- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 15, 2002

Assume the worst motives when America is inching toward war, and that might make you feel sophisticated and morally superior, but here is what it won't make you: right. The many Europeans who suppose America's interest in Iraq is largely an issue of oil hunger need to suppose again.
Their attitudes indicative, perhaps, of how they misconstrue still other matters are revealed in a Pew Research Center poll of how people in various parts of the world view their own lives and countries and America, and how they size up the war on terror and a possible U.S. war against Saddam Hussein.
They know Saddam is bad news. While "huge majorities in France, Germany and Russia oppose the use of force," the poll finds "a significant degree of agreement in Europe that Iraq is a threat to the stability of the Middle East and to world peace." Many think it important to scoot Saddam out of power. Disarmament is not enough.
And yet, the researchers tell us, Europeans are suspicious of U.S. motives.
"Large percentages in each country polled think that the U.S. desire to control Iraqi oil is the principal reason that Washington is considering a war against Iraq," says the poll's summary. "In Russia, 76 percent subscribe to a war-for-oil view; so too do 75 percent of the French, 54 percent of the Germans and 44 percent of the British."
Enter Daniel Yergin, chairman of the Cambridge Energy Research Associates and author of a Pulitzer-winning book on oil. I read an interesting opinion piece by him in The Washington Post, and gave him a call. Consider his facts and analysis:
While Iraq has huge amounts of oil, it does not produce much just 3 percent of everything and the United States receives some of that now. For Iraq to produce much more than that would take many years. Meanwhile, America's oil comes mostly from Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Venezuela. If there's a place to worry about right now, it's turmoil-ridden Venezuela, Mr. Yergin told me. In another seven to 10 years, he said, Russia could be a major source for the United States.
If there is a successful war, it does not follow that American oil companies will be in clover. Iraq will need oil dollars to rebuild and will hang onto as many of those dollars as possible. Iraq also will need capital, and U.S. companies would likely join with companies from other countries to provide that capital, but the consequence is highly unlikely to be a bonanza for U.S. oil interests.
Given such points, why are some Europeans so willing to imagine an American administration whose contemplation of war is fueled by oil ambitions?
While some in this country are prone to fawn over Europe's worldly-wise ways, Europe can hardly make claim to a record of wisdom and moral rectitude superior to ours over the past century. The Continent has known some fair amount of corruption, which might explain why so many of its inhabitants look to corruption as a way of explaining difficult facts of life. Europeans have also shrunk from responsibility on some international issues, and may want to rationalize their failure.
I think the heart of it is that Europeans while they recognize some kinship with us chafe at an American wealth, power and influence they think should be theirs. There is, in short, resentment, which is not to say America is never wrong or overweening.
The real reasons a war with Iraq might be necessary are clear: Saddam is a megalomaniacal, irrationally ambitious tyrant who has sponsored terrorists, has a record of genocide, has attacked neighboring states, has disregarded U.N. resolutions, hates the West, has aimed to accumulate weapons of mass murder and who may someday arrange for a nuclear bomb to destroy London, Washington, New York or elsewhere.
Most Americans, while reluctant to engage in this war if there is a way out, seem to understand as much; only 22 percent subscribe to the idea that a quest for oil is the motivating factor behind the possible use of military force. The administration can try to explain itself better to those Europeans who don't get it or refuse to get it, but in the end, they mainly have to be honest with themselves.

Jay Ambrose is director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers.


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