Are SUVs Really the Reason for Bush’s War?


At the massive January 18 antiwar demonstration in San Francisco, demonstrators from a group called Environmentalists Against the War carried placards blaming Sports Utility Vehicles for the U.S. war drive against Iraq. “If War is Inevitable, Start Drafting SUV Drivers Now!” said one sign. Another showed a picture of a Ford Explorer and an oil drum, with the slogan “Axle of Evil.”

SUVs have come under attack from environmentalists and other left-wing activists over the past few years–and not only because these vehicles have become a status symbol for yuppies flaunting their wealth.

Most SUVs are inefficient gas guzzlers that produce disproportionately high amounts of carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming. According to the Sierra Club, SUVs “spew out 43 percent more global-warming pollution and 47 percent more air pollution than an average car.”

And in his recent book High and Mighty, journalist Keith Bradsher reports that SUVs “roll over too easily, killing and injuring occupants at an alarming rate, and are dangerous to other road users, inflicting catastrophic damage to cars that they hit and posing a lethal threat to pedestrians.”

Last month, Jeffrey Runge, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that some SUVs are so dangerous he wouldn’t ride in them “if they were the last vehicles on earth.”

But some critics have gone further. In January, the Detroit Project–a group spearheaded by columnist Arianna Huffington–produced two TV ads blasting SUV drivers for damaging national security, on the grounds that money spent on gas for the vehicles goes to Middle Eastern oil-producing states that fund terrorists.

The ads were partly intended to mock those silly government public service announcements that claim drug users fund terrorism. But intentionally or not, the Detroit Project ads promote a racist stereotype that Middle Easterners are terrorists.

Underlying both the Detroit Project and the sentiments of demonstrators who carried anti-SUV signs at the January 18 demonstration is the belief that the Bush administration’s war on Iraq is motivated in part by a need to grab Iraq’s oil resources so SUV drivers can keep their vehicles on the road.

But pointing the finger at SUVs is wrong for two reasons. In the first place, this faults consumers, rather than auto manufacturers and oil companies, for the fact that SUVs are inefficient. We desperately need more efficient methods of transportation. But the big auto and oil companies contribute millions of dollars to both Democrats and Republicans to prevent the passage of tougher fuel efficiency requirements and air pollution standards.

In addition, the U.S. “automobile-industrial complex” has worked hard to undermine public transit and research into renewable energy. And because auto companies earn 80 percent of their profits from SUVs and other light trucks, they advertise them relentlessly to convince people to buy them. If we’re going to draft anybody first, perhaps it should be the auto and oil executives.

But there’s a second misconception behind the idea that this is a war for SUV drivers. It is undoubtedly true that a large part of the Bush administration’s motivation for going to war with Iraq is increasing U.S. control over Middle Eastern oil resources. But this isn’t primarily to satisfy the needs of U.S. consumers.

Oil is the most important commodity in the world, vital for both industry and the military. Even when consumer demand was much lower, Washington still wanted to control the world’s oil supplies. In the 1940s, the State Department described the Middle East’s oil as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” This is the reason why the U.S. has intervened repeatedly in the Middle East over the past half century.

Capitalist economies aren’t driven by consumer demand, but by the need of capitalists to make profits. If we want to change the nature of the system–including its tendency to destroy the environment and its drive towards war–we need to change the way production is organized, not point moralistic fingers at SUV drivers or other consumers.

PHIL GASPER writes for the Socialist Worker.


November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration
John Wight
After Paris: Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large
Joseph G. Ramsey
No Excuses, No Exceptions: the Moral Imperative to Offer Refuge
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS Thrives on the Disunity of Its Enemies
Andrew Moss
The Message of Montgomery: 60 Years Later
Jim Green
James Hansen’s Nuclear Fantasies
Robert Koehler
The Absence of History in the Aftermath of Paris
Dave Lindorff
The US Media and Propaganda
Dave Randle
France and Martial Law
Gilbert Mercier
If We Are at War, Let’s Bring Back the Draft!
Alexey Malashenko
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Binoy Kampmark
Closing the Door: US Politics and the Refugee Debate