Glenn Greenwald has a brilliant piece up today on what seem to be the real reasons behind the war in Libya: oil.
Much of the war has actually seemed extremely odd, as if it didn’t match up. There seemed to be many more reasons for the administration not to get involved. Why, Greenwald asks, in the middle of debt crises “and when polls show Americans solidly and increasingly opposed to the war — would the U.S. Government continue to spend huge sums of money to fight this war?” Wasn’t there a big risk in not seeking congressional approval, thus going forward with an illegal war? Why, in an Arab Spring which makes this contradiction so obvious, would we attack Qaddafi for behaving exactly the way we pay other allies to behave? Didn’t Washington see considerable risk in engaging in a third/fourth outright war in against a Muslim country? Wasn’t there some concern, even if only for PR purposes, within the administration that the rebels on whose behalf we would ostensibly fight this war have direct ties to al-Qaeda? Did Obama not calculate a future political vulnerability of engaging in what he knew would be deliberate mission creep, or as Greenwald says, that the real goal of the war was “exactly the one Obama vowed would not be pursued — regime change through the use of military force”?
Well, the Washington Post published a story yesterday describing the newfound relationship the Bush administration began to form with Qaddafi since 2004, one that included reviving the presence and cooperation in Libya of U.S. oil companies who had been eager to capitalize on the expected 43.6 billion barrels of oil in reserves there. Starting a few years ago, however, the relationship began to sour as Qaddafi gradually took national control of the production and business of oil.
Even before armed conflict drove the U.S. companies out of Libya this year, their relations with Gaddafi had soured. The Libyan leader demanded tough contract terms. He sought big bonus payments up front. Moreover, upset that he was not getting more U.S. government respect and recognition for his earlier concessions, he pressured the oil companies to influence U.S. policies.
In late February 2008, Mulva was “summoned to Sirte for a half-hour ‘browbeating’?” from Gaddafi, according to aU.S. State Department cable made available by WikiLeaks. Gaddafi “threatened to dramatically reduce Libya’s oil production and/or expel … U.S. oil and gas companies,” the cable said.
Now, this troubled marriage and the promise of billions of barrels of oil have been dashed by the fighting and Gaddafi’s refusal to relinquish power. Much is at stake; oil industry executives say companies such as ConocoPhillips and Marathon have each invested about $700 million over the past six years.
This shouldn’t be a particular surprise to anyone. This is how U.S. policy has been implemented for a very long time. Since the very realization that the U.S. had toppled Saddam in Iraq, oil companies pounced on their gift from Bush war policy (some headlines: Oil Companies Look to Future in Iraq; Foreign Oil Giants Bid on Iraq’s Resources; Oil Companies Reject Iraq’s Contract Terms; Deals With Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back; Exxon, Dutch Shell Win Iraq Oil Contract). In a momentary lapse, the Bush administration’s 2007 draft of the Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq (eventually rejected) was explicit as it detailed a prolonged and continued US troop presence in Iraq and called for “facilitating and encouraging the flow of foreign investments to Iraq, especially American investments.”
U.S. imperialism in Iran is an even more dramatic parallel with Libya. In 1951, when the democrat prime minister Mohamed Mossadegh made moves with the Iranian parliament to nationalize the oil industry which had been previously spearheaded by British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (British Petroleum’s precursor), relationships similarly began to sour. So in 1953 through a process of murder, bribery, secrecy, propaganda, and terrorism, the United States through the CIA overthrew the democratically elected government and installed the Shah who ruled with authoritarian brutality for nearly three decades. The motives were similar: to use force to ensure and facilitate the exploitation of Iranian energy markets, with priority towards rent-seeking American corporations.
Other directly analogous examples abound throughout the history of U.S. foreign policy. And now its Libya’s turn, and the American people await the end of combat operations and the beginning of the selection process by which imperial policy decides who shall rule Libya (that is, who will be most friendly to American interests). Yet, as Greenwald explains,
one WikiLeaks “diplomatic” cable after the next reveals constant government efforts to promote the interests of Western corporations in the developing world. Nonetheless, the very notion that the U.S. wages wars not for humanitarian or freedom-spreading purposes, but rather to exploit the resources of other nations for its own large corporations, is deeply “irresponsible” and unSerious. As usual, the ideas stigmatized with the most potent taboos are the ones that are the most obviously true.
Update: I should have popped this link in here as well. Last month McClatchy reported on Wikileaks cables which revealed an oil deal emerging in the last few years in Libya that U.S. officials didn’t like. The Italian oil company Eni, the largest corporation in Italy and one in which the Italian government holds a 30 percent stake, was wagering a deal with the Russian oil company Gazprom, with which Vladimir Putin is connected. In the deal, Eni would have given Gazprom access to Libyan oil and helped Gazprom build a pipeline across the Black sea. The leaked cables reveal U.S. officials plotting ways to prevent such a success from a Russian oil giant. War was never mentioned in the cables, but since the start of Obama’s intervention in Libya, the deal has officially been put on hold.