As world leaders gather this week to address the United Nations General Assembly, President Bush’s refusal to negotiate on the two key issues of our day–war and global warming–has been stunning. And the media hasn’t helped. Focusing on whether Columbia University should have invited Iran’s President Ahmadinejad to speak, the Bush administration’s drumbeat for war with Iran goes unchallenged. Let this not be a reprise of the war on Iraq.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says in his new memoir: "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: The Iraq War is largely about oil." I asked him to elaborate: "It’s clear to me that were there not the oil resources in Iraq, the whole picture of how that part of the Middle East developed would have been different."
It is an obvious point; it’s just too bad that he wasn’t willing to admit this before the invasion, when, at the Fed, his every utterance influenced decision-makers around the world, most importantly in his own backyard, the White House.
As Naomi Klein, the author of "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism," listened to Greenspan, she pointed out, "Under international law ... it is illegal to wage wars to gain access to other countries’, sovereign countries’, natural resources."
Which brings us to Iran, another oil-rich country. As with Iraq, the Bush administration doesn’t talk about Iran’s oil, but rather claims that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb. Sound familiar? The answer isn’t war; it’s diplomacy. Earlier this week, I spoke with one of Israel’s top political columnists, Akiva Eldar, with the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. He opposes an attack on Iran: "[T]he Middle East is going to be nuclearized in no time. I think that solution should be a regional agreement ... the Middle East should be nuclear-free, including Israel. I think this has to be part of an agreement."
This gathering of world leaders is an ideal moment to hammer out agreements like Eldar recommends, as it is to take on the other crisis fueled by oil: climate change.
On the global-warming front, the opening of the U.N. General Assembly this week coincided with a major meeting on climate change, attended by more than 80 world leaders. As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon kicked off the meeting, he said: "We hold the future in our hands. Together we must ensure that our grandchildren will not have to ask why we have failed to do the right things and left them to suffer the consequences. So let us send a clear and collective signal to people everywhere. Today, let the world know that you are ready to shoulder this responsibility and that you will address this challenge head-on."
Yvo de Boer, a top U.N. climate expert, said: "The United States is still the largest emitter worldwide of greenhouse gases. For that reason and for a number of others, the participation of the U.S. is essential." Yet Bush did not participate in the global meeting. Instead, Bush is hosting an invite-only gathering of "Major Economies" in Washington, D.C., to discuss voluntary caps on greenhouse gas emissions. This is simply not enough. Ban Ki-moon criticized the Bush meeting, saying, "The U.N. climate process is the appropriate forum for negotiating global action."
One of those leaders who came to address the U.N. General Assembly was Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia. While the U.S. rarely looks south for leadership, Morales’ example is worth considering. He has restored diplomatic relations with Iran. Against tremendous internal opposition, he nationalized Bolivia’s natural gas fields, transforming the country’s economic stability, and, interestingly, enriching the very elite that originally criticized the move. (Contrast this with the U.S. pressuring the Iraqi parliament to pass an oil law that would virtually hand over control of Iraq’s oil to the major U.S. oil corporations.) President Morales told me: "Neither mother earth nor life are commodities. We are talking about a profound change of models and systems."
The twin crises of war and climate change, inexorably linked by our thirst for oil, need a concerted global solution–one that won’t be obtained by cowboy diplomacy. The United States must pursue global consensus, not global conquest–before it is too late.