Now that the official case for attacking Iraq made by the US and British governments has started to unravel, the question of the real reason for unleashing this death and destruction has become a hot topic of conversation again.
During the run-up to the invasion on Iraq, while speaking at teach-ins and other forums and taking part in other anti-war activities, I was somewhat skeptical of those who argued that the war was simply about getting hold of Iraqi oil for American oil companies. I cringed a little at the slogans and placards that said "No blood for oil!" , "No war for oil!", etc., and disagreed with those that the attack was due to a simple quid pro quo between the administration and its oil company cronies. While I found the administration’s case for war to be unbelievable, the ‘war for oil’ thesis seemed to me to be a far too simplistic approach to global politics.
I fancied my self to be a much more sophisticated geo-strategic analyst. Of course, the fact that Iraq had the world’s second largest reserves could not be coincidental and definitely played a role in the war plans. But I thought it more likely that broader geopolitical concerns were more dominant, such as showing the world that the US had the power to enforce its will anywhere, and to establish a long-term and secure strategic base in the middle east from which to ensure dominance of the region. To the extent that oil played a role, I thought that purpose of the war was not mainly to divert Iraqi oil revenues to US companies but instead to ensure control over the oil flow to the rest of the world so that economic rivals such as Europe and Japan, whose economies were dependent on middle east oil, would be forced to be subservient to US global interests and pressure.
The thought that the war was actually about making money for individuals and corporations in the short term did not seem to me to be credible. That was too petty and crass.
That was why I was stunned to read the press release put out by the public interest group Judicial Watch on July 17, 2003. This organization, along with the Sierra Club, had argued that both the membership of the Energy Task Force chaired by Vice-President Cheney and the proceedings of its meetings should be made public and had sought the information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since April 19, 2001. The Vice President had vigorously opposed this opening up of its activities and so a lawsuit was filed. On March 5, 2002 the US District Judge ordered the government to produce the documents, which was finally done by the Commerce Department just recently.
The Judicial Watch press release states that these released documents "contain a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as 2 charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts." The documents, which are dated March 2001, are available on the Internet at: www.JudicialWatch.org."
The press release continues: "The Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates (UAE) documents likewise feature a map of each country’s oilfields, pipelines, refineries and tanker terminals. There are supporting charts with details of the major oil and gas development projects in each country that provide information on the projects, costs, capacity, oil company and status or completion date."
This foreign policy involvement is a somewhat surprising turn of events. The original FOIA case was initiated (before 9/11 and before the ratcheting up of the attack on Iraq) because of more domestic concerns, specifically suspicions that the membership of the Energy Task Force may have included people such as Ken Lay of Enron Corporation who may have been in a position to exercise undue influence over government energy policy at the expense of the public interest.
Now, other news items come to my mind, all pointing in the direction of Cheney. Although generally keeping a low profile in his frequent stays at his hideout, Cheney has been one of the most adamant proponents of attacking Iraq and hyping its threat. He has made some of the most authoritative statements that Iraq already had weapons of mass destruction, saying things like "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." (August 26, 2002) and "And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." (March 16, 2003), the latter statement made just three days before the invasion.
It is also Cheney who reportedly had the most involvement in the fraud involving Iraqi uranium purchase from Niger, reportedly initiating the sending of Ambassador Wilson to that country to investigate. It is also Cheney who is reportedly the driving force behind the President’s foreign policy and serves as his main strategist and mentor.
So perhaps my friends in the antiwar movement were right all along. Perhaps we have reached such a nadir that foreign policy (and even wars) can be made, and people sent to certain death, for such crass reasons. Perhaps it is time to put the Vice-President under much closer scrutiny.
MANO SINGHAM is a physicist and educator at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org