This war may not be about oil in the first place, but to argue that the United States is committing more than 300,000 armed men and women to the single area of the world sitting atop two-thirds of the global oil reserves without having oil on its mind is a bit of a stretch.
Of course oil is crucial. We consume 40 percent of its world production and import half of the oil we need. Furthermore, we have always preserved in one way or another a hegemony over the Persian Gulf region that in the past few years has become threatened by the rise of rogue regimes like Iraq and Islamic fundamentalism in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Checking this threat is unquestionably part of the scenario.
If proof were needed, even as the war is under way the press reports that the Defense Department has already contracted the same companies that extinguished many of the fires in Kuwait's oil wells in the past Gulf War, 12 years ago, to stand by. More important, the department has signed up a subsidiary of Vice President Dick Cheney's old firm, Halliburton Co., to subcontract that work. A spokesman for Halliburton confirmed that the value of these contracts is estimated at $900 million. While the Halliburton spokesman claims the company got the job because of its 84-year-long experience, the smell of oil, business and politics wafts in the air.
The vice president, it is well known, controls the nation's energy policies under authority ceded to him by the president. Equally significant, he has been one of the prime hawks behind the war on Iraq. It is legitimate for taxpayers to ask where one ends and the other begins.
Indeed, of the $74.7 billion the White House requested from Congress for the cost of war, $500 million are targeted to repair Iraqi oil fields in poor condition for lack of spare parts over the past 12 years of United Nations-imposed sanctions. Nearly 100 American companies are lining up for contracts. While we claim the oil of Iraq is for the people of Iraq, it seems that, for now at least, it is for the companies of America.
We are "doing" Iraq because it has oil and it is "do-able."
The oil argument becomes stronger when we consider that other great powers are fighting for Iraqi oil - France, Russia and China.
Over the past 12 years, since Iraq was placed under sanctions, it has followed a clever strategy of encouraging French, Russian and Chinese oil companies to come into the country, look at the oil data and undertake preliminary surveys of areas they might want to bid for to obtain oil-production concessions once the sanctions are lifted.
If those countries are successful in making deals for Iraqi oil, given that naton's huge reserves, the entire American hegemony over Mideast oil would come apart. Is it a surprise the French, Russian and Chinese governments were among the biggest opponents of this war in the UN Security Council? Is it a surprise we were for it as we were losing our oil foothold?
Now what remains to be asked is whether the French, Russians and Chinese are more moral or less moral than the United States. Do they have more rights to Mideast oil, equal rights or any rights? Do we?
What matters most is that this war, as far as we, the French, the Russians and the Chinese are concerned, is indeed about oil, not about any democracy. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should come clean with the American people. We are not really interested in democracy in the Mideast.
Furthermore our pursuit of Iraq in an attempt to turn it into some private American gasoline-pumping station could lead us into a quagmire. No people, be they Iraqis, Iranians or Saudis, will accept American dictates over their single national resource - oil.
Youssef M. Ibrahim, a former Mideast and energy editor for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, is a group editor with Energy Intelligence publications.
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