— The Erimtan Angle —

On 23 October 2012, Tennille Tracy writes that “Iraq is poised to become one of the most important suppliers of oil to the world, laying claim to vast pools of untapped resources that are far cheaper to produce than many other sources of oil, the International Energy Agency’s chief economist said Monday [, 22 Oct]”.[1]  It seems to me that the IAE as well as the Wall Street Journal appear to assume that the world is suffering from amnesia. The fact that Bush, Jr. invaded Iraq, all the way back in 2003, was primarily due to the fact it is a country which “floats on a sea of oil”, as put by neocon Paul Wolfowitz.[2]

Wolfowitz is a career politician, at it since the 1970s, and who from ‘1989 to 1993 . . . served in the administration of George H.W. Bush as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, under then U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Wolfowitz’s team co-ordinated and reviewed military strategy, raising $50 billion in allied financial support for the operation. Wolfowitz was present with Cheney, Colin Powell and others, on 27 February 1991 at the meeting with the President where it was decided that the troops should be demobilised. On February 25, 1998, Wolfowitz testified before a congressional committee that he thought that “the best opportunity to overthrow Saddam was, unfortunately, lost in the month right after the war.” Wolfowitz added that he was horrified in March as “Saddam Hussein flew helicopters that slaughtered the people in the south and in the north who were rising up against him, while American fighter pilots flew overhead, desperately eager to shoot down those helicopters, and not allowed to do so.” During that hearing, he also stated: “Some people might say—and I think I would sympathise with this view—that perhaps if we had delayed the ceasefire by a few more days, we might have got rid of Saddam Hussein.” After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Wolfowitz and his then-assistant Scooter Libby wrote the Wolfowitz Doctrine to “set the nation’s direction for the next century.” At that time the official administration line was “containment”, and the contents of Wolfowitz’s plan calling for “preemption” and “unilateralism” which was opposed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell and President Bush. Defense Secretary Cheney produced a revised plan released in 1992. Many of the ideas in the Wolfowitz Doctrine later became part of the Bush Doctrine. He left the government after the 1992 election’, as summarised by the good folks of Wikipedia.[3]

Now that the world has entered the Obama Era, the Bush Wars, neoconservative posturing, and blatant war-profiteering seem like things that happened a long time ago.[4]  But in reality, President Obama, as the rightful heir to the Bush foreign policy, has all but perpetuated Junior’s mistakes and mishaps, albeit wording them much more elegantly in public. As a result, the fact that nearly a decade after Shock & Awe, Iraq’s oil is finally re-entering the world market should surprise no-one. Hence, a little history lesson would see apposite. Hence, here is Michael Schwartz filling us in on the backstory to the Wall Street Journal’s “surprising scoop”: the “United States viewed Middle Eastern oil as a precious prize long before the Iraq war. During World War II, that interest had already sprung to life: When British officials declared Middle Eastern oil “a vital prize for any power interested in world influence or domination,” American officials agreed, calling it “a stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” This led to a scramble for access during which the United States established itself as the preeminent power of the future. Crucially, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt successfully negotiated an “oil for protection” agreement with King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. That was 1945. From then on, the U.S. found itself actively (if often secretly) engaged in the region. American agents were deeply involved in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government in 1953 (to reverse the nationalization of Iran’s oil fields), as well as in the fateful establishment of a Baathist Party dictatorship in Iraq in the early 1960s (to prevent the ascendancy of leftists who, it was feared, would align the country with the Soviet Union, putting the country’s oil in hock to the Soviet bloc). U.S. influence in the Middle East began to wane in the 1970s, when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was first formed to coordinate the production and pricing of oil on a worldwide basis. OPEC’s power was consolidated as various countries created their own oil companies, nationalized their oil holdings, and wrested decision-making away from the “Seven Sisters,” the Western oil giants — among them Shell, Texaco, and Standard Oil of New Jersey — that had previously dominated exploration, extraction, and sales of black gold. With all the key oil exporters on board, OPEC began deciding just how much oil would be extracted and sold onto international markets. Once the group established that all members would follow collective decisions — because even a single major dissenter might fatally undermine the ability to turn the energy “spigot” on or off — it could use the threat of production restrictions, or the promise of expansion, to bargain with its most powerful trading partners. In effect, a new power bloc had emerged on the international scene that could — in some circumstances — exact tangible concessions even from the United States and the Soviet Union, the two superpowers of the time. Though the United States was largely self-sufficient in oil when OPEC was first formed, the American economy was still dependent on trading partners, particularly Japan and Europe, which themselves were dependent on Middle Eastern oil. The oil crises of the early 1970s, including the sometimes endless gas lines in the U.S., demonstrated OPEC’s potential. It was in this context that the American alliance with the Saudi royal family first became so crucial. With the largest petroleum reserves on the planet and the largest production capacity among OPEC members, Saudi Arabia was usually able to shape the cartel’s policies to conform to its wishes. In response to this simple but essential fact, successive American presidents strengthened the Rooseveltian alliance, deepening economic and military relationships between the two countries. The Saudis, in turn, could normally be depended upon to use their leverage within OPEC to fit the group’s actions into the broader aims of U.S. policy. In other words, Washington gained favorable OPEC policies mainly by arming, and propping up a Saudi regime that was chronically fragile. Backed by a tiny elite that used immense oil revenues to service its own narrow interests, the Saudi royals subjected their impoverished population to an oppressively authoritarian regime. Not surprisingly, then, the “alliance” required increasing infusions of American military aid as well political support in situations that were often uncomfortable, sometimes untenable, for Washington. On its part, in an era of growing nationalism, the Saudis found overt pro-American policies difficult to sustain, given the pressures and proclivities of its OPEC partners and its own population”.[5]

Schwartz continues that the “key year in the Middle East would be 1979, when Iranians, who had lost their government to an American and British inspired coup in 1953, poured into the streets. The American-backed Shah’s brutal regime fell to a popular revolution; American diplomats were taken hostage by Iranian student demonstrators; and Ayatollah Khomeini and the mullahs took power. The Iranian revolution added a combustible new element to an already complex and unstable equation. It was, in a sense, the match lit near the pipeline. A regime hostile to Washington, and not particularly amenable to Saudi pressure, had now become an active member of OPEC, aspiring to use the organization to challenge American economic hegemony. It was at this moment, not surprisingly, that the militarization of American Middle Eastern policy came out of the shadows. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter — before his Habitat for Humanity days — enunciated what would become known as the “Carter Doctrine”: that Persian Gulf oil was “vital” to American national interests and that the U.S. would use “any means necessary, including military force” to sustain access to it. To assure that “access,” he announced the creation of a Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, a new military command structure that would be able to deliver personnel from all the armed services, together with state-of-the-art military equipment, to any location in the Middle East at top speed. Nurtured and expanded by succeeding presidents, this evolved into the United States Central Command (Centcom), which ended up in charge of all U.S. military activity in the Middle East and surrounding regions. It would prove the military foundation for the Gulf War of 1990, which rolled back Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait, and therefore prevented him from gaining control of that country’s oil reserves. Though it was not emphasized at the time, that first Gulf War was a crystalline application of the Carter Doctrine — that “any means necessary, including military force,” should be used to guarantee American access to Middle Eastern oil. That war, in turn, convinced a shaky Saudi royal family — that saw Iraqi troops reach its border — to accept an ongoing American military presence within the country, a development meant to facilitate future applications of the Carter Doctrine, but which would have devastating unintended consequences. The peaceful disintegration of the Soviet Union at almost the same moment seemed to signal that Washington now had uncontested global military supremacy, triggering a debate within American policy circles about how to utilize and preserve what Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer first called the “unipolar moment.” Future members of the administration of Bush the younger were especially fierce advocates for making aggressive use of this military superiority to enhance U.S. power everywhere, but especially in the Middle East. They eventually formed a policy advocacy group, The Project for a New American Century, to develop, and lobby for, their views. The group, whose membership included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and dozens of other key individuals who would hold important positions in the executive branch after George W. Bush took office, wrote an open letter to President Clinton in 1998 urging him to turn his “administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power.” They cited both the Iraqi dictator’s military belligerence and his control over “a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil.” Two years later, the group issued a ringing policy statement that would be the guiding text for the new administration. Entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses, it advocated what would become known as a Rumsfeldian-style transformation of the Pentagon. U.S. military preeminence was to be utilized to “secure and expand” American influence globally and possibly, in the cases of North Korea and Iraq, used “to remove these regimes from power and conduct post-combat stability operations.” (The document even commented on the problem of defusing American domestic resistance to such an aggressive stance, noting ominously that public approval could not be obtained without “some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor.”)”.[6]

 

Schwartz then turns to the events leading to the U.S. invasion of Saddam’s Iraq: the “second Bush administration ascended to the presidency just as American influence in the Middle East looked to be on the decline. Despite victory in the first Gulf War and the fall of the Soviet Union, American influence over OPEC and oil policies seemed under threat. That sucking sound everyone suddenly heard was a tremendous increase in the global demand for oil. With fears rising that, in the very near future, such demand could put a strain on OPEC’s resources, member states began negotiating ever more vigorously for a range of concessions and expanded political power in exchange for expanded energy production. By this time, of course, the United States had joined the ranks of the energy deficient and dependent, as imported oil surged past the 50% mark. In the meantime, key ally Saudi Arabia was further weakened by the rise of al-Qaeda, which took as its main goal the overthrow of the royal family, and its key target — think of those unintended consequences — the American troops triumphantly stationed at permanent bases in the country after Gulf War I. They seemed to confirm the accusations of Osama bin Laden and other Saudi dissidents that the royal family had indeed become little but a tool of American imperialism. This, in turn, made the Saudi royals increasingly reluctant hosts for those troops and ever more hesitant supporters of pro-American policies within OPEC. The situation was complicated further by what was obvious to any observer: The potential future leverage that both Iraq and Iran might wield in OPEC. With the second and third largest oil reserves on the planet — Iran also had the second largest reserves of natural gas — their influence seemed bound to rise. Iraq’s, in particular, would be amplified substantially as soon as Saddam Hussein’s regime was freed from severe limitations imposed by post-war UN sanctions, which prevented it from either developing new oil fields or upgrading its deteriorating energy infrastructure. Though the leaders of the two countries were enemies, having fought a bitter war in the 1980s, they could agree, at least, on energy policies aimed at thwarting American desires or demands — a position only strengthened in 1998 when the citizens of Venezuela, the most important OPEC member outside the Middle East, elected the decidedly anti-American Hugo Chavez as president. In other words, in January 2001, the new administration in Washington could look forward to negotiating oil policy not only with a reluctant Saudi royal family, but also a coterie of hostile powers in a strengthened OPEC. It is hardly surprising, then, that the new administration, bent on unipolarity anyway and dreaming of a global Pax Americana, wasted no time implementing the aggressive policies advocated in the PNAC manifesto. According to then Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill in his memoir The Price of Loyalty, Iraq was much on the mind of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the first meeting of the National Security Council on January 30, 2001, seven months before the 9/11 attacks. At that meeting, Rumsfeld argued that the Clinton administration’s Middle Eastern focus on Israel-Palestine should be unceremoniously dumped. “[W]hat we really want to think about,” he reportedly said, “is going after Saddam.” Regime change in Iraq, he argued, would allow the U.S. to enhance the situation of the pro-American Kurds, redirect Iraq toward a market economy, and guarantee a favorable oil policy. The adjudication of Rumsfeld’s recommendation was shuffled off to the mysterious National Energy Policy Development Group that Vice President Cheney convened as soon as Bush took occupancy of the Oval Office. This task force quickly decided that enhanced American influence over the production and sale of Middle East oil should be “a primary focus of U.S. international energy policy,” relegating both the development of alternative energy sources and domestic energy conservation measures to secondary, or even tertiary, status. A central goal of the administration’s Middle East focus would be to convince, or coerce, states in that region “to open up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment”; that is, to replace government control of the oil spigot — the linchpin of OPEC power — with decision-making by multinational oil companies headquartered in the West and responsive to U.S. policy needs. If such a program could be extended even to a substantial minority of Middle Eastern oil fields, it would prevent coordinated decision-making and constrain, if not break, the power of OPEC. This was a theoretically enticing way to staunch the loss of American power in the region and truly turn the Bush years into a new unipolar moment in the Middle East. Having determined its goals, the Task Force began laying out a more detailed strategy. According to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, the most significant innovation was to be a close collaboration between Cheney’s energy crew and the National Security Council (NSC). The NSC evidently agreed “to cooperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered the ‘melding’ of two seemingly unrelated areas of policy: ‘the review of operational policies towards rogue states,’ such as Iraq, and ‘actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.'” Though all these deliberations were secret, enough of what was going on has emerged in these last years to demonstrate that the “melding” process was successful. By March of 2001, according to O’Neill, who was a member of both the NSC and the task force: “Actual plans…. were already being discussed to take over Iraq and occupy it — complete with disposition of oil fields, peacekeeping forces, and war crimes tribunals — carrying forward an unspoken doctrine of preemptive war.” O’Neill also reported that, by the time of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the plan for conquering Iraq had been developed and that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld indeed urged just such an attack at the first National Security Council meeting convened to discuss how the U.S. should react to the disaster. After several days of discussion, an attack on Iraq was postponed until after al-Qaeda had been wiped out and the Taliban driven from power in Afghanistan. It took only until January 2002 — three months of largely successful fighting in Afghanistan — before the “administration focus was returning to Iraq.” It wasn’t until November 2002, though, that O’Neill heard the President himself endorse the invasion plans, which took place the following March 20th”.[7]

So, why did the U.S. invade Iraq???  Was it only about???  Basically, it seems to have been greed, and oil played a big part in it. And now, nearly ten years later, Iraq’s oil will become available on the free market. Writing in the unlikely Alaska Dispatch, Blake Clayton puts forward that Iraq currently pumps “roughly 3 million barrels a day . . . [which] make[s] it the world’s third-largest [oil] exporter. Consider that Iran, hobbled by Western sanctions, is only producing half as much oil today as Iraq, whose wells are putting out more than twice what they did in 2003, the year of the Iraq War. Yet by the 2030s, according to the IEA, Iraq may double its current output, leapfrogging energy-powerhouse Russia as the second-largest oil exporter in the world. This is hardly a far-fetched forecast. The country’s proven oil reserves are the fifth largest in the world, its proven gas reserves the thirteenth largest. Its actual rank is likely far higher. In comparison to other major oil producing countries, Iraq is still uncharted territory. Much of its geology remains little known and may well hold significant additional amounts of oil. A good part of what has been explored, at least outside of the Kurdistan area, happened prior to 1962. Today’s vastly better technology and higher oil prices almost certainly mean that sizeable new reserves will soon be discovered”.[8]  In spite of Clayton’s tentative language, Iraq’s oil wealth has been well-known for many years, to use a Rumsfeldian phrase, it was all but an “unknown known”. And to make things even more obvious, bordering on tacitly approving the 2003 Bush invasion, he concludes that “[i]f Iraq can ramp up its oil production, American consumers will be among the winners”.[9]


[1] Tenille Tracy, “Iraq Poised to Become Major Oil Supplier to World, IEA Says” The Wall Street Journal (23 Oct 2012). http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203406404578074131934740160.html?mod=googlenews_wsj.

[2] “Tomgram: Michael Schwartz, Iraq Policy Floating on a Sea of Oil” TomDispatch (30 October 2007). http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174856/michael_schwartz_iraq_policy_floating_on_a_sea_of_oil.

[3] “Paul Wolfowitz” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Wolfowitz.

[4] Cfr. “Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (30 April 2012). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/iraq-for-sale-the-war-profiteers/.

[5] Michael Schwartz, “Why Did We Invade Iraq Anyway? ” TomDispatch (30 October 2007).

[6] Michael Schwartz, “Why Did We Invade Iraq Anyway? ”.

[7] Michael Schwartz, “Why Did We Invade Iraq Anyway? ”.

[8] Blake Clayton, “Iraq’s oil reserves have potential to reshape global energy landscape” Alaska Dispatch (23 Oct 2012). http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/iraqs-oil-reserves-have-potential-reshape-global-energy-landscape.

[9] Blake Clayton, “Iraq’s oil reserves have potential to reshape global energy landscape”.

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