View Full Version : General Abizaid On Iraq: "Of Course It's About Oil, We Can't Really Deny That"

10-16-2007, 12:20 PM
Roundtable debates energy issues
All-star panel calls for climate change research, market solutions


By Gerry Shih and Susana Montes
October 15, 2007

***Correction: In this article, The Daily inaccurately attributed a comment equating countries in the Arab world to gas stations to retired Army General John Abizaid. The comment was actually made by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.***

When it comes to football, according to coach Jim Harbaugh, Stanford bows to no one. Apparently, the bar is also set pretty high when it comes to impressing alums at Homecoming.

In front of a half-filled Maples Pavilion on Saturday morning, University organizers rolled out a round table presentation entitled “Courting Disaster: The Fight for Oil, Water and a Healthy Planet.” CNN host Carlos Watson J.D. ‘95 moderated as retired four-star Army Gen. John Abizaid, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Dean of the School of Earth Sciences Pamela Matson, New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman, Edison International CEO John Bryson ‘65 and President John Hennessy shared their thoughts on Middle Eastern geopolitics, Constitutional law and democracy and the specter of dwindling resources and climate change.

While the event yielded neither groundbreaking nor particularly inspired discussion, the audience of mostly alumni - including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor ‘50, L.L.B. ‘52 — witnessed an exhibition of Stanford’s influence and prestige as these leading figures in international affairs, government and energy development gathered at the Farm for a highlight event of Reunion Weekend 2007.

The timely discussion also reaffirmed the University’s pledge to set climate change and alternative energy research as a top academic priority. The day before, Al Gore and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on global warming.

“Climate change is the problem of our times,” Hennessy told the audience. He urged Stanford and other research institutions to provide overwhelming evidence to put global warming beyond doubt, saying that “the universities and scientists need to play its role.”

Hennessy pronounced his vision of Stanford becoming a leader of green scientific research in a movement that he hopes will mirror how Silicon Valley blossomed around the campus in the second half of the 20th century.

“Let’s make this the Silicon and Green Valley,” Hennessy declared. “This is the head of a new revolution in green technology.”

Friedman, a New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, called green technology “the next great global industry.” Entrepreneurs will not ultimately be motivated by conscience to improve energy efficiency, he said. Rather, businesses will find it in their best interests to explore green tech as it emerges into a highly lucrative — and therefore attractive — business opportunity.

Yet the panelists did not appear confident in a laissez-faire approach.

Bryson, the head of Southern California’s largest energy provider and a former University trustee, said the creation of government incentives would further help push businesses in the right direction. Development of alternative energy sources takes time and carries high inevitable costs, he said. In the meantime, Bryson told panelists, the business model should urge costumers to buy energy-efficient products.

Friedman added that the consumer side must also be tinkered with to create disincentive schemes such as congestion pricing for commuters during rush hour.

“If you never trigger the market, you’ll never trigger the solution,” Friedman said.

Matson, a distinguished scholar in environmental studies and recent recipient of the MacArthur “Genius Grant,” said the conscious decisions of ordinary people sum up to considerable environmental impact. She advocated making green choices like more efficient light bulbs and cars with higher miles per gallon ratings, and she acknowledged the necessity of investment in research and development to achieve long-lasting results. Along with Hennessy, Matson criticized advocates of corn-based ethanol as shortsighted and called for long-term research investment.

“We have to push really hard as a nation and as a world. It is going to cost, but we have to start,” she said.

While Hennessy, Matson, Friedman and Bryson discussed green technology, the subject of America’s operations in Iraq was also a hotly debated topic. Abizaid, who was formerly the Commander of the United States Central Command, quickly established a connection between the two topics.

“Of course it’s about oil, we can’t really deny that,” Abizaid said of the Iraq campaign early on in the talk.

“We’ve treated the Arab world as a collection of big gas stations,” the retired general said. “Our message to them is: Guys, keep your pumps open, prices low, be nice to the Israelis and you can do whatever you want out back. Osama and 9/11 is the distilled essence that represents everything going on out back.”

Abizaid said the current strategy was failing because American armed forces are not adequately supported by civilian branches of government. A much more heavily involved Department of State, Agriculture, CIA and DEA are needed to help stabilize regions in the Middle East, he said.

“I’d rather have more members of the State Department on the field than soldiers on the field,” Abizaid said.

Although the general acknowledged that America is “not making the progress we need to be making” in Iraq, he argued in his final remarks against a military pullout.

“The world is too small to turn our back and we can’t walk away,” he said. “To retreat from the role that needs us would be the greatest crime of all.”

Related to the war effort abroad is the list of domestic issues of constitutional significance beginning with — but not limited to — the treatment of so-called “enemy combatants” detained at Guantanamo Bay.

Breyer cut an animated figure on the stage with jokes and laughter, but his nuanced logic and circumspect caution toward Watson’s questioning stood in contrast with the other panelists who favored the rhetoric of sweeping objectives, relentless effort and grand revolutions. When he addressed how to balance national security in wartime with civil liberties, he said, “no one knows exactly what the answer is.”

But he said during a period of war and national tension, when the government gets “caught up in righteousness,” the courts “can serve as a brake.”

He championed the need for democratic conversation, involving clarity and the participation of ordinary people in order to find the correct balance and the answers to our constitutional questions.

“What is at the heart of the spirit of liberty is not being too sure of ourselves and engaging in that conversation,” he said. “Out of that we hope will emerge the solutions we are talking about.”