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"This whole damn thing is about oil, isn't it?"   (November 11, 2005-Veteran's Day)

Today we honor all those who either volunteered or were called to serve the nation in the armed forces. It is right and fitting that we not only honor each individual, but take a hard look at the causes they were called upon to fight for.

In this light, I call your attention to a prescient film from 1975, Three Days of the Condor starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. The film has long been one of my Top Ten favorites for the quality of the acting and the screenplay, and for the importance of the theme: that a secret network could operate within the intelligence community beneath the radar of legitimate agency oversight.

The film seems especially prescient now, given that the fictional network's goal was planning a U.S. invasion of the Mideast. Voila, 30 years later, the U.S. has invaded the Mideast. When the Redford character finally confronts the rogue C.I.A. leader of the plan, he connects the dots and says, "This whole damn thing is about oil, isn't it?" Exactly.

Let's be clear about why the U.S. Armed Forces are in Iraq, rather than, say, Ecuador or Nepal: it's the strategic importance of the region's oil. Yes, the plan is to transform Iraq into a democratic nation, which will lead the entire region in that direction. But the U.S. isn't committing its treasure and citizenry to all troubled regions of the globe equally; we are in Iraq because it is the strategic linchpin of the region. Without access to the Mideast oil reserves, the world economy would be shaken to its foundations.

There are many troubled, undemocratic regions in the world--for example, much of Africa; yet we fight now to establish democracy in only one troubled region, the Mideast. Coincidence? No. Simple self-interest. As the Cliff Robertson character says at the film's conclusion: "When the people are cold and their engines stop running, they're not going to ask us why; they'll just want us to go get it."

Realizing that he is an embarrassment to the C.I.A. (the inevitable role of any whistleblower, even a reluctant one), at the film's end Redford gives the entire story to the New York Times. The Robertson character, a C.I.A. station chief who was caught off-guard by the hidden conspiracy, says, "But will they print it?" Redford is taken aback at the implication--that the government could pressure the media to suppress the story--and then he avers, less confidently, "They'll print it."

This is the core of democracy: that a free press keeps a government answerable to its people. Without a free and skeptical press, all the elections in the world mean nothing.

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copyright © 2005 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.

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