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Oil Warriors

Alan Greenspan had acknowledged what is blindingly obvious to those who live in the reality-based world: The Iraq War was largely about oil.

Meanwhile, Henry Kissinger says in an op-ed in Sunday’s Washington Post that control over oil is the key issue that should determine whether the U.S. undertakes military action against Iran.

These statements would not be remarkable, but for the effort of a broad swath of the U.S. political establishment to deny the central role of oil in U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

Greenspan’s remarks, appearing first in his just-published memoirs, are eyebrow-raising for their directness:

“Whatever their publicized angst over Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction,’ American and British authorities were also concerned about violence in the area that harbors a resource indispensable for the functioning of the world economy. I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

His follow-up remarks have been even more direct. “I thought the issue of weapons of mass destruction as the excuse was utterly beside the point,” he told the Guardian.

Greenspan also tells the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward that he actively lobbied the White House to remove Saddam Hussein for the express purpose of protecting Western control over global oil supplies.

“I’m saying taking Saddam out was essential,” Greenspan said. But, writes Woodward, Greenspan “added that he was not implying that the war was an oil grab.”

“No, no, no,” he said. Getting rid of Hussein achieved the purpose of “making certain that the existing system [of oil markets] continues to work, frankly, until we find other [energy supplies], which ultimately we will.”

There’s every reason to credit this view. U.S. oil companies surely have designs on Iraqi oil, and were concerned about inroads by French and other firms under Saddam. But the top U.S. geopolitical concern is making sure the oil remains in the hands of those who will cooperate with Western economies.

Henry Kissinger echoes this view in his op-ed. “Iran has legitimate aspirations that need to be respected,” he writes — but those legitimate aspirations do not include control over the oil that the United States and other industrial countries need.

“An Iran that practices subversion and seeks regional hegemony — which appears to be the current trend — must be faced with lines it will not be permitted to cross. The industrial nations cannot accept radical forces dominating a region on which their economies depend, and the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran is incompatible with international security.”

Note that Kissinger prioritizes Iranian (or “radical”) control over regional oil supplies over concern about the country acquiring nuclear weapons.

One might reasonably suggest that Greenspan and Kissinger are only pointing out the obvious. (Kissinger himself refers to his concerns about Iran as “truisms.”)

But these claims have not been accepted as obvious in U.S. political life.

The Iraq was “is not about oil” became a mantra among the pro-war crowd in the run-up to the commencement of hostilities and in the following months. A small sampling —

Said President Bush: The idea that the United States covets Iraqi oil fields is a “wrong impression.” “I have a deep desire for peace. That’s what I have a desire for. And freedom for the Iraqi people. See, I don’t like a system where people are repressed through torture and murder in order to keep a dictator in place. It troubles me deeply. And so the Iraqi people must hear this loud and clear, that this country never has any intention to conquer anybody.”

Condoleeza Rice, in response to the proposition, “if Saddam’s primary export or natural resource was olive oil rather than oil, we would not be going through this situation,” said: “This cannot be further from the truth. He is a threat to his neighbors. He’s a threat to American security interest. That is what the president has in mind.” She continued: “This is not about oil.”

Colin Powell: “This is not about oil; this is about a tyrant, a dictator, who is developing weapons of mass destruction to use against the Arab populations.”

Donald Rumsfeld: “It’s not about oil and it’s not about religion.”

White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer on the U.S. desire to access Iraqi oil fields: “there’s just nothing to it.”

Coalition Provisional Authority Paul Bremer: “I have heard that allegation and I simply reject it.”

General John Abizaid, Combatant Commander, Central Command, “It’s not about oil.”

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham: “It was not about oil.”

“It’s not about the oil,” the Financial Times reported Richard Perle shouting at a parking attendant in frustration.

Australian Treasurer Peter Costello: “This is not about oil.”

Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger: “The only thing I can tell you is this war is not about oil.”

Jack Straw, British Foreign Secretary: “This is not about oil. This is about international peace and security.”

Utah Republican Senator Bob Bennett: “This is not about oil. That was very clear. This is about America, and America’s position in the world, as the upholder of liberty for the oppressed.”

And Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen joined war-monger Richard Perle in calling Representative Dennis Kucinich a “liar” (or at very least a “fool”), because Kucinich suggested the war might be motivated in part by a U.S. interest in Iraqi oil.

What lessons are to be drawn from the Greenspan-Kissinger revelations, other than that political leaders routinely lie or engage in mass self-delusion?

Controlling the U.S. war machine will require ending the U.S. addiction to oil — not just foreign oil, but oil. There are of course other reasons that ending reliance on fossil fuels is imperative and of the greatest urgency.

More and more people are making the connections — but there’s no outpouring in the streets to overcome the entrenched economic interests that seek to maintain the petro-military nexus. A good place to start: The No War, No Warming actions www.nowarnowarming.org planned for October 21-23 in Washington, D.C. and around the United States.

ROBERT WEISSMAN is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and director of Essential Action.

 

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ROBERT WEISSMAN is president of Public Citizen.

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