The Fourth of July was cool and rainy in Vermont, as it seems to be with surprising regularity. I suppose that’s why my town sets off its fireworks on the evening of July 3rd, which was perfect for pyrotechnics this year.

Fireworks finished, I had all day Wednesday to contemplate this year’s version of American liberty. The Fourth of July 1776 was a profound date, because it meant the end of the colonists’ rebellion and the beginning of the American nation. Until that date, the dispute between the British government and its American subjects – from massacres and “tea parties” in Boston to pitched battles in New England and the Carolinas – had been a violent form of citizens petitioning their government.

The Continental Congress wanted the British Parliament to grant the colonies more autonomy in deciding affairs here on the ground, rather than dictating events from London and of course, there was the matter of taxes. America was a land rich in resources, but depended on England for material goods. In a large part, our rebellion was about money.

On July 4th 1776, the rebellion became revolution. In the previous year, the colonists realized America didn’t need England. With our resources and our people, we were more than capable of determining our own fate. If England didn’t want our trade; we could just as easily trade with the French, the Dutch and the Spanish. Although the British army secured our borders, particularly our frontier, with garrisoned outposts, those troops were increasingly supplanted by soldiers from the Continental Army, people like Colonel George Washington, who requested a commission in the regular British Army, but was turned down.

Many of the actual British troops were clustered in New York and Boston, causing resentment among the locals, especially when they were forced to lodge soldiers in their homes. The behavior of the British regulars toward colonists was often boorish, sometimes criminal.

Given all this, the Declaration of Independence was not merely a statement of political philosophy, it was a reflection of the situation on ground by a people who had had enough and realized they didn’t have to be bullied anymore.

In Iraq (you had to see this coming), the United States is pressing the legislature to pass an oil law. Getting this law on the books is one of the famous “benchmarks” on the road to the withdrawal of American troops. It is the most important benchmark for George Bush, Dick Cheney and their oil company cronies. The oil law the US is trying to force on Iraq would ensure foreign oil companies have permanent access to Iraq’s oil fields. That’s what the invasion and occupation were about: oil. The US isn’t going to let it slip away.

Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson admitted this the other day, creating a media storm as Prime Minister John Howard struggled vainly to get the lid back on Pandora’s box.

The Iraqi Parliament, realizing today what the Continental Congress realized 231 years ago, is in no hurry to pass the US-dictated oil law. A version of the law was passed by the cabinet, with support of 13 out of 37 ministers. I know, 13 of 37 is a minority, but substantial numbers of ministers from both Shi’ite and Sunni blocs have been boycotting cabinet meetings. Thirteen votes represented a majority of those present. The law still has to be passed by the legislature as a whole, an event still a long way off, even though many US media outlets reported earlier this week that the law had actually been passed.

Mr. Bush spent much of his holiday on the phone to Iraq, attempting to coax politicians of various political stripes to pass his law. He can’t bother to rouse himself to speak to members of Congress about immigration or health care or restoring the Gulf Coast, but when there’s oil to be had or a crony to be pardoned, Gorge Bush is all action.

An amendment has been offered by legislators allied with Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr which, while keeping the door open to foreign oil companies, would exclude companies from nations that are keeping armed forces in Iraq. That amendment will almost certainly be dropped, but the “coalition” will look pretty foolish in the meantime, denying that it’s about the oil.

On the other side of the civil war, a Sunni cleric has issued a fatwa, or religious edict, forbidding Sunni legislators from approving the US version of the oil law

Finally, something both sides can agree on.

© Mark Floegel, 2007