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Oil and the War on Iraq

As the drive to war in Iraq races toward a precarious endgame, the lead-footed Bush Administration shows no signs of heeding to the caution flags flying in from all sides.

Urgings to go slow are not just a phenomena of “Old Europe.” At home, retired General Anthony Zinni, a consultant to Colin Powell, and many other retired generals, admirals, and officers have warned about the potential for “blowback.” They argue convincingly that this pending war diverts and distracts from the war on terror and is likely to catalyze further acts of terror against the citizens and security of the United States. Retired general Wesley Clark told the Senate Armed Services Committee that a war would “super-charge recruiting for Al Qaeda.”

With U.N. Security Council Members France, Russia, and China still unconvinced of the need for immediate military action, international support for “preemptive strike” seems unlikely to materialize. Even governments that support a U.S.-led war in Iraq, such as Britain, Turkey, Spain, do not have the support of their people. If the U.S. chooses to go it alone or with the help of only a few allies, the already present strains of international anti-Americanism will become even more virulent.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration has been less than forthcoming in providing the public estimates of the actual costs of a war, both in terms of troops and money. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences estimates that over 10 years, war and the reconstruction of Iraq could cost as much as $2 trillion–almost the equivalent of the entire annual federal budget. In the New York Review of Books, Yale Professor William D. Nordhaus puts thelow estimate at $120 billion and a high estimate at $1.6 trillion, given a combination of “different adverse effects.” Despite the costs and dangers to innocent civilians, one powerful administration constituency stands to benefit from a unilateral war in Iraq that results in a U.S.-led regime change. That constituency is the oil industry, whose slick influence and crude ambitions permeate the administration from top to bottom. Both the President and the Vice President are former oil executives. National Security Adviser Condaleeza Rice is a former director of Chevron. President Bush took more than $1.8 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries in the 2000 election. All told, 41 members of the administration had ties to the oil industry.

U.S. oil companies, banned from Iraq for more than a decade, would like nothing more than to control the production of Iraqi oil. With reserves of 112.5 billion barrels, Iraq sits on top of 11% of the world’s oil. Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ill.) are two of the many politicians who have the question of who will control Iraq’s petroleum on their minds.

Plans for control of the oil fields are already being laid. The Wall Street Journal reported on January 16 that officials from the White House, State Department and Department of Defense have been meeting informally with executives from Halliburton, Slumberger, ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and ConocoPhillips to plan the post-war oil bonanza. But no one wants to talk about it. Larry Goldstein, president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation told the Journal, “If we go to war, it’s not about oil. But the day the war ends, it has everything to do with oil.” The American people have a right to know what role the oil industry is playing in Bush’s increasingly frenetic drive to war. What is being discussed in these meetings regarding the oil industry’s designs on this gigantic pool of petroleum?

The American people also have a right to know what was discussed in the numerous secret meetings Vice President Cheney’s national energy task force held with oil and gas executives. Cheney has been adamantly secretive about these meetings, despite repeated attempts by Congress and public interest groups to learn what was discussed.

Cheney’s energy policy casts as inevitable that we will have to import 17 million barrels of oil a day (two-thirds of our supply) by 2020 and subsequently recommends “that the President make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy.” It does not recommend specific goals for conservation anytime in the near future. Just as Cheney refused to meet with anybody but industry cronies in formulating the national energy policy, Bush is now refusing to entertain the counsel of anyone but war hawks. Repeated entreaties by national peace groups, including veterans, clergy, and business groups, for meetings with the President have fallen on ears deaf to anything but the constant beating of war drums.

While it would be naive to label this purely as a war for oil, the apparent connections are enough to raise some serious questions. And when coupled with the Administration’s frighteningly stubborn insistence on ignoring the caution signs pouring in from all sides, those questions become even more serious.

 

 

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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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