September 25, 2005

War for Oil: The connections between policy and practice

It's been a familiar sight on the evening news, throngs of people weaving serpent-like through city streets, or individuals standing in small groups on lonely rural highways, holding homemade signs and waving banners, all chanting the modern mantra of resistance to government they feel no longer represents them; "No Blood for Oil". Derided by the right as "unpatriotic", and viewed by others as "simplistic" for not grasping the full nuances of modern global realities, the "No Blood for Oil" protesters see the war in Iraq as an extension of a growingly aggressive US energy policy. Like all blanket indictments, the idea that the foreign policy of the worlds most powerful nation could be written in the boardrooms of Exxon-Mobile or Chevron-Texaco sounds far fetched to many, to say the least. But like all popular myths, the notion that this nation was dragged into a seemingly endless war in Iraq solely to fill the coffers of malevolent oil interests, is in fact based on more than a kernel of truth. Although future historians will no doubt write volumes on the motivations that led this nation to war, listing a quest for empire and global economic hegemony, misguided altruism, self defense, fear, revenge, greed and hubris among them, the need to secure oil for an increasingly energy dependent nation will undoubtedly be included high on the list.

The idea that nations go to war to secure natural resources should not be shocking to anyone. Throughout history few wars have been fought for any other reason. At the time, during the heat of the battle, it is usually difficult to discern the true motivations for war. Patriotic fervor and war-time propaganda can prevent rational analysis. Most people believe that a peaceful nation would never go to war for sugar, bananas, rubber, cotton, coal or animal hides, yet history proves that we have fought wars for all those very reasons.

Few would argue that the first Gulf War was about anything but oil. Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait and was poised to do the same to Saudi Arabia, threatening to destabilize world oil supplies. In response to that threat a global effort was organized in order to thwart his expansion. This current situation does not appear to be quite as clear cut. The weaving of a popular narrative involving 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, and an evil dictator have clouded and obscured the facts. In order to see how oil has affected our current foreign policy we need only go back and look at the events that led up to the current situation in Iraq.

As early as Sept. of 2000 presidential candidate George Bush was beginning to discuss the need to revise US policy vis-à-vis Saddam Hussein and oil. In his ""A Vision for America"he discussed Iraq and oil.

"As U.S. influence in the Gulf has waned, Iraq’s relative influence as an oil supplier to U.S. and world markets has increased...Iraq is now the fastest growing oil supplier to the United States…as spare production capacity becomes tighter, Iraq is moving into a position to become an important “swing producer,” with an ability to single handedly impact and manipulate global markets…. Perhaps most ominously, Saddam Hussein is threatening to cut back production and is again…"

Within ten days of taking office, a presidential task force was set up under the guidance of Vice President Dick Cheney to look into the energy situation. The exact details of who participated in the meetings and what was discussed have been shrouded in mystery. The White House fought a protracted legal battle to keep the information secret, but it is known that representatives of major energy and oil interests participated, and Iraq was a chief topic of conversation. Cheney's Energy Task Force authored a variety of documents, many relating to the oil industries of Iraq, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.

In documents acquired through the FOIA it is obvious that a post-Saddam Iraq was considered a forgone conclusion by the Cheney Task Force. One entitled "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts", dated March 5, 2001, includes a table listing 30 countries which have interests in Iraq's oil industry, including the names of companies, the oil fields with which they are associated, as well as the statuses of those interests. Another titled "Map of Iraq's oil fields" shows markings for "supergiant" oil fields of 5 billion barrels or more, other oilfields, fields "earmarked for production sharing," oil pipelines, operational refineries, and tanker terminals.

Due to the secrecy surrounding the Cheney task force, perhaps a more revealing report was that of an independent task force cosponsored by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University and the Council on Foreign Relations entitled; STRATEGIC ENERGY POLICY CHALLENGES FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Members of this task force included:
  • Ken Lay: CEO Enron
  • John Manzoni: Regional President BP
  • Steven Miller: CEO Shell Oil
  • David Reilly: CEO Chevron/Texaco
  • Chuck Watson: CEO Dynegy
  • Edward Morse: Exec. Advisor Hess
  • Eric Melby: Scowcroft Group
  • Thomas McLarty: Kissinger McLarty Associates
  • numerous other Energy and foreign policy experts.

The findings of this Task Force were forwarded to Cheney’s Energy Task Force and were used as a basis for many of its recommendations.

“It is vital for the United States to assure stable and transparent international energy markets that provide prices which foster economic growth. It is also in the strategic interest of the United States to assure that appropriate national and international mechanisms are in place to prevent disruptions in energy supplies…"

"Iraq remains a destabilizing influence to U.S. allies in the Middle East, as well as to regional and global order, and to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East. Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his own export program to manipulate oil markets. This would display his personal power, enhance his image as a "Pan Arab" leader supporting the Palestinians against Israel, and pressure others for a lifting of economic sanctions against his regime.

The United States should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq, including military, energy, economic, and political/diplomatic assessments."

Around this same period the military also began to anticipate an expanded role in protecting the nation's energy interests. Tommy Franks, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in April 2001, said the (military) stood ready to protect American vital interests throughout the Central Command area of responsibility.

"The key to the Central Command area is to maintain uninterrupted access to energy resources. The Persian Gulf region contains roughly 68 percent of the world's known oil and natural gas reserves -more than 40 percent of which pass through the Strait of Hormuz," Franks said.

"And so, one of our responsibilities - in fact, one of our objectives - is to maintain access to these energy resources at the same time that we maintain access to markets in the region," he remarked. "Iraq, of course, is the main disturber of the peace in the region"

After 9/11 and the ensuing war fever, the conceptual began to move closer to reality. The rhetoric was turned up and the propaganda machine went into full swing. It was not long before the majority of the American people supported military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power. In order to offset any disruption in the flow of oil from the region the Bush administration began to stockpile American oil reservesin anticipation that global supplies would be disrupted and oil prices would rise due to possible upcoming hostilities. Oil shipments into America’s strategic reserve reached record levels by July of 2002, adding some 150,000 barrels a day. The White House aimed to add more than 100 million barrels to the reserve, which would bring it close to its 700 million barrels capacity

By the early fall of 2002, regime change seemed inevitable and rival factions within energy world began to vie for the spoils from Saddam's impending demise. Like hyenas drawn by the smell of carrion, they began to gather, nipping at each others tails trying to prevent each other from getting too close to the prize. In Sept. Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation published, "The Road to Economic Prosperity for a Post-Saddam Iraq", in which he proposed that Iraq's oil industry split up into three large, privately owned companies, along the lines of ethnic separation, with one company in the largely Shia south, another in the Sunni region, and the last in the Kurdish north. He also recommended that a post Saddam Iraq should shun membership in OPEC and not abide by their price controls. In October, Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the US supported Iraqi National Congress, met executives of three US oil multinationals to negotiate the carve-up of Iraq's massive oil reserves. Although Russia, France and China had existing deals with Iraq, Chalabi made clear that he would reward the US for removing Saddam with lucrative oil contracts, telling the Washington Post that: "American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil."

Upon hearing about the meetings, Lord Browne, the head of BP, warned that British oil companies would soon be squeezed out of post-war Iraq even before the first shot had been fired in any US-led land invasion.

Into the fall more meetings followed. In November, a meeting of oil executives gathered at an English country retreat to discuss Iraq and the future of the oil market. The conference, hosted by Sheikh Yamani, the former Oil Minister of Saudi Arabia, featured a former Iraqi head of military intelligence, an ex-Minister and various financiers. "Topics for discussion include the country's oil potential, whether it could become as big a supplier as Saudi Arabia, and whether a post-Saddam Iraq might have the economic power to destroy the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries".

A new Iraq, with a privatized oil industry and the power to break OPECS stranglehold on worldwide oil markets was seen by many to be a major benefit of military action in Iraq. Larry Lindsey, President Bush's economic adviser, claimed in September, 2002 that "When there is a regime change in Iraq, you could add three to five million barrels [per day] of production to world supply. The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy" Twenty months into the Bush administration's tenure it became obvious that the recommendations made in the first months of power were going to be acted upon

Over time the administrations claims as to the reasons we went to war have varied. There was 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, to "fight the terrorists there, and not here", to spread democracy, to free an oppressed people and the list goes on ad-nauseam. But one underlying thread runs through all the excuses and fabrications that have been made during the run-up and execution of the war; oil. Although only time will eventually reveal the true motivations behind the Bush administration and their compatriots decisions, no matter what their ultimate rationale turns out to be, it is safe to assume that there was some oil involved to grease the wheels of war.

September 11, 2005

About IraqFact

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for taking the time to check out Iraqfact. The IraqFact Working Group was formed in late May of 2005 as a grassroots cooperative effort to disseminate information about the events that led to the US invasion of Iraq.

During the painful period after 9/11, all Americans truly hoped that our leadership would rise to the occasion and make the decisions necessary to protect our nation, not only in those perilous times, but in the future. In that light, it is easily understood why it is only now, some four years later, that many Americans are just beginning to re-examine the events of that period to see exactly how it is that we have become embroiled in a seemingly endless war in Iraq.

With the revelations of the Downing Street Memos and the ensuing debate, it became evident that many Americans had not been made aware, or had forgotten, some crucial facts about the events that led up to the start of hostilities in Iraq. While the mainstream media wrote off the memos as "old news", for an ever growing segment of the population it became the first time a serious look at the events of the period took place. It was against this backdrop that IraqFact was formed.

IraqFact was started as a collaboration between a couple of progressive bloggers to gather information on the US military build-up prior to war in order to supplement the facts revealed in the Downing Street Memos.

Over time its mission has evolved to fill the need for comprehensive background information on the events that paved the path to war. Our main goal is to provide a resource for those who wish to find out more about actions and events that occurred during one of the most complex periods of our nation's history.