Unintended consequences

Three years ago, as the United States was about to invade Iraq, this newspaper asked pointedly, “What will we find in this Pandora’s box called Iraq?” All wars have unintended consequences, we noted, “and this one, in the heart of the most volatile region of the world, is certain to have many.”

And so it has. Analysts have drained barrels of ink recently offering third-anniversary assessments of the unforeseen consequences of the invasion. (See Newslines, beginning on page 10, for our own contribution to the effort.) The consensus seems to be that, because of the inherent disunity of Iraq and the Bush administration’s colossal mismanagement, the war has done far more harm than good. Nobody outside Iraq misses the vile Saddam Hussein, but at least he kept the country from descending into civil war.

If there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s that Americans now have a much greater appreciation for the cost—in lives as well as money—of our addiction to oil. And it comes just as we’re finally waking up to the reality—and incalculable danger—of global warming. Increasingly our congressional leaders, including many Republicans, are calling for a full-scale mobilization of American ingenuity in the service of a national energy independence strategy.

Indeed, the whole world desperately needs new ways of creating and using energy. America can and should lead the way in developing them, with the added benefit that doing so could recharge the nation’s economy. The end of the age of oil can be seen on the bloody sands of Iraq and the melting ice slopes of Greenland. Now is the time to create an energy future based on minimizing oil use while maximizing the use of alternative sources. What greater national purpose could we have?