For those still wondering why President George
W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney sent our young men and women into Iraq,
the secret is now "largely" out.
No, not from the lips of former secretary of state Colin Powell. It appears
we shall have to wait until the disgraced general/diplomat draws nearer to meeting
his maker before he gets concerned over anything more than the "blot"
that Iraq has put on his reputation.
Rather, the uncommon candor comes from a highly respected Republican doyen,
economist Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006,
whom the president has praised for his "wise policies and prudent judgment."
Sadly for Bush and Cheney, Greenspan decided to put prudence aside in his new
Age of Turbulence, and answer the most neuralgic issue of our times
– why the United States invaded Iraq.
"I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what
everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."
Everyone knows? Would that it were so. But it’s hardly everyone. Sometimes
I think it’s hardly anyone.
There are so many, still, who "can’t handle the truth," and that
is all too understandable. I have found it a wrenching experience to be forced
to conclude that the America I love would deliberately launch what the Nuremburg
Tribunal called the "supreme international crime" – a war of aggression – largely
for oil. For those who are able to overcome the very common, instinctive denial,
for those who can handle the truth, it really helps to turn off the Sunday football
games early enough to catch up on what’s going on.
On January 11, 2004, viewers of CBS’ 60 Minutes
saw another of Bush’s senior economic advisers, former treasury secretary Paul
O’Neill discussing The
Price of Loyalty, his memoir about his two years inside the Bush administration.
O’Neill, a plain speaker, likened the president’s behavior at cabinet meetings
to that of "a blind man in a roomful of deaf people." How does he
manage? Cheney and "a praetorian guard that encircled the president"
help Bush make decisions off-line, blocking contrary views.
Cheney has a Rumsfeldian knack for aphorisms that don’t parse in the real world –
like "deficits don’t matter." To his credit, O’Neill picked a fight
with that and ended up being fired personally by Cheney. In his book, Greenspan
heaps scorn on that same Cheneyesque insight.
O’Neill made no bones about his befuddlement over the president’s diffident
disengagement from discussions on policy – except, that is, for Bush’s remarks
betraying a pep-rally-cheerleader fixation with removing Saddam Hussein and
Why Iraq? 'Largely Oil'
O’Neill began to understand better after Bush’s
inauguration when the discussion among his top advisers abruptly moved to how
to divvy up Iraq’s oil wealth. Just days into the job, President Bush created
the Cheney energy task force with the stated aim of developing "a national
energy policy designed to help the private sector." Typically, Cheney has
been able to keep secret its deliberations and even the names of its members.
But a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit forced the Commerce Department to
turn over task force documents, including a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines,
refineries, terminals, and potential areas for exploration; a Pentagon chart
"Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts;" and another chart
detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects – all dated March 2001.
On the 60 Minutes, program on December 15, 2002, Steve Croft asked then-defense
secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "What do you say to people who think this [the
coming invasion of Iraq] is about oil?" Rumsfeld replied:
"Nonsense. It just isn’t. There – there – there are certain... things
like that, myths that are floating around. I’m glad you asked. I – it has nothing
to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil."
Greenspan’s indiscreet remark adds to the abundant
evidence that Iraq oil, and not weapons of mass destruction, was the priority
target long before the Bush administration invoked WMD as a pretext to invade
Iraq. In the heady days of "Mission Accomplished," a week after the
president landed on the aircraft carrier, then-deputy defense secretary Paul
Wolfowitz virtually bragged about the deceit during an interview. On May 9,
2003, Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair:
"The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the
U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone
could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason..."
That was seven weeks after the invasion; no weapons of mass destruction had
been found; and Americans were growing tired of being told that this was because
Iraq was the size of California. Eventually, of course, Wolfowitz’ boss Rumsfeld
was forced to concede, as he did to me during our impromptu TV debate on May
4, 2006: "It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there."
But three years before, during that heady May of 2003 when all else seemed
to be going along swimmingly, the inebriation of apparent success led to another
glaring indiscretion by Wolfowitz. During a relaxed moment in Singapore late
that month, Wolfowitz reminded the press that Iraq "floats on a sea of
oil," and thus added to the migraine he had already given folks in the
White House PR shop.
But wait. For those of us absorbing more than FOX channel news, the primacy
of the oil factor was a no-brainer. The limited number of invading troops were
ordered to give priority to securing the oil wells and oil industry infrastructure
immediately and let looters have their way with just about everything else (including
the ammunition storage depots!). Barely three weeks into the war, Rumsfeld famously
answered criticism for not stopping the looting: "Stuff happens."
No stuff happened to the Oil Ministry.
Small wonder that, according to O’Neill, Rumsfeld tried hard to dissuade him
from writing his book and has avoided all comment on it. As for Greenspan’s
book, Rumsfeld will find it easier to dodge questions from the Washington press
corps from his sinecure at the Hoover Institute at Stanford.
Eminence Grise...or Oily
The other half of what Col. Larry Wilkerson, Colin
Powell’s former chief of staff at the State Department, calls the "Cheney-Rumsfeld
cabal" is still lurking in the shadows. What changed Cheney’s mind toward
Iraq from his sensible attitude after the Gulf War when, as defense secretary,
he defended President George H. W. Bush’s decision not to attempt to oust Saddam
Hussein and conquer Iraq? Here is what Cheney said in August 1992:
"...how many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?...not
that damned many. So I think we got it right...when the president made
the decision that we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems
of trying to take over and govern Iraq."
Cheney’s rather transparent remarks as CEO of Halliburton in autumn 1999 suggest
what lies behind the cynical exploitation of genuine patriotism to recruit throwaway
soldiers to trade for the chimera of control over the oil in Iraq:
"Oil companies are expected to keep developing enough oil to
offset oil depletion and also to meet new demand...So where is the oil
going to come from? Governments and the national oil companies are obviously
in control of 90 percent of the assets. Oil remains fundamentally a government
business. The Middle East with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest
cost is still where the prize ultimately lies."
Not only Cheney, but also many of the captains of the oil industry were looking
on Iraq with covetous eyes before the war. Most people forget that the Bush/Cheney
administration came in on the heels of severe shortages of oil and natural gas
in the U.S., and the passing of a milestone at which the United States had just
begun importing more than half of the oil it consumes. One oil executive confided
to a New York Times reporter a month before the war: "For any oil
company, being in Iraq is like being a kid in F.A.O. Schwarz."
Canadian writer Linda McQuaig, author of It's
the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil, and the Fight for the Planet (2004),
has noted that decades from now it will seem to everyone a real no-brainer.
Historians will calmly discuss the war in Iraq and identify oil as one of the
key factors in the decision to launch it. They will point to growing US dependence
on foreign oil, the competition with China, India, and others for a share of
the diminishing world supply of this precious, nonrenewable resource, and the
fact that Iraq "floats on a sea of oil." It will all seem so obvious as
to provoke little more than a yawn.
Other Factors Behind the Invasion
There were, to be sure, other factors behind the
ill-starred attack on Iraq – the Bush administration’s determination to acquire
large, permanent military bases in the area outside of Saudi Arabia, for one.
But that factor can be viewed as a subset of the energy motivation – the need
to have substantial influence over the extraction and disposition of the oil
in Iraq. In other words, the felt need for what the Pentagon prefers to call
"enduring" military bases in the Middle East is a function of its
strategic importance which, in turn, is a function – you guessed it – of its
natural resources. Not only oil, but natural gas and water as well.
I find the evidence persuasive that the other major factor in the Bush/Cheney
decision to make war on Iraq was the misguided notion that this would make that
part of the world safer for Israel. Indeed, the so-called "neoconservatives"
still running U.S. policy toward the Middle East continue to have great difficulty
distinguishing between what they perceive to be the strategic interests of Israel
and those of the United States. And in my view, they show themselves extremely
myopic on both counts.
An earlier, shorter version of this article has appeared