by James Petras
November 6th, 2007
Explanations for the US attack on Iraq range from military-political pretexts to accounts focusing on geopolitical and economic interests.
The original official explanation was the now discredited claim that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical, biological and other weapons of mass destructions (WMD), which threatened the US, Israel and the Middle East. Subsequent to the US military occupation, when no WMD were discovered, Washington justified the invasion and occupation by citing the removal of a dictator and the establishment of a prosperous democracy in the Arab world. The imposition of a colonial puppet regime, propped up by an imperial occupation force of over 200,000 troops and irregular death squads, which have killed close to a million Iraqi civilians, forced over 4 million into exile and impoverished over 95% of the population, puts the lie to that line of argument. The latest line of justification revolves around the notion that the US occupation is necessary to ‘prevent a civil war’. Most Iraqis and military experts think the presence of the US colonial occupation army is the cause of violent conflict, particularly the US military’s devastating attacks on civilians, their financing of rival tribal leaders and Kurdish mercenaries and their contracting of local police-military to repress the population. Since most Americans (not to speak of the rest of the world) are not convinced by these specious arguments, the Washington regime rationalizes its continued war and occupation by citing the need for a colonial military victory to maintain its world and regional status as a super-power, and to assure its Middle East client regimes that Washington can defend their ruling cliques and their hegemonic ally, Israel. The Bush White House and pro-Israel Congressional leaders claim a victory in Iraq will bolster Washington’s image as a successful global ‘anti-terrorist’ (anti-insurgent) regime. These post-facto justifications have lost credibility as the war drags on, popular resistance grows in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Somalia, Thailand, Philippines, Pakistan and elsewhere. The longer the war continues, the greater the economic cost and the demoralization and depletion of military personnel, the more difficult the task of sustaining the capacity to intervene in defense of the empire.
If the official political and military justifications for the US colonial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ring hollow and convince few, what of the other economic explanations for the war put forth mostly but not exclusively by critics of the Bush administration?
The major focus of the economic determinists of the war centers on the issue of oil, as in ‘war for oil’.* These explanations in turn break down into several variants: The first and most popular is that the big US oil companies were behind the war, that Bush and Cheney were pressured by their Big Oil handlers into launching the war so that US oil companies could seize the nationally-owned Iraqi oil fields and refineries. A second, slightly modified, version argued that the White House was not pressured by Big Oil but acted on their behalf as a reflex action. (This is put forth to explain why the spokesmen for Big Oil multinationals were so conspicuously absent from the media and halls of Congress in the lead-up to the war.) (* see recent statements in September and October by former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan and US General John Abazaid among others)
A third version argued that the US went to war to secure oil for US national security interests threatened by Saddam Hussein. This explanation cites the danger of Saddam Hussein closing down the Strait of Hormuz, invading the Gulf States, inciting revolts in Saudi Arabia and/or reducing the flow of Middle East oil to the US and its allies. In other words, the ‘geopolitics’ of the Middle East dictated that a non-client regime was a threat to US, European and Japanese access to oil. This is apparently the latest argument put forth by Alan Greenspan, a former proponent of the WMD propaganda.
The major advocates of the ‘war for oil’ (WFO) argument fail several empirical tests: Namely that the oil companies were not actively supporting the war via propaganda, congressional lobbying or through any other policy vehicle. Secondly the proponents of WFO fail to explain the efforts by major oil companies to develop economic ties with Iraq prior to the invasion and were in fact, working through clandestine third parties to trade in Iraqi oil. Thirdly, all the major oil companies operating in the Middle East were mainly concerned with political stability, the liberalization of the economic policies of the region and the opening of oil services for foreign investors. The big oil companies’ strategies were to advance their global interests through the on-going liberalization process in the Middle East and conquering new markets and oil resources through their formidable market power – investments and technology. The onset of the US invasion of Iraq was viewed with anxiety and concern as a military action, which would destabilize the region, increase hostility to their interests throughout the Gulf and slow down the liberalization process. Not a single CEO from the entire petroleum industry viewed the US invasion as a positive ‘national security’ measure, because they understood that Saddam Hussein, after over a decade of economic and military sanctions and frequent bombing of his military installations and infrastructure throughout the Clinton years, was not in a position to launch any acts of aggression against Gulf oil companies or states. Moreover the oil companies had several real prospects of developing lucrative service and commercial oil contracts with Saddam Hussein’s regime in the lead-up to the war. It was the US government pressured by the Zionist Power Configuration (ZPC), which pushed legislation blocking (through sanctions) Big Oil from consummating these economic agreements with Iraq.
The argument that Big Oil promoted the war for its own benefit fails the empirical test. A corollary to that is that Big Oil has failed to benefit from the US occupation because of the heightened conflict, continuous sabotage, the predictable resistance of the Iraqi oil workers to privatization and the general insecurity, instability and hostility of the Iraqi people.
The American Left jumped on Alan Greenspan’s declaration that the Iraq war was about oil, as some kind of confirmation in the absence of any evidence. Yet everyday that has transpired since the beginning of the war five years ago, demonstrates that ‘Big Oil’ not only did not promote the invasion, but has failed to secure a single oil field, despite the presence of 160,000 US troops, thirty thousand Pentagon/State Department paid mercenaries and a corrupt puppet regime. As of September 19, 2007 the Financial Times of London featured an article on the conspicuous absence of the ‘Oil Majors’ in Iraq: “Big Oil Plays a Waiting Game over Iraq’s Reserves’ (September 19, 2007). Only a few small companies (‘oil minnows’) have contracts in Northern Iraq (‘Kurdistan’), which has only 3% of Iraq’s reserves. ‘Big Oil’ did not start the Iraq war, nor has ‘Big Oil’ benefited from the war. The reason why ‘Big Oil’ did not support the war is the same reason they haven’t invested after the occupation: “The level of violence is still unacceptably high…if anything the prospects of agreement appears to be receding as tensions between parties grow.” (ibid) ‘Big Oil’s’ worst nightmares leading up to the Zionist-influenced war have all been utterly confirmed. Whereas ‘Big Oil’s’ negotiations and third party deals with pre-war Iraq provided a stable and consistent flow of oil and revenue, the war has not only reduced these revenues to zero, but has all but eliminated any new options for the next decade.
Despite the war, liberalization elsewhere in the region has proceeded and US oil and financial interests have advanced despite the increased obstacles and hostilities, which have grown out of the US slaughter of Muslims.
Big Oil, Texas billionaires, even big contributors to the Bush family political campaigns were no match for the ZPC when it came to Middle East war policy. They lacked the inside and outside power, the disciplined grass roots organization of Jewish community organizations to overcome the Zionist warmongering power over Congress, their position in strategic executive offices and their army of academic scribes from Harvard, Yale and Hopkins churning out bellicose propaganda in the US media. What is striking about the position papers and op-ed reprints in the Daily Alert is the total absence of any deviation from official Israeli pro-war positions: Whether it is killing children in Jenin, bombing population centers in Lebanon, shelling Arab families relaxing at the beach in Gaza, the Daily Alert simply echoes the official Israeli line and blatant lies about human shields, accidents, gunmen among school children, self-induced atrocities. Never in the entire period analyzed is there a single critical article questioning Israel’s massive displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. No crime against humanity is too great for the Presidents of the Leading American Jewish Organizations to defend. It is this slavish obedience to the official Israeli policy that marks out the Zionist Power Configuration as something much more than just another lobby as its ‘left’ apologists and even Walt and Mearsheimer claim. The ZPC is much more sinister both as a transmission belt for the policies and interests of a colonial power hell-bent on domination in the Middle East and as the most serious authoritarian threat to our democratic freedoms: no single individual who dares criticize can escape the long hand of the pro-Israel authoritarians. Book sellers are picketed, editors are intimidated, university presses and distributors are threatened, university presidents are blackmailed, local and national candidates are browbeaten and smeared, meetings are cancelled and venues are pressured, faculty are fired or denied promotion, corporations are blacklisted, union pension funds are raided, theater performances and concerts are cancelled. And the list of repressive actions taken by these authoritarian Zionist organizations at the national and local levels runs on, arousing fear among some, anger among many more and a slowly burning resentment and growing awareness among the silent majority. The second geo-political version of ‘oil for war’ focuses on the national security issues. After the First Gulf War in 1991 and eleven years of economic sanctions and military disarmament, Iraq was an impoverished, weak nation partially dismembered by the US backed Kurdish enclave in the north and constant US bombing and over flights. Iraq was severely bombed several times during the Clinton regimes and over 1 million of its citizens, including an estimated 500,000 children, died prematurely from conditions related to the US imposed deprivation of food and essential medical and water treatment supplies.
Before the invasion in 2003 Iraq did not even control its shorelines, airspace or even a third of its national territory. As the US invasion demonstrated, Saddam’s military lacked the most elementary capacity to mount any defense in a conventional war, not even a single fighter plane presented a threat to any offshore US client or to the Strait of Hormuz. The stiff resistance to the US came later in the form of irregular forces engaged in guerrilla warfare, not from any organized force established by the Baathist regime. In other words no matter how far the concept of ‘national security’ is stretched to include US military bases, oil installations, client rulers and transport and shipping lanes in the Middle East, Saddam Hussein was clearly not a threat. If however the concept of ‘national security’ is re-defined to mean the physical elimination of any potential opponent of US and Israeli domination in the region, then Saddam Hussein could be labeled a national security threat. But that takes the discussion of the explanation for the US war against Iraq to another terrain and a discussion of the political forces who manipulated the phony WMD and ‘War for Oil’ propaganda to justify a war for US and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. Even more important the disinformation campaign about who was responsible for the US invasion and occupation of Iraq is highly relevant to the current propaganda blitz driving us toward a war with Iran.
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