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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

25 March 2006

War for oil, again

I came across this updated version of the argument that America went into Iraq for oil. This is from Greg Palast, an investigative journalist:

“And what did the USA want Iraq to do with Iraq’s oil? The answer will surprise many of you: and it is uglier, more twisted, devilish and devious than anything imagined by the most conspiracy-addicted blogger. The answer can be found in a 323-page plan for Iraq's oil secretly drafted by the State Department. Our team got a hold of a copy; how, doesn't matter. The key thing is what’s inside this thick Bush diktat: a directive to Iraqis to maintain a state oil company that will ‘enhance its relationship with OPEC.’

Enhance its relationship with OPEC??? How strange: the government of the United States ordering Iraq to support the very OPEC oil cartel which is strangling our nation with outrageously high prices for crude.” Specifically, the system ordered up by the Bush cabal would keep a lid on Iraq's oil production -- limiting Iraq's oil pumping to the tight quota set by Saudi Arabia and the OPEC cartel. There you have it. Yes, Bush went in for the oil -- not to get more of Iraq's oil, but to prevent Iraq producing too much of it.” (link)

Let’s put aside that a 323-page report has been summarized into “enhance its relationship with OPEC.” This article is a shorter version of a video that Greg Palast did for BBC’s Newsnight (link). The video covers more material and offers more nuance than this simplified story. For example, Palast writes that “‘It's about oil,’ Robert Ebel told me.” In fact, Ebel says that people think it’s about oil and that he disagrees. He says the invasion is about getting rid of Saddam Hussein and that the day after is about oil. Not quite the same thing as Palast’s snippet quote.)

I have a general aversion to such arguments. Asking whether America invaded Iraq for its oil is, simply put, the wrong question. Would Iraq have the same strategic importance without oil? No. Did America try to get Iraq’s oil? Well, international oil companies have been having trouble to get to the Middle East for years—the imposition of privatization after an invasion would be unstable and doomed to fail. It also doesn’t explain why other countries, where oil interests are equally powerful and would have profited more than they did under oil-for-food, did not support the war. Would America like it if Iraq’s oil industry approximated Western standards rather than copycat Kuwait’s, Saudi Arabia’s or Iran’s? Yes and there are signs that America’s originally supported group held such ideas (my mind is on Ahmed Chalabi; link).

A casual reading of the region’s oil politics reveals one disturbing truth: the advance of democracy is usually an inhibitor for energy interests, primarily because populist elements in legislatures (acute in Kuwait and Iran) block efforts to bring in international oil companies. The advance of democracy and the advance of “Big Oil” interests have hardly run in parallel. Finally, one suspects that America could have found a cheaper way to Iraq’s oil—oil-for-food maybe?

“War for oil” is a slogan, not an argument.

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