Prior to formally ordering the invasion of Iraq, Bush warned the Iraqis: “Do not destroy the oil wells”. The war on Iraq was, reportedly, originally named Operation Iraqi Liberation, instead of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Someone realized, however, that the acronym would be OIL. That wouldn’t make for good PR-not that it didn’t clearly represent their interests, but not the interests they care to advertise. I suppose it was therefore a compromise, and a nod to their Capitalist-in-Chief, to name some of the U.S. military bases in Iraq after oil companies. Amazingly, they really did name a Base Exxon and a Base Shell somewhere in the deserts of Iraq!
Bush and Cheney both have deep and dirty connections to the oil industry, not to mention National Security Advisor Condileezza Rice, who actually has a Chevron oil tanker ship named after her. It is not just that so many in the Bush regime have worked for-and with-oil companies or in the energy sector more generally. There is also the issue of the legalized system of bribery called campaign contributions. With millions of oil dollars pouring into mostly Republican coffers, and with favorable legislation and tax laws for oil companies, the symbiotic relationship is powerful and sickening. Oil kingpin Bush and his gang are economically addicted to oil.
Iraq has the second largest proven oil reserves in the world (after Saudi Arabia), but with newer technology engaging in further exploration and analyses, Iraq may very well prove to have the most oil. Though Bush’s wars are about oil, it’s not just about controlling oil, what the Bush administration calls “energy security”. It’s also about controlling the price of oil, controlling those prices in U.S. dollars instead of Euros, and controlling the flow of oil dollars, the money made by selling oil which is then invested abroad. The Kuwaiti royal dictatorship, for example, makes more money from their oil-funded overseas investments, primarily in the U.S. and Britain, than they do through direct oil sales.
Though Secretary of Offense Rumsfeld quipped that the war against Iraq has “nothing to do with oil”, other political and military leaders made much about securing Iraqi oil wells very early into the invasion. Documents from Bechtel and the government further evidence an obsession with Iraqi oil, and the Aqaba pipeline to carry it to Jordan, at least since Rumsfeld’s December 1983 meeting with Saddam Hussein. The record also shows no concern, let alone obsession, with Saddam’s use of torture or chemical weapons.
When asked by Charlie Rose how the war was going on 1 April, General Joseph W. Ralston, Former Supreme Commander of NATO, didn’t hesitate, stating “We own the southern oil wells.” Now, Philip Carroll, former chief executive of Shell, along with other former oil executives, is slated to run the Iraqi oil production industry. As with corporate leveraged buyouts, Bush & Co. seek to pay for its war and the privatized reconstruction of Iraq using revenues from future Iraqi oil sales. The U.S.-run regime in Iraq, whether a military or civilian dictatorship, will undoubtedly promote promiscuous privatization as a key plan-of oil, of course, but also of other “commanding heights” (i.e., transportation, communications, water, and other prime resources and infrastructure), what Naomi Klein calls “privatization without representation”.
As feminist Grace Paley says, “today’s wars are about oil. But alternative energies exist now-solar, wind-for every important energy-using activity in our lives. The only human work than cannot be done without oil is war.” Therefore, she concludes, “men lead us to war for enough oil to continue to go to war for oil.” This vicious cycle is like a well-oiled machine.
During Gulf War I, Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times essayist Thomas Friedman remarked that “the U.S. has not sent troops to the Saudi desert to preserve democratic principles. This is about money, about protecting governments loyal to America and about who will set the price of oil”.
Reflecting on the intimate-“embedded”-relationship between state and corporate power, what Mussolini referred to as fascism, Friedman laid it plain in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, his intellectual love letter to corporate globalization and U.S. imperialism: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.” Free markets? Not quite. The unspoken capitalist mantra has always been “free markets for thee, not for me”.
In “The American Empire (Get Used to It)”, (New York Times Magazine, 5 January 2003, cover story), Michael Ignatieff states that “because [the Persian Gulf region] has so much of the world’s proven oil reserves”, it is “the empire’s center of gravity”. Ignatieff refers to this as “the burden of empire”. The following day the London Daily Mirror, also with a cover story, pictured a graphic showing a tough-looking Bush with his tough words interspersed with oil company logos. Underneath, the tag line reads: “Now can you guess why George W. Bush is hellbent on a war with Iraq?” It shouldn’t surprise anyone-though it may disgust them-that while the U.S. military allowed the Baghdad library and museum to be looted of priceless Mesopotamian antiquities, it carefully guarded the Oil Ministry with heavily-armed Marines and razor wire.
Yes, there is an empire and there is a burden of empire. It is not, however, that the U.S. must “reluctantly” (as Bush says) be an imperial power-it has often rushed to the occasion. Unfortunately for the misfortunate millions (and billions!), it is the citizens of the world who bear the burden of empire by paying its tremendous costs while the élite reap the tremendous profits. Now, as Baghdad smoulders and digs itself out, the bells of Operation Iraqi Freedom are ringing in the ears of Iraqis like the sound of night time air raid sirens.
Investigative journalist Jim Valette reflects on U.S. policy in Iraq: “Is this pursuit of oil or the pursuit of empire? … Right now it’s really two sides of the same coin.” While it may seem that the U.S. empire is increasing its reach and strength with military victory in Iraq, it is also following in the footsteps of all other historical empires. Excessive military budgeting (equal to the rest of the world combined), rising deficits and debt (over $300 billion each year), imperial overstretch (U.S. military bases in over 100 countries), the disregard and disrespect of allies and others (including France, Germany, Russia, Japan, in addition to the UN and international law, while enraging world opinion) and outrageous arrogance (the many offensive words and deeds of Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice, et al.) all lead to an unsustainable system that frays from the edges inward and rots from the top down.
Much is the same in this imperialist “game” (as one military leader called it) of conquest, though a tragic line has been crossed: first-strike unilateralism with mass manipulation, mass murder, mass expense, mass ecocide, mass terror, mass destruction-including the use of weapons of mass destruction, such as napalm, depleted uranium, cluster bombs, Daisy Cutters and other massive bombs containing chemical slurries-and mass media warnography. The Bush regime also threatened to use nuclear weapons. The consequences of acting in these ways will reverberate in very painful ways, as history will demonstrate.
Around 1698, the famous Japanese Zen poet Basho wrote a time-honored haiku:
all that remains of great soldiers’
Public health advocate Susan Clarke, though, recently adds:
Not even grasses remain
when toxic war waste undermines
their very nature
But at least the Bushies will get their oil fix. They-and we-need to kick the habit.
DAN BROOK teaches sociology part-time at UC Berkeley and can be contacted via his ThinkLinks.