Ian McEwan is regarded as one of the Britain's greatest living novelists. His latest book, Saturday, deals with a happy, comfortable, accomplished professional from Oxford -- much like Ian McEwan -- getting into a spot of bother on the day of the great London protest against the upcoming Iraq war. In an interview last week with Salon.com, McEwan voiced his "pathetic" but persistent ambivalence about Bush and Blair's awfully great adventure in Babylon.
Ambivalence is all well and good, of course, especially in a novelist, who must deal in the rich complexities and unsiftable confusions of human reality. But one's ambivalence must be informed, enlightened, born from a far-reaching 'negative capability' that can embrace opposites or various perspectives and hold them together in a fruitful, dynamic tension that can yield new insights.
But there is nothing of this in McEwan's ambivalence about the Iraq inferno. He tells Salon: "Some of the antiwar arguments have been exploded. If the U.S. only wanted lots of oil, think of the oil futures it could have bought for the price of invading Iraq. All the world's oil for the next 50 years for the $280 billion spent."
This glib "analysis" betrays a painful ignorance of political reality. First of all, the "war for oil" argument has never been, "The U.S. only wants lots of oil." That's strawman-making with a vengeance. The charge -- fully substantiated by the Bush gang's own copious writings about their geopolitical ambitions ("Project for the New American Century," et al) -- is that a group of elite interests in the U.S. want to control access to world energy resources in order to maintain and expand their own power and privilege (which they equate with "American interests"), and to put the squeeze on any potential rivals for geopolitical predominance in the coming decades, such as China and India. Whoever has their hand on the oil spigot -- or controls, by threats and bribes, those who do -- can shape the future to their own ends. This power is what the Bushist elite wants, not just the actual black stuff under the ground.
Second, it's ridiculous to imagine that Bush could have gone to Congress and the American people and asked for $280 billion to buy oil futures. And even if he had, what if Saddam, or OPEC, or Hugo Chavez, or Putin, had refused to sell them? Why on earth would any of them have mortgaged their futures and guaranteed their subservience by selling one country "all the world's oil for the next 50 years"? This is a ludicrous assertion.
No, the only Bush way could grab such enormous loot from the public treasury for his cronies was by frightening and manipulating the American people into war. And McEwan's strawman reductionism also overlooks the fact that war is not only profitable for Bush's oil allies (who are now pulling in unfathomable profits), but also (as mentioned in the previous post), the arms manufacturers, giant construction and servicing cartels like Bechtel and Halliburton, the "private equity firms" and investment houses like Carlyle, and so on.
To his credit, McEwan goes on to say, "But I do think the body count is a very dark side of the argument." That's true. Murdering tens of thousands of innocent people in order enrich a few oligarchs and maintain the happy, comfortable, accomplished lifestyles of happy, comfortable, accomplished professionals in the "Coalition" countries is indeed a "dark side of the argument."
So dark, in fact, you'd think it would be hard to remain "ambivalent" about it.
For more on the theme of moral costs and dark arguments, see The Karmazov Question.