November 21, 2007
Take note of a compelling article in the London Review of Books late last month by Jim Holt entitled “It’s the Oil, Stupid”. I did plan to comment upon it and bring it to the attention of the readership of Taki’s TD, but got sidetracked. Matthew Engel beat me to the punch last weekend in the Financial Times, in its wonderful “Life and Arts” section. His article in the print edition was headlined “Too slick an oil theory, even for Iraq?” On the Web, it’s titled “Over A Barrel”.
Both Holt and Engel prominently refer to a piece by U.S. intelligence expert Thomas Powers in the New York Review of Books back in September, “The Reason Why”. Powers was responding to a reader’s query and frustration: “Thomas Powers [“What Tenet Knew,” NYR, July 19] does an admirable job as usual of analyzing the misdeeds and mistakes of US intelligence agencies. But in providing a scathing critique of former CIA director George Tenet’s cowardly performance in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq, Powers fails to address the central question: What were the real reasons for the Bush administration’s determination to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein?… It’s clear by now that neither the facts nor any realistic notion of national interest drove the US invasion. Surely Powers owes us his best assessment of the real motives for war.”
Remember, we have left the summer of 2007 and are into autumn. We are still at sea. We are still in a fog, or pretend to be. Since the White House adventure has gone all wrong (apparently) in Iraq, enlightened observers are wondering what in the world could possibly have been the real motives for Regent Cheney and Emperor Bush to embark on the (apparent) madness of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the first place. Everybody with the possible exception of Victor Davis Hanson now dismisses the stated reasons, the cover stories—WMD, spreading “democracy”, a 9/11 connection, etc. Too bad most members of the U.S. Congress swallowed this bilge during the propaganda barrage prior to the event. It would have saved a lot of lives, treasure and trouble, if they had not. But recall that everybody wanted to be on the bandwagon back then in 2002.
With respect to the strangely persistent phenomenon I call “fog on the home front”, the FT’s Engel cites Powers: “The well-informed author Thomas Powers expressed his puzzlement recently in The New York Review of Books. He reckoned the commonly expressed motives (’‘the lure of Iraqi oil, making the Middle East safe for Israel, and settling old scores’‘) all played a part, but added: ‘‘What’s particularly odd is that there seems to be no sophisticated, professional, insiders’ version of the thinking that drove events.’’ Odd, indeed.
Compare this to what the “national security columnist” for Slate, Fred Kaplan, wrote in the New York Observer in January of 2006: “Still, it’s stunning to realize that, nearly three years after the fact”and despite dozens of books and hundreds of incisive newspaper and magazine articles”we don”t yet know why this war took place. I suspect we may never fully know, unless Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld or one of their secretaries was taking notes or running a dicta-belt during their many phone conversations from the summer of 2002 through the spring of 2003.” Stunning, indeed. Sounds like the same fog to me. Note that Kaplan expresses no interest whatever in knowing what Bush had to say. Ah!
In short, the question everyone seems to be asking is, “How could this human tragedy have happened?” But is it really so mysterious? Is it possible that none of these esteemed journalists has heard of the “neocons”, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), or the Israel Lobby? Hold that thought.
Let’s take a look at what Jim Holt suggests is actually going on. His October 18th, 2007 LRB article is not just entertaining. He thinks he has the ticket to deliver us from the fog. He points out some interesting, inescapable facts pertaining to oil. It is there under the ground in Iraq, an ocean of it. According to Holt, “Iraq has 115 billion barrels of known oil reserves. That is more than five times the total in the United States. And, because of its long isolation, it is the least explored of the world’s oil-rich nations. A mere two thousand wells have been drilled across the entire country; in Texas alone there are a million. It has been estimated, by the Council on Foreign Relations, that Iraq may have a further 220 billion barrels of undiscovered oil; another study puts the figure at 300 billion. If these estimates are anywhere close to the mark, US forces are now sitting on one quarter of the world’s oil resources. The value of Iraqi oil, largely light crude with low production costs, would be of the order of $30 trillion at today’s prices. For purposes of comparison, the projected total cost of the US invasion/occupation is around $1 trillion.” Make that $2 trillion, Jim, to be on the safe side.
Nothing radically new so far, granted. We all assumed that Iraq had a ton of oil. But Holt puts it in context as of right now, and posits that the long term goal of the Cheney White House was to end up with Iraq’s oil safely in Washington’s hands at the end of the day. Holt cites three noteworthy factors. (a) The law to distribute oil revenue. (b) The permanent, “enduring” self-contained mega military bases in the desert. And (c), the circumstance of chaos and instability inside Iraq, largely caused by Washington’s “mistakes”, which mandates that Washington has a self-fulfilling excuse to stay in Iraq indefinitely.
As for (a), “One of the Bush administration’s “benchmarks” for the Iraqi government is the passage of a law to distribute oil revenues. The draft law that the US has written for the Iraqi congress would cede nearly all the oil to Western companies. The Iraq National Oil Company would retain control of 17 of Iraq’s 80 existing oil-fields, leaving the rest “ including all yet to be discovered oil “ under foreign corporate control for 30 years.” Because Washington handed Iraq over to the Shias, I surmise that the handing over of Iraq’s oil is the bill due and payable to Washington from the Shias, who are nominally in charge of the central government. A quid pro quo. They call it liberation.
Then there is (b), “How will the US maintain hegemony over Iraqi oil? By establishing permanent military bases in Iraq. Five self-sufficient “super-bases” are in various stages of completion. All are well away from the urban areas where most casualties have occurred. There has been precious little reporting on these bases in the American press, whose dwindling corps of correspondents in Iraq cannot move around freely because of the dangerous conditions.” Holt mentions Balad Air Base, forty miles north of Baghdad, which lags just behind London’s Heathrow in air traffic. It is a self-contained American city. They call it liberation.
Last and most intriguingly, there is the matter of (c). “Will the US be able to maintain an indefinite military presence in Iraq? It will plausibly claim a rationale to stay there for as long as civil conflict simmers, or until every groupuscule that conveniently brands itself as “al-Qaida” is exterminated. The civil war may gradually lose intensity as Shias, Sunnis and Kurds withdraw into separate enclaves, reducing the surface area for sectarian friction, and as warlords consolidate local authority. De facto partition will be the result. But this partition can never become de jure. (An independent Kurdistan in the north might upset Turkey, an independent Shia region in the east might become a satellite of Iran, and an independent Sunni region in the west might harbour al-Qaida.) Presiding over this Balkanised Iraq will be a weak federal government in Baghdad, propped up and overseen by the Pentagon-scale US embassy that has just been constructed “ a green zone within the Green Zone.”
Indeed, come to think of it, what is the point of building such an outsized monster-embassy, approaching a billion dollar price tag, if not to oversee a U.S. protectorate? The permanent military bases in the outback will protect the oil wells and their infrastructure. Under this projected endgame, there will be a lot of winners, according to Holt. Read the article. Two notable losers will be Russia and OPEC. In addition, China would be outflanked. “China’s increasing heft poses a threat to US interests…. And the main constraint on China’s growth is its access to energy “ which, with the US in control of the biggest share of world oil, would largely be at Washington’s sufferance. Thus is the Chinese threat neutralised.” What a rosy scenario for Washington’s geopolitical triumphalists to contemplate. Not to mention the fat cats of “Big Oil”.
This brings us back into the fog. “Many people are still perplexed by exactly what moved Bush-Cheney to invade and occupy Iraq,” laments Holt towards the end of his article. Ah yes, what could it be? Holt thinks he has a solution. There must be a reason. Based on the way things have turned out, it must be the oil. It was oil, not Barzini, all along. “Was the strategy of invading Iraq to take control of its oil resources actually hammered out by Cheney’s 2001 energy task force? One can”t know for sure, since the deliberations of that task force, made up largely of oil and energy company executives, have been kept secret by the administration on the grounds of “executive privilege”. One can”t say for certain that oil supplied the prime motive. But the hypothesis is quite powerful when it comes to explaining what has actually happened in Iraq.” So far we have assumed that what actually happened inside Iraq under the American occupation was gross incompetence or mismanagement. But we may have been wrong. Holt has a point. The chaos may have been deliberate to insure a long-term occupation of a failed state.
In sum, the Regent and the Emperor have fooled us all and kept a secret. According to Jim Holt, they were way ahead of us in the strategy department. “Indeed, The U.S. may be ‘stuck’ precisely where Bush and Cheney want it to be, which is why there is no ‘exit strategy’” avers Holt. “The costs are negligible compared to $30 trillion in oil wealth, assured American geopolitical supremacy and cheap gas for voters. In terms of realpolitik, the invasion of Iraq is not a fiasco; it is a resounding success.” And you thought the “neocons” and the Israel Lobby did not serve America’s best interests. Cheney, Bush Jr. and Don Rumsfeld had their eye on the oil prize from the start, and may have only been using the “neocons” to run interference. Everybody wins.
That is one way to look at the general situation in an attempt to make some sense of it all. Below is another way, which could have been gleaned from previous missives on this topic. By the way, I agree with Holt that the enterprise of Iraq has been a resounding success, but not for Uncle Sam. And yes, there has been too much “incompetence” to be believable. Please consider the following:
(1) Oil was indeed a factor in targeting Iraq. How? To the extent that oil could not be allowed to finance any regime which was regarded, rightly or wrongly, as a potential or a theoretical “threat” to Pax Israeliana.
(2) For this reason, Iraq could not be allowed to annex the fake state of Kuwait in 1990, which acquisition would have augmented Iraq’s oil revenue, depleted during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s. Accordingly, AIPAC worked hard to lobby Congress to help Bush Sr. get the necessary votes to launch Operation Desert Storm in January 1991. That collaboration was decisive. The vote in the Senate was close, 52 to 47. The war opened a Pandora’s box from hell, culminating in the current nightmare.
(3) For the same reason, to prevent Iraq from reaping the benefits of its own oil, George Bush Sr. imposed unreasonable and comprehensive sanctions on Iraq in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm. The intent was to bring about “regime change” in Baghdad, no matter what the cost to the Iraqis. See
” title=“The Scourging of Iraq”>The Scourging of Iraq by Geoff Simons.
(4) At the close of the Clinton Administration, Saddam Hussein was still standing and had not been toppled as the result of these U.S.-orchestrated sanctions, which killed many thousands of civilians and which Madeleine Albright thought were “worth it”. In the meantime, Iraq had effectively disarmed under UN supervision and destroyed whatever WMD it possessed, and its military forces were reduced by 2/3rds. Such was the state of affairs that confronted Regent Cheney and the “neocons” upon their accession to power in January 2001.
(5) In complying with US Diktats, fronted by the UN, Iraq had a reasonable expectation under international law that the UN Security Council would lift the embargo on Iraq. This would mean oil revenues would flow again to an Arab state whose leadership championed the Palestinians, was an adversary of Zionism, and which did not accept Pax Israeliana. This circumstance—the perception that Saddam Hussein might regain access to oil revenues in the foreseeable future, and reconstitute Iraq as an independent country—was the actual casus belli which triggered Wolfowitz’s War, aka Operation Iraqi Freedom, in 2003.
(6) Since a predatory casus belli was not for public consumption, the boogyman of WMD was invented and trumpeted as a cover story—not just to eliminate Iraq as a “threat” to Israel but to eliminate Iraq itself as an independent nation-state in the Middle East. Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, former chief of Central Command which comprised the Middle East, summed up his observations about what was going: “I think the American people were conned into this… I don’t know where the neocons came from—that wasn’t the platform they [Bush-Cheney] ran on. Somehow the neocons captured the president. They captured the vice president.”
(7) In my book written in 2004 and published in 2005, I stated the simple truth—confirmed to some extent by Congressman James Moran and Senator Ernest Hollings—about what motivated Washington during the run-up to Wolfowitz’s War in 2002-2003: “Oil is good, gentlemen, but oil is not running this show and is not the controlling influence. The ongoing humanitarian crisis of the Middle East, decades in the making, is not driven by oil. Politicians in Washington do not spend their waking hours thinking about oil. They think about votes, campaign contributions, a good press, and about the next election. That is what they are fixated upon, and what makes them vulnerable.”
(8) It is understandable that the Regent and the Emperor and the entire Washington establishment, both Republicans and Democrats, would want to get something tangible for the United States in return from this expensive and unnecessary war, which was launched in the grip of a self-induced hysteria and for dishonest domestic political considerations unrelated to foreign policy as such. The oil is there. A logical impulse would be to go after it and secure it. The problem is, the Dollar and the U.S. economy, not to mention the U.S. military, may go bust before the oil comes on line. That catastrophic scenario would be more or less in accordance with al-Qaida’s long term calculations. It is what the mujahideen and Bin Laden did, with the decisive help of Washington, to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980’s in the last battle of the Cold War. Whatever happens now in the Middle East, it is most unlikely—thanks to the perfidy of America’s politicians—that Uncle Sam is going to emerge as a winner.