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Bush, Oil and Moral Bankruptcy


Former CIA Analyst

It is an exceedingly dangerous time. Vice President Dick Cheney and his hard-core “neo-conservative” protégés in the administration and Congress are pushing harder and harder for President George W. Bush, isolated from reality, to honor the promise he made to Israel to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

On Sept. 23, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski warned pointedly:

“If we escalate tensions, if we succumb to hysteria, if we start making threats, we are likely to stampede ourselves into a war [with Iran], which most reasonable people agree would be a disaster for us…I think the administration, the president and the vice president particularly, are trying to hype the atmosphere, and that is reminiscent of what preceded the war in Iraq.”

So why the pressure for a wider war in which any victory will be Pyrrhic-for Israel and for the U.S.? The short answer is arrogant stupidity; the longer answer-what the Chinese used to call “great power chauvinism”-and oil.

The truth can slip out when erstwhile functionaries write their memoirs (the dense pages of George Tenet’s tome being the exception). Kudos to the still functioning reportorial side of the Washington Post, which on Sept. 15, was the first to ferret out the gem in former Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan’s book that the Iraq war was “largely about oil.”

But that’s okay, said the Post’s editorial side (which has done yeoman service as the White House’s Pravda) the very next day. Dominating the op-ed page was a turgid piece by Henry Kissinger, serving chiefly as a reminder that there is an excellent case to be made for retiring when one reaches the age of statutory senility.

Dr. Kissinger described as a “truism” the notion that “the industrial nations cannot accept radical forces dominating a region on which their economies depend.” (Curious. That same truism was considered a bad thing, when an integral part of the “Brezhnev Doctrine” applied to Eastern Europe.) What is important here is that Kissinger was speaking of Iran, which-in a classic example of pot calling kettle black-he accuses of “seeking regional hegemony.”

What’s going on here seems to be a concerted effort to get us accustomed to the prospect of a long, and possibly expanded war? Don’t you remember? Those terrorists, or Iraqis, or Iranians, or jihadists…whoever…are trying to destroy our way of life. The White House spin machine is determined to justify the war in ways they think will draw popular support from folks like the well heeled man who asked me querulously before a large audience, “Don’t you agree that several GIs killed each week is a small price to pay for the oil we need?”
Consistency in U.S. Policy?

The Bush policy toward the Middle East is at the same time consistent with, and a marked departure from, the U.S. approach since the end of World War II. Given ever-growing U.S. dependence on imported oil, priority has always been given to ensuring the uninterrupted supply of oil, as well as securing the state of Israel. The U.S. was by and large successful in achieving these goals through traditional diplomacy and commerce. Granted, it would overthrow duly elected governments, when it felt it necessary-as in Iran in 1953, after its president nationalized the oil. But the George W. Bush administration is the first to start a major war to implement U.S. policy in the region.

Just before the March 2003 attack, Chas Freeman, U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia for President George H.W. Bush, explained that the new policy was to maintain a lock on the world’s energy lifeline and be able to deny access to global competitors. Freeman said the new Bush administration “believes you have to control resources in order to have access to them” and that, with the end of the Cold war, the U.S. is uniquely able to shape global events-and would be remiss if it did not do so.

This could not be attempted in a world of two superpowers, but has been a longstanding goal of the people closest to George W. Bush. In 1975 in Harpers, then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger authored under a pseudonym an article, “Seizing Arab Oil.” Blissfully unaware that the author was his boss, the highly respected career ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins, committed the mother of all faux pas when he told a TV audience that whoever wrote that article had to be a “madman.” Akins was right; he was also fired.

In those days, cooler heads prevailed, thanks largely to the deterrent effect of a then-powerful Soviet Union. Nevertheless, in proof of the axiom that bad ideas never die, 26 years later Kissinger rose Phoenix-like to urge a spanking new president to stoke and exploit the fears engendered by 9/11, associate Iraq with that catastrophe, and seize the moment to attack Iraq. It was well known that Iraq’s armed forces were no match for ours, and the Soviet Union had imploded.

Some, I suppose, would call that Realpolitik. Akins saw it as folly; his handicap was that he was steeped in the history, politics, and culture of the Middle East after serving in Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, as well as Saudi Arabia-and knew better.

The renaissance of Kissinger’s influence in 2001 on an impressionable young president, together with faith-based analysis by untutored ideologues cherry picked by Cheney explain what happened next-an unnecessary, counterproductive war, in which over 3,800 U. S. troops have already been killed-leaving Iraq prostrate and exhausted.
A-plus in Chutzpah, F in Ethics

In an International Herald Tribune op-ed on Feb. 25, 2007, Kissinger focused on threats in the Middle East to “global oil supplies” and the need for a “diplomatic phase,” since the war had long since turned sour. Acknowledging that he had supported the use of force against Iraq, he proceeded to boost chutzpah to unprecedented heights.

Kissinger referred piously to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), which left the European continent “prostrate and exhausted.” What he failed to point out is that the significance of that prolonged carnage lies precisely in how it finally brought Europeans to their senses; that is, in how it ended. The Treaty of Westphalia brought the mutual slaughter to an end, and for centuries prevented many a new attack by the strong on the weak-like the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003.

It was, it is about oil-unabashedly and shamefully. Even to those lacking experience with U.S. policy in the Middle East, it should have been obvious early on, when every one of Bush’s senior national security officials spoke verbatim from the talking-point sheet, “It’s not about oil.” Thanks to Greenspan and Kissinger, the truth is now “largely” available to those who do not seek refuge in denial.

The implications for the future are clear-for Iraq and Iran. As far as this administration is concerned (and as Kissinger himself has written), “Withdrawal [from Iraq] is not an option.” Westphalia? U.N. Charter? Geneva Conventions? Hey, we’re talking superpower!

Thus, Greenspan last Monday with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now:

“Getting him [Saddam Hussein] out of the control position … was essential. And whether that be done by one means or another was not as important. But it’s clear to me that, were there not the oil resources in Iraq, the whole picture…would have been different.”

Can we handle the truth?

“All truth passes through three stages.
First, it is ridiculed.
Second, it is violently opposed.
Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

As the truth about our country’s policy becomes clearer and clearer, can we summon the courage to address it from a moral perspective? The Germans left it up to the churches; the churches collaborated.

“There is only us; there never has been any other.”
–Annie Dillard

RAY McGOVERN was a CIA analyst from 1963 to 1990 and Robert Gates’ branch chief in the early 1970s. McGovern now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). He is a contributor to Imperial Crusades, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at:

A shorter version of this article appeared first on


Ray McGovern was an Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 year. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). He can be reached at: A version of this article first appeared on  

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