Global Policy Forum

History Will Show US Lusted After Oil


By Linda McQuaig

Toronto Star
December 26, 2004

Decades from now, historians will likely calmly discuss the war currently raging in Iraq, and identify oil as one of the key factors that led to it. They will point to the growing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, the importance of oil in the rising competition between the U.S. and China, and the huge untapped store of oil lying unprotected under the Iraqi sand. It will all probably seem fairly obvious. Just don't expect to hear this sort of discussion now, however, when it might actually make a difference.

In fact, a year-and-a-half into the U.S. occupation of Iraq, with the carnage over there spiralling ever more out of control, don't expect media discussions of Iraq to stray much beyond the issue of "fighting terrorism." Indeed, while ordinary people around the world apparently suspect Washington was motivated by oil, not terrorism, there continues to be a strange unwillingness in the mainstream media to probe such a possibility. Perhaps it simply sounds too crass.

It implies that those at the very top of the U.S. government willingly sacrificed countless lives to further a cause that has nothing to do with liberty or democracy. This sort of allegation certainly doesn't fit with the respectful, even deferential approach generally taken in the U.S. media towards George W. Bush, just chosen Time magazine's Man of the Year. Raising the oil factor also perhaps sounds unsophisticated. Some commentators, like syndicated columnist Gwynne Dyer, scoff at the notion of an oil motive, suggesting it's not necessary to invade countries to get their oil: "You just write them a cheque." But buying oil isn't the goal; getting control of it is.

Dyer's cheque-book solution wouldn't have solved much back in 1973, when the Arab oil embargo temporarily left the U.S. unable to satisfy its voracious appetite for oil. That created a deep sense of vulnerability — a rare experience for the world's most powerful country. Preventing the U.S. from ever being vulnerable like that again has been a key objective of American strategic planners ever since. The 1973 embargo sparked a new hawkishness in Washington. An article in the March, 1975, issue of Harper's, titled "Seizing Arab Oil," unabashedly outlined plans for a U.S. invasion to seize key Middle East oilfields and prevent Arab countries from having such control over the modern world's most vital commodity.

The author, writing under a pseudonym, wasn't just any old right-wing blowhard; it turned out to be Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. But seizing Arab oilfields was too risky as long as the Soviet Union existed. The Soviet collapse in 1991 opened up new possibilities. Kissinger's old idea was taken up with new interest by a small group of right-wing Republicans who, in the late 1990s, formed the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). In a 1998 letter, the PNAC urged President Bill Clinton to overthrow Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, whose potential control over "a significant portion of the world's oil" was considered a "hazard."

One could dismiss the PNAC as just another group of right-wing blowhards — except that the group included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, who became key figures in the Bush administration and principal architects of the Iraq war. Is it really such a stretch to imagine that, only a few years after forming the PNAC, oil was still on their minds? "The plan to take over Iraq is a revival of an old plan that first appeared in 1975. It was the Kissinger plan," James Akins, who served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia under Kissinger, told me in an interview in Washington in 2003.

Dyer insists that the Iraq invasion wasn't about oil, but about extending U.S. power. But these goals go hand in glove. Gaining control over oil is crucial to extending U.S. power, and will be even more so in the coming years as the world's easily-accessible oil reserves are depleted, creating ever fiercer competition for what remains. All this will make controlling the Middle East that much more crucial. Or, as Cheney put it in a speech to the London Institute of Petroleum in 1999, when he was CEO of oil giant Halliburton: "The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies."

Now that he's vice-president, Cheney no longer talks about the Middle East as "the prize." He talks about it as the place terrorism must be confronted. Call me unsophisticated, but it seems to me that politicians often try to disguise what they're really up to, and we have to wait decades for historians to point out the obvious.

More Information Iraq
More Information on Oil in Iraq
More Information on Justifications for War on Iraq
More Information on Media Coverage of Iraq


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