Oil and Betrayal in Iraq

Alan Greenspan should know. It was oil all along. The former head of the Federal Reserve writes in his memoir, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." Greenspan even advised Bush that "taking Saddam Hussein out was essential" to protect oil supplies.

Yes, we suspected it. In a deep sense, many of us knew it, just as those in Washington did. But now it's in our face. Greenspan put the mother of all facts in front of our noses, and we can no longer be in denial. The US invaded Iraq for the oil.

Think about what it means for our troops and for the people of Iraq. Our troops were told, and believed because they trusted their president, that they were in Iraq to protect America, to protect their families, their homes, their friends and neighbors, our democracy. But they were betrayed . Those troops fought and died and were maimed and had their marriages break up for oil company profits. An utter betrayal of our men and women in uniform and their families, a betrayal of their sacrifices, day after day, month after month, year and year - and for some, forever! Children growing up fatherless or motherless. Men and women without legs or arms or faces - for oil company profits.

And hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, more maimed, and millions made refugees. For oil profits.

And what profits they are! Take a look at the study of Iraqi oil contracts by Global Policy Forum, a consultant to the United Nations Security Council. Or read this editorial from The Daily Times in Pakistan.

The contracts that the Bush administration has been pushing the Iraqi government to accept are not just about the distribution of oil among the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. The contracts call for 30-year exclusive rights for British and American oil companies, rights that cannot be revoked by future Iraqi governments. They are called "production sharing agreements" (or "PSA's") - a legalistic code word. The Iraqi government would technically own the oil, but could not control it; only the companies could do that. ExxonMobil and others would invest in developing the infrastructure for the oil (drilling, oil rigs, refining) and would get 75% of the "cost oil" profits, until they got their investment back. After that, they would own the infrastructure (paid for by oil profits), and then get 20% of oil profits after that (twice the usual rate). The profits are estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. And the Iraqi people would have no democratic control over their own major resource. No other Middle East country has such an arrangement.

Incidentally, polls show the Iraqi people overwhelmingly against "privatization", but "production sharing agreements" were devised so they are technically not "privatization," since the government would still own the oil but not control it. The ruse is there so that the government can claim it is not privatizing.

But none of this will work without military protection for the oil companies. That is what would keep us there indefinitely. The name for this is our "vital interests."

Greenspan's revelation and the contracts need to be discussed openly. The question must be asked, "Is our military there for the sake of oil?"

I have been struck by the use of the word "victory" by the right wing, especially by its propaganda arm, Freedom's Watch. Usually, "victory" is used in reference to a war between countries over territory, where there is a definable enemy. That is not the case in Iraq, where we have for four years had an occupation, not a "war," and there has been no clear enemy. We have mostly been fighting Iraqis we were supposed to be rescuing. "Victory" makes no sense for such an occupation. And even Petraeus has said that only a political, not a military, settlement is possible. In what sense can keeping troops there for 9 or 10 years or longer, as Petraeus has suggested, be a "victory"?

What is most frightening is that they may mean what they say, that they may have a concept of "victory" that makes sense to them but not to the rest of the country. If the goal of the invasion and occupation of Iraq has been to guarantee access to Iraqi oil for the next 30 years, then any result guaranteeing oil profits for American oil companies would count as "victory." Suppose the present killing and chaos were to continue, forcing us to keep our troops there indefinitely, but allowing the oil companies to prosper under our protection. That would be a "victory." Or if the Iraqi army and police force were to develop in a few years and keep order there protecting American investments and workers, that too would be "victory." If the country broke up into three distinct states or autonomous governments, that too would be "victory" as long as oil profits were guaranteed and Americans in the oil industry protected. And it doesn't matter if a Republican president keeps the troops there or a Democratic president does. It is still an oil company "victory" - and a victory for Bush.

Indeed, Kurdistan's PSA contract last week with Hunt Oil suggests the latter form of "victory." As Paul Krugman observed in the New York Times on September 14, "the chief executive and president of Hunt Oil, is a close political ally of Mr. Bush. More than that, Mr. Hunt is a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a key oversight body." Hunt Oil seems to have had the first taste of "victory."

If that is "victory," what is "defeat" and who is being "defeated?" The troops who would have to stay to protect the oil investments would, person by person, suffer defeat - a defeat of the spirit and, for too many, of the body. And most of America would suffer a defeat, especially our taxpayers who have paid a trillion dollars that could have gone for health care for all, for excellent schools and college educations, for rebuilding Louisiana and Mississippi, for shoring up our infrastructure and bridges, and for protecting our environment. Victory for the oil companies, defeat for most of America.

Is Greenspan right? Is this what "victory" could possibly mean? I do not want to even think that the answers might be "yes." The thought itself is too disgusting. But Greenspan has put the questions before us, and we have a duty to pursue the answers. Because, if the answer is even half "yes," then the troops and most Americans have been, and continue to be, betrayed beyond measure.

Perhaps the most honest and straightforward way to pursue such answers would be for Congress to frame the issue directly in terms of oil, as Greenspan did. Here's a way to do it: The Constitution gives Congress authority over military matters through its power to fund continued military action. Without such funding, the troops cannot continue. Suppose Congress were to pass a bill saying that no funding would be forthcoming for military action in Iraq unless the Iraqi government drops all provisions for PSA's - production sharing agreements - in its legislation. This would actually give the Iraqi government sovereignty over its oil indefinitely and take oil control away from Western oil companies. Even proposing such a bill seriously would have two effects: To raise the constitutional issue: the president has been overriding the constitution. And it would bring the oil issue front and center, so we can all see if "victory" is really about oil interests.

Suppose Greenspan is right, that oil was a primary factor in the Iraq invasion, that "victory" means victory for oil companies, and that "sacrifice" means sacrifice for the American oil industry. While I held the very possibility that this might be true, I clicked on the following website. Perhaps you will feel as I felt.

George Lakoff is the author of Moral Politics, Don't Think of an Elephant!, Whose Freedom?, and Thinking Points (with the Rockridge Institute staff). He is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, and a founding senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute.

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