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The Bush Ideologues vs. Big Oil in Iraq

 

The mounting criticism of Bush’s Iraqi policies now extends to key business allies of the administration. “The big oil companies were not enthusiastic about the Iraqi war,” says Fareed Mohamedi of PFC Energy, a consultancy firm based in Washington D.C. that advises petroleum firms. “Corporations like Exxon-Mobile and Chevron-Texaco want stability, and this is not what Bush is providing in Iraq and the Gulf region,” adds Mohamedi. The specific interests of big oil appear to have been trumped by the ideologues in the Bush administration. As Chris Toensing of the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) argues, “administration neoconservatives like Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz are dreamers driven more by ideology than by concrete material interests. They believe the United States is virtuous and has a mission to remain indefinitely as the world’s sole superpower.

They don’t really care about specific oil interests. Iraq became the focal point for their dreams so the United States could exert unparalleled power in reordering the Gulf, the Middle East and the world.”

Other analysts of the Iraqi war like Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies see the neoconservatives as tightly aligned with “unreconstructed cold warriors” like Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “They represent the interests of the defense industry and want to see ever expanding military budgets for the world’s only superpower.”

Toensing concurs with this view, noting “Cheney and Rumsfeld are tight with the defense industry. They see control of oil as merely part of a much bigger geo-strategic vision that involves a reliance on military power to dominate the world. By controlling the Gulf and the Middle East the United States gains leverage over countries that are more dependent on the Gulf for oil, like China and Europe.”

The problem for the ideologues and militarists is that their dreams of forging a new world order by invading Iraq are contradicted by reality. As Toensing notes “the war planners thought they could simply lop off Saddam Hussein and his Baathist party in Iraq and install their own hand picked rulers.” Ahmad Chalabi and other exiled Iraqi’s grouped together in the Iraqi National Congress convinced the Pentagon that “liberated” Iraqis would welcome US troops with flowers and rice when they took Baghdad. Of course as we now know from the growing toll of US causalities in Iraq, Chalabi and his cronies duped the Bush administration into believing what they wanted to hear.

Fareed Mohamedi of PFC Energy asserts that the large petroleum companies had a more realistic approach to securing their interests in the Gulf region and the Arab world. “Big oil told the Cheney Task Force on Energy Policy in 2001 that they wanted the US sanctions lifted on Libya and Iran so they could gain access to their oil supplies. As far back as 1990, they were even arguing that the United States should cut a deal with Saddam because he had given signals he was willing to let US oil companies into Iraq.” Cheney of course ignored the arguments of the big oil companies. Sanctions are currently being lifted against Libya, but this has more to do with the Libyans working out a deal with European governments over the downing of the Pan Am passenger jet in Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 than with any initiatives emanating from Washington.

The Bush administration is of course intent on seeing that US defense and business interests in general benefit from the occupation of Iraq. While the big US oil companies are not yet engaged in Iraq, “down stream” energy contractors like Cheney’s former company Halliburton are being awarded multi-billion dollar contracts that are underwritten by American tax payers. In mid September the US appointed administrator of post war Iraq, J. Paul Bremmer, announced that the country would be thrown open to free enterprise and foreign investors.

Here again it appears that the ideologues of the Bush administration will wreck havoc on Iraq. As Chris Toensing notes, “the neo-liberal belief in the free market economy will greatly expand the huge unemployed pool of labor in Iraq, a major breeding ground for the militant opposition to the US occupation of the country.” A large portion of the factories and businesses in Saddam’s Iraq were state owned. Many of them will be permanently shuttered under Bremmer’s free market plan, and thousands of jobs will be slashed in the enterprises that are sold off to foreign interests.

Due in large part to the UN sanctions imposed on Iraq after the first Gulf War, the economy is already a shambles. To prevent outright hunger from gripping the country, the United Nations allowed limited exports of Iraqi oil in order to purchase essential foods and medicines. When the war started 60 percent of the country’s population was dependent on the food for oil program.

Now with the onslaught of a free market economy, the situation of much of the population may even worsen. In November Bremmer is slated to take control of supervising the food distribution program, and any efforts to link it to the demands of a free market would only worsen the lot of the Iraqi people.

ROGER BURBACH is the author of “The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice,” Zed Books, 2003. He is currently working with Jim Tarbell on a new book, “Imperial Overstretch: George W. Bush and the Hubris of Empire.”

Copyright © 2003 R Burbach.

 

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ROGER BURBACH is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) and a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley and author of The Pinochet Affair.

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