The US Congress has gone beyond compliance with George Bush’s illegal war, and is now technically an accomplice-it is assisting with full knowledge in the perpetration of a crime. Congress has attained this status through two grave errors, one of omission and one of commission.
The Error of Commission
The Iraq Accountability Act passed the House as H.R. 1591 and slightly differently as S. 965 in the Senate. The versions await reconciliation in conference committee. Both bills set deadlines for troop withdrawal, both appropriate the money the President requested for prosecuting his war, and both require the Iraqi Parliament to pass its “hydrocarbon law,” to enable the sharing of oil revenues among the Iraqi people.
Revenue sharing surfaced publicly when President Bush announced his troop surge initiative on January 10. It was one in a series of mandatory “benchmarks” he established for the Iraqi government to meet. “To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy,” Mr. Bush said, “Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.” On the surface that is a benign, compassionate thing to do for a war-torn people.
As usual, it seems, Mr. Bush was consciously deceiving us. He failed to tell us the whole truth. The Iraqi hydrocarbon law also privatizes 81% of Iraq’s currently nationalized petroleum resources, opening them to “investment” by Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco, and two British oil companies, BP/Amoco and Royal Dutch/Shell. (For further details, see Joshua Holland, “Bush’s Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq’s Oil,”) These companies expect to sign the rarely used and notoriously profitable contracts called “production sharing agreements” which guarantee them extraordinarily high profit margins: they might capture more than half of the oil revenues for the first 15-30 years of the contracts’ lifespan, and deny Iraq any income at all until their infrastructure “investments” have been recovered.
So the Iraqi people will share among themselves all the revenue from 1/5th of their country’s oil reserves. But they will get only a fraction from the remaining 4/5ths, where the American and British oil companies expect to generate immense profits. (Read more in Crude Designs, Greg Muttitt, ed., a report by the UK’s Platform Group.)
This outcome has been on the Bush Administration’s agenda since it took office in 2001, and it is the reason we went to war.
The broad contours of oilfield privatization and the use of production sharing agreements (PSA’s ) were shaped five years ago in George Bush’s State Department, part of a policy-development project called “The Future of Iraq.” This was a year before the invasion. Afterward, Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority embedded privatization and PSA’s into the emerging structures of Iraqi governance, aided by the intense lobbying in Baghdad by the four oil companies. The hydrocarbon law, written originally in English, was eventually translated into Arabic and formally confirmed by Prime Minister Maliki’s cabinet early in 2007. It awaits passage now by the Iraqi Parliament, few members of which know much of its content and virtually none of whom were involved in writing it.
President Bush, then, is commanding the Iraqi Parliament to enact a law that was drafted first in President Bush’s State Department. It requires Iraq to engineer the foreign capture of its own oil.
And Congress has agreed to this. That is complicity.
Was Congress ignorant of the consequences of the deceitful “benchmark?” No. Representative Dennis Kucinich offered an amendment to eliminate it from H.R. 1591. In a letter to his Democratic colleagues, Mr. Kucinich said, “Byrequiring the enactment of this law by the Iraqi government, Democrats will be instrumental in privatizing Iraqi oil.”
And so they were. With Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, the benchmark survived-essentially a prescription for theft.
The theft, however, is unlikely to take place. The war is at the point of stasis; privatizing the oil is in peril, because passage of the hydrocarbon law is increasingly remote. The law is a metaphor for the heinous sectarian strife which George Bush’s invasion unleashed, and is now shattering the country and its culture. If the Iraqi minorities cannot agree to stop killing each other, they are unlikely to agree on the disposition of their country’s crude oil. But the recognition of Bush’s thievery is growing in Iraq every day, and if the minorities can agree on anything at all, they will see their common advantage in assuring the hydrocarbon law is stillborn. There is talk of that now.
For Congress to abet an illegal war that cannot succeed is not only criminal, but bewildering in the extreme. There is no visible rationale for remaining in Iraq.
The Error of Omission
Invading Iraq was a textbook example of “the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of another state.” That is the formal United Nations definition of military aggression, and a nation can choose to launch it only in self-defense. Otherwise it is an international crime.
The Bush Administration justified the invasion explicitly in terms of self defense. They linked Saddam Hussein directly to the terrorism of 9/11 and suggested further strikes were a near-certainty. Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Ms. Rice, and Mr. Rumsfeld told us Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, the means to deliver them, and the motivation to do so. They said the evidence was irrefutable.
But the evidence was refuted and refuted again. Nothing they said was true.
President Bush’s most egregious lie was not about weapons of mass destruction. It was his lie about the war’s purpose. He told us it was about security at home and spreading democracy in the Middle East: it was a “war on terrorism.”
That has been refuted repeatedly as well. The war was about oil, and here is how it began.
Six months before 9/11 Vice President Cheney’s Energy Task Force was scrutinizing maps of the Iraqi oilfields and documents about its nationalized industry.
The Task Force concluded the Persian Gulf would be the “focus” of US international energy policy.
At about the same time, the National Security Council gave clarity to the word “focus.” At its very first meeting, the NSC shelved the long-standing priority for Middle East foreign policy-settling the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The Council would henceforth attend to the invasion of Iraq instead. “Focus” was defined. The ends were the Iraqi oilfields; the means would be war. (The relevant books to see here are Ron Susskind’s The Price of Loyalty, Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, and Elizabeth de la Vega’s detailed history and formal indictment in U.S. v. Bush.)
The collapse of the Trade Towers six months later gave the Bush Administration an appalling alibi to proceed with the planned invasion. Richard Clarke’s book explains the determination of President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld to attack Iraq directly and immediately. But the route would go through Afghanistan first, and a “war on terror” theme became the ingenious deception, to disguise the eventual seizure of Iraqi oil.
The success of the deception can be measured today by the infrequency of encountering the truth. The “war on terror” is still the unwavering story George Bush and Dick Cheney tell, in a campaign of propaganda to demonize “radical Islam.” In conduct and effectiveness what they do is strikingly parallel to the program Joseph Goebbels pursued in Nazi Germany, to demonize Judaism. (For more parallels between the Bush and Nazi regimes see “How Will History Treat George Bush?”.) The “terrorism” story continues to resonate with most of the Republicans in Congress, not a few Democrats, and a great many American people who have yet to encounter-or admit-the truth.
The mainstream press has been derelict in its unwillingness to challenge the propaganda. The literature exposing the truth elsewhere, however, is truly voluminous and rigorously persuasive, both in contemporary books and in the endless informational resources of the Internet. The sources span the political spectrum. One of the most damning books is Crude Politics: How Bush’s Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism. It was written with intelligence and understated outrage by Paul Sperry, whose politics are far to the right of center.
Congress is aware of the first small lie about Saddam Hussein’s terrifying weaponry and savage antipathy. But it seems unable to acknowledge the far more significant lie about the war’s purpose, and fails even to conduct a serious inquiry into it. This serious error of omission allows the criminal war to continue unchecked.
Congress meanwhile addresses the summary dismissal of 8 US attorneys, casually ignoring the greatest Presidential malfeasance in our history.
The US Congress is surrounded by a mountain of evidence of impeachable offenses, but insists “impeachment is off the table.” To citizens recalling their high school classes in civics and U.S. History, that is intolerable. It seems to violate the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution every member of Congress has taken.
The Congress has three compelling and immediate opportunities to expiate its disappointing behavior. Striking the revenue-sharing “benchmark” entirely from the Iraq Accountability Act. Mandating immediately the early, prudent, and orderly withdrawal of American troops from a criminal and unwinnable war. Then impeachment.
RICHARD W. BEHAN lives and writes on Lopez Island, off the northwest coast of Washington state. He is the author of Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands (Island Press, 2001) and he is working on his next book, To Provide Against Invasions: Corporate Dominion and America’s Derelict Democracy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(This essay is deliberately not copyrighted: It may be reproduced without restriction.)