Yes, It’s About Oil

From The New American

Friday, June 16, 2006

Greg Palast, in his new book Armed Madhouse, offers a pretty plausible answer to this question: Why did the US invade Iraq?

Short answer: It’s the oil, stupid – and the point is not to sell it, but to control it.

This may seem like taking the long way around to an obvious conclusion, but Palast finds what I’d consider to be formidable – if not incontestable – support for his conclusions in pre-war reports about Iraq issued by the Council on Foreign Relations.

In December 2000, while Bush and Gore were both trying to cheat their way to victory in the protracted presidential election, the CFR and the Houston-based James A. Baker III Institute at Rice University convened a Joint Task Force on Petroleum.

The final report of that body, produced with “the generous support of Khalid al-Turki” of Saudi Arabia, and published in April 2001, concluded that “Iraq has become a key `swing’ producer [of petroleum], posing a difficult situation for the US government…. Saddam is a `destabilizing influence … to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East.”

Therefore, concluded the CFR report, the US “should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq, including military, energy, economic, and political/diplomatic assessments.”

That report – according to Palast, who cites individuals who participated in its composition — “was handed directly to Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney met secretly with CFR task force members and other energy industry comrades to go over the maps of Iraq’s oil fields. That, apparently, sealed it.”

In dismissing the “war for oil” scenario, most of the Bush administration’s defenders point out that the Iraq war has resulted in diminished availability and higher prices – as if that result would be undesirable from a corporatist perspective. (Incidentally, Oil-for-Food export restrictions were quite profitable to both Saddam and OPEC, miserable and murderous though they were for the Iraqi people.)

“To believe that George Bush and Dick Cheney hustled us into war in Iraq to open up that nation’s untapped bounty of petroleum is to believe that these two oil Texans in the White House are deeply troubled that the price of oil will rise unless they get us more crude,” writes Palast. In fact, as he documents at great and fascinating length, politically connected interests in the oil industry have been trying to prevent “overproduction” in Iraq, the key “swing” producer, in order to stabilize OPEC.

Unnaturally increasing petroleum profits, as Palast notes (with, once again, impeccable documentation) was an objective shared by the Bush clique, Osama bin Laden, and OPEC. “Only through the unique power of government monopoly can a nation hold back production to the OPEC quota,” notes Palast. Thus it is immensely significant the Bush regime’s plans for reconstructing Iraq’s oil industry offered “a choice of seven options for their oil – all of them the same: seven flavors of state-owned oil companies.”

“Iraq’s [oil] output in 2003, 2004 and 2005 was less than produced under the restrictive Oil-for-Food program,” Palast points out. At the same time, profits of the five US oil majors have tripled, at least in part because of artificial scarcity. And the cost of the war has exceeded a quarter-trillion dollars. “To fund his binge spending, our President could have taxed us directly [which is to say, signed congressional tax increases into law], say, a dollar a gallon tax on gasoline,” Palast continues. “Instead, our leader has arranged an indirect tax on gasoline” in the form of OPEC’s more than $70 a barrel price of crude, “which translates roughly into a dollar a gallon at the pump. Think of the gas pump price spike as a war tax.”

And yes, it gets worse:

“Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations take our billions and then they lend them back to us to fund Mr. Bush’s deficit. In 2005, $243 billion in petro-dollars was collected from Americans at the pump (and in your heating and electric bills) and left the country. At the same time, it cycled back, and then some, as foreigners bought up nearly a third of a trillion dollars ($311 billion) in US government debts.”

In this fashion the Iraq war, rather than defending our freedom and independence, is killing, impoverishing, and dispossessing us. It is exactly the sort of war our Founders urged us to avoid. It is also a splendid illustration of the reason why the Framers gave Congress the exclusive power to commit our nation to war through a formal declaration – as it occasionally did back when America was a constitutional republic, before becoming whatever it is we are now.

[Hat tip to the brilliant and witty Scott Horton for recommending that I read Armed Madhouse.]