In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, Daniel Henninger maintains that "Saddam will re-arm, and re-arm again, so long as oil flows beneath his
feet." This is not necessarily true. Iraqi oil, in fact, presents
interesting opportunity for a peaceful solution to the problems posed by the current government of Iraq.
Many critics of George Bush argue that what the U.S. is really interested
in is Iraqi oil. I believe that these critics are correct, but that
badly misunderstand the actual nature of our interest in that oil.
Access to oil needed to run our country is not the problem. The countries, including Iraq, which sell oil to the U.S. don't do it because they like
us, but because they like our money. We will always be able to buy as
much oil as we want as long as we are willing to pay the world market
price. And the money we pay for this oil is not "lost" to our economy,
since the sellers do not put the money in a mattress but use it instead to buy things that we produce.
Nor are we interested, if we can believe Colin Powell, in seizing the economic "rental" value of Iraq's oil. Powell recently stated that if the U.S. overthrows Saddam Hussein it will hold the oil "in trust" for the people of Iraq, which means the proceeds would be used for their benefit, not that of the U.S.
The real problem created by Iraq's oil is the uses to which Saddam Hussein is putting the money he gets for it: developing and producing weapons of mass destruction. He could use such weapons to take over neighboring countries and build an empire, and some people fear he might provide them to terrorist groups.
Since 1991 U.N. sanctions have limited Iraq's oil exports and tried to assure that all proceeds would go to import things useful to Iraq's people, not weapons. But these sanctions have been evaded, and to the extent they have been successful are the basis for claims that our policies kill innocent children by depriving them of medicines and other needed goods.
Here is how we can put an end to the present problems with a win-win
solution: The UN could offer to end the sanctions and let Iraq export all the oil it wishes, provided that all of the revenue from such exports go directly into a trust fund to be administered by the UN.
The UN would periodically distribute all the money in the trust fund, issuing a social dividend to every man, woman, and child living in Iraq. Each person (including Saddam Hussein!) would get an absolutely equal dividend, somewhat like oil revenues are currently being handled in Alaska. The money would never pass through the hands of the Iraqi government, and could not be subject to Iraqi income tax.
Secretary Powell's promise to hold Iraqi oil in trust for the Iraqi people could thus be kept quite literally, but without having to have a costly war in order to do so.
A social dividend system would be highly popular in Iraq. Indeed, if Hussein turned down such an eminently reasonable offer, Iraqis might finally rise up to take him down. Inspections might no longer be necessary, because the huge oil rents would no longer be flowing to the Iraqi government and allowing it to spend lavishly on weapons development. Legitimate security concerns of other countries would be taken care of, peacefully, and in a way which benefits virtually all Iraqis.
It is true that this scheme would not benefit Saddam Hussein. It would
prevent him from building that empire. But life is tough! Let's
him an offer he can't turn down, much as he might like to.
Availability of a peaceful means to achieve the legitimate goals of the U.S. and other countries destroys the arguments in favor of war. Why use a meat ax to do surgery when a simple injection in Saddam Hussein's derriere would do the job?
Senator Everett Dirksen once said that " the oil can is mightier than the sword." Perhaps the senator was on to something.
Paul F. deLespinasse is professor emeritus of political science at Adrian College in Michigan. The general idea of a social dividend for distributing the net rental value of scarce natural resources to all members of a population is discussed in his virtual book, The Metaconstitutional
Manifesto: A Bourgeois Vision of the Classless Society (1998), which is available without cost for reading, linking, and printing for free or at-cost distribution via www.adrian.edu/pdeles.html. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.