization, this area at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was also the site of the Babylonian empire. Scholars have long marveled at the well-document contributions of the Babylonians, and their descendants, the Iraqis, in the fields of literature, medicine, mathematics, architecture and philosophy. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, for instance, known as one of the ancient wonders of the world, was a manifestation of human creativity and ingenuity in its highest form. Hammurabi’s Code was the world’s first codification of national laws.

There is ample precedent for hatred between the West and the people of the Midlle East. Pope Urban II in 1095, on the eve of the First Crusade, wrote:

“For this land which you now inhabit, shut in on all sides by the sea and the mountain peaks, is too narrow for your large population; it scarcely furnishes food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you murder and devour one another, that you wage wars, and that many among you perish in civil strife. Let hatred, therefore, depart from among you; let your quarrels end. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulcher; wrest that land from a wicked race, and subject it to yourselves.”

The discovery of oil by the British in 1908 ushered in the current trend toward international involvement in the area now known as Iraq. Kermit Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a 1919 account of his part in the Mesopotamian Campaign of World War I, called War in the Garden of Eden. He stated:

We steamed up past the Island of Abadan, where stand the refineries of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. It is hard to overestimate the important part that company has played in the conduct of the Mesopotamian campaign.

In the current conflict, military objectives were set against the backdrop of a perceived expansion of Al Qaeda, and were hardly questioned by the American public. In fact, for a time, to initiate dialogue or questions about the military objectives in Iraq was considered unpatriotic. However, the primary questions faced by any society contemplating war should be: What are the actual motives for deployment of troops, and conventional weapons to a distant military theater? What does the United States stand to gain by fighting to establish a new political regime in a foreign land? Who are the combatants and what do they stand for?

The American public has never been allowed to fully contemplate these questions in relation to the Iraqi conflict. If we are to have an honest discussion of why we are in Iraq, we have to ask the question: Are we justified in killing Iraqi people to gain control of their oil, and if so, what are the possible historical and spiritual repercussions of that choice? By waging war, we have separated the human family into groups of “us” and “them.” As it relates to American dependence on petroleum, have we projected our fears, our failures and our faults onto “them?” Aren’t we now attempting to wrest their resources from them under the guise of “fixing” them? America’s decision to declare war to obtain oil has been obscured by political rhetoric. Instead of descriptive terms, like ‘women’, ‘children’, or ‘the elderly’, citizens of the attacked country have been referred to simply as insurgents, Al Qaeda , or ‘terrorists.” By not thinking of these individuals as people, we inject suffering and death into their lives without compassion.

In September 2008 hearings before the House Armed Services Committee, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified as to the current status of the war in Iraq and the need for continued assessment of need for assets in Afghanistan. Ranking member Rep. Ike Skelton, D-MO, opened the proceedings with an acknowledgement that the strategy in Iraq has to change:

“First and foremost, let us remember that the idea behind this series of hearings has been to provide Members with a range of insights from former senior policy officials and academics because the impending transfer of administrations offers a potential opportunity to reexamine the nation’s grand strategy, and perhaps make some needed adjustments. ”

Congressman Skelton also acknowledged that the reasons for entering Iraq were possibly contrived, or at best mistaken:

I’m glad to see you both and believe that our nation is well served by your leadership. We should not begin this hearing without recalling how we got here. Iraq was invaded on incorrect information. The turbulent aftermath following the initial military victory was not considered, despite warnings of the aftermath, including two such warnings from me. Now we’re in our sixth year of attempting to quell this horrendous aftermath.

Testimony from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates enumerated the factions involved in the conflict and explored a variety of possible endgames and exit strategies for the war in Iraq, along with the need for allocation of military assets (troops) in Afghanistan.

PETRAEUS: Well, Congressman, as I mentioned in my statement, the stand-down of insurgent groups — or actually, more importantly, the awakening of some insurgent groups to actually actively oppose Al Qaida Iraq and the extremist ideology and violence that they had brought to these local communities has been a very important factor, as has, certainly, the stand-down of the Sadr militia, although we did continue to go after the “special group” elements throughout that time and, in fact, have detained a number of them along with substantial quantities of weapons and documents and so forth that very clearly lay out the role that Iran has played, the contribution that Lebanese Hezbollah has played as well with the Quds force.

Not once did Petraeus depict the military situation in terms of the people affected or the human tragedy involved. That aspect was lost in words like: “extremist, and insurgent.
Perhaps the angels of our better nature will compel us to begin to speak and think of the people of the Middle East as people. The terms we use to describe others dictate our behavior toward them. If America is a nation of believers, and if American might is based on adherence to the rule of moral and Biblical laws, then we have to want the same fate for Iraqi children as we want for our own. Real Christians will speak out clearly and vote for healing and reconciliation in the upcoming election.