Just Follow the Oil

Senate Democrats renewed the debate this week over possible “misinformation” presented by the Bush Administration in the lead-up to war in Iraq. If you remember, the original reason we were told war was necessary was to eliminate Iraqi WMD programs. We now know that intelligence relating to WMD was totally and completely discredited and because of it the administration was embarrassed. The alleged Iraqi ties to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were proven false. Now, we are told that the war has a new purpose: to liberate the oppressed Iraqis and establish a permanent democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

Why is it that political commentators and op-ed columnists are so reluctant to mention oil in discussions of why the United States launched this war? Perhaps they are afraid of being associated with the members of the radical left wing who sport “No Blood for Oil” bumper stickers. I do not believe that the United States launched a pre-emptive war on a sovereign nation to merely bulk up oil reserves. The issue is far more complex. But it is certainly worth discussing the role of oil in US policy-making and how much of an effect special interest groups and big business have on the Bush Administration. After a little digging, it’s apparent that administration officials could have been pressured by the oil industry to depose Saddam Hussein.

Iraq is home to the world’s third largest known oil reserves, behind only Saudi Arabia and Canada. Many estimates have shown that only about 10 percent of Iraq’s oil has been explored. The United States has relied more heavily on fundamentalist Islamic regimes to feed a vigorous thirst for oil. As stability in the Middle East has deteriorated, oil companies have grown more and more concerned about keeping production at an optimal level.

These business concerns were heard by Bush Administration officials – many of these officials worked for oil companies, most notably Dick Cheney as CEO for Halliburton and Condoleezza Rice as a board member for Chevron. It’s widely known that the oil industry donated heavily to Bush’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns. When plans for the Iraq War emerged, big oil companies lobbied hard to carve up Iraqi oil reserves among private US companies.

According to The Guardian, Ahmed Chalabi, Deputy Iraqi Prime Minister, met with members of three US oil firms in October of 2002 to make it clear that American business would receive a substantial portion of Iraqi oil reserves. Clearly this is typical case of politics as usual, with big contributors being rewarded with fat, no bid contracts.

Bush’s economic advisers felt that if Iraqi oil fields were under US control, our economy would receive a boost. Administration adviser Larry Lindsay said in September 2002, “When there is a regime change in Iraq, you could add three to five million barrels per day to the world supply. The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy.”

This evidence suggests that an Iraqi invasion would benefit the United States’ energy policy as well as its domestic national security. Politically, the Iraq war gave Bush a chance to payback his big donors with lucrative drilling and rebuilding contracts. Why then is the “oil reason” consistently shouted down by members of the political right wing? Perhaps conservatives do not want the American public to pay attention to the rampant profiteering and political kick-backs that Republicans are known for. American business’s desire to capitalize on Iraqi oil played a role in the Administration’s decision to wage war. One would think that crony politics would take a backseat in times of war.