Ostensibly, “oil” was part of the discussion on Saddam Hussein because of U.S. sanctions, the threat that Saddam would use oil money to bankroll terrorist organizations, and the idea that new oil revenues would help jumpstart the post-Saddam Iraqi economy.
Those were the reasons paraded around in public. Then there were the ones being discussed — well before Condi and Dick made the Sunday morning talk show rounds — in the arcane, interconnected world of multinational corporations, federal departments and think tanks:
Like it or not, Iraqi reserves represent a major asset that can quickly add capacity to world oil markets and inject a more competitive tenor to oil trade. However, such a policy will be quite costly as this trade-off will encourage Saddam Hussein to boast of his “victory” against the United States, fuel his ambitions, and potentially strengthen his regime.
The U.S. invasion rather nicely took care of that dilemma, and, of course, the U.S. government and U.S. oil majors moved to secure pieces of the pie before other countries could come in. Alongside other Western governments and oil majors, Washington is pushing for an Iraq Oil Law that would allow privatization and Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs), which, Jamail reports, are only used in 12% of the world’s oil market. Why only 12%? Because more nationalistic individuals don’t like signing off on them: in Russia, for instance, Vladimir Putin made rescinding PSAs Boris Yeltsin’s government had signed with U.S. and UK firms a top priority. The law has stalled in the Iraqi Parliament.
U.S. desires over post-regime change Iraq were not an exception to the rule though, even if Vice President Cheney‘s shadowy task forces tried its best to keep their meetings under wraps:
Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill charges that Cheney agitated for U.S. intervention well before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Additional evidence that Cheney played an early planning role is contained in a previously undisclosed National Security Council document, dated February 3, 2001. The top-secret document, written by a high-level N.S.C. official, concerned Cheney’s newly formed Energy Task Force. It directed the N.S.C. staff 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.”
“Seemingly unrelated” is a misnomer. Our Afghanistan policy during the Clinton Administration was driven by the same calculus, though Afghanistan was a transit country, not a well-source. Our engagement with Soviet successor states in Central Asia takes oil (and natural gas) into account over human rights, as did our Iran policy from Eisenhower to Carter. And let us not forget the “scramble for Libya” — though the U.S. will have to fight the Europeans tooth and nail for additional concessions.
Ironically, even after eight years of occupation, the People’s Republic of China is ahead of us in Iraq when it comes to securing cut-rate concessions. We opened the market after all, and are finding ourselves out-competed. So much for imperial preference.
Paul Mutter is a Fellow at Truthout and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.