Blackwater USA's mercenary mission in Iraq is very much in the news this week, and rightly so. The private military contractor's war-for-profit program, which has been so brilliantly exposed by Jeremy Scahill, may finally get a measure of the official scrutiny it merits as the corporation scrambles to undo the revocation by the Iraqi government of its license to operate in that country. There will be official inquiries in Baghdad, and in Washington. The U.S. Congress might actually provide some of the oversight that is its responsibility. Perhaps, and this is a big "perhaps," Blackwater's "troops" could come home before the U.S. soldiers who have been forced to fight, and die, in defense of these international rent-a-cops.
But it is not the specific story of Blackwater that matters so much as the broader story of imperial excess that it illustrates.
If Blackwater, with an assist from the U.S. government, beats back the attempt by the Iraqis to regulate the firm's activities -- as now appears likely, considering Friday's reports that the firm has resumed guarding U.S. State Department convoys in Baghdad -- we will have all the confirmation that is needed of the great truth of the U.S. occupation of Iraq: This is a colonial endeavor no different than that of the British Empire against America's founding generation revolted.
But even if Blackwater loses its fight to stay, even if the corporation is forced to shut down its multi-billion dollar, U.S. Treasury-funded operation in Iraq, the brief "accountability moment" may not be sufficient to open up the necessary debate about Iraq's colonial status. The danger, for Iraq and the United States, that honest assessment of the crisis will lose out to face-saving gestures designed to foster the fantasy of Iraqi independence.
It is not enough that Blackwater is shamed and perhaps sanctioned. A Blackwater exit from Iraq will mean little if its mercenary contracts are merely taken over by one or more of the 140 other U.S.-sanctioned private security firms operating in that country -- such as Vice President Dick Cheney's Halliburton.
Whatever the precise play out of this Blackwater moment may be, the likelihood is that the colonial enterprise will continue. That's because, in the absence of intense pressure from grassroots activists and the media, Congress is unlikely to go beyond a scratch at the surface of what is actually going on in Iraq.
The deeper discussion requires that a discussion about the substance that no less a figure than former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan describes as the reason for the invasion and occupation of this particular Middle Eastern land: oil
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. aptly observed that "colonialism was made for domination and for exploitation," and there is no substance that the Bush-Cheney administration is more interested in dominating and exploiting than oil.
Thus, while it is right to pay close attention to the emerging discussion about Blackwater's wicked work in Iraq, Americans would do well to pay an equal measure of attention to the still largely submerged discussion about an Iraqi oil deal that will pay huge benefits to the Hunt Oil Company, a Texas firm closely linked to the administration. How closely? When he was running Halliburton, Cheney invited Hunt Oil Company CEO Ray Hunt to serve on the firm's board of directors. Hunt, a "Bush Pioneer" fund raiser donated the tidy sum of $35 million to the Bush presidential library building fund.
The new "production sharing agreement" between Hunt Oil and the Kurdistan Regional Government puts one of the administration's favorite firms in a position to reap immeasurable profits while undermining essential efforts to assure that Iraq's oil revenues will be shared by all Iraqis. Hunt's deal upsets hopes that Iraq's mineral wealth might ultimately be a source of stability, replacing the promise of economic equity with the prospect of a black-gold rush that will only widen inequalities and heighten ethnic and regional resentments.
The Hunt deal is so sleazy -- and so at odds with the stated goals of the Iraqi government and the U.S. regarding the sharing of oil revenues -- that even Bush has acknowledged that U.S. embassy officials in Baghdad are deeply concerned about it. What Bush and Cheney have been slow to mention is the fact that Iraq's oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, says the deal is illegal.
As with the Blackwater imbroglio, however, there is no assurance that the stance of the Iraqi government is definitional with regard to what happens in Iraq.
That is why it is disturbing that, for the most part, members of Congress -- even members who say they do not want the United States to have a long-term presence in Iraq -- have been slow to start talking about Hunt's oil rigging.
One House member who has raised the alarm is Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, who in his capacity as a key member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has asked the committee's chairman, California Democrat Henry Waxman, to launch an investigation into the Hunt Oil deal.
"As I have said for five years, this war is about oil," Kucinich, who is mounting an anti-war bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, declared on the floor of the House this week. "The Bush Administration desires private control of Iraqi oil, but we have no right to force Iraq to give up control of their oil. We have no right to set preconditions to Iraq which lead Iraq to giving up control of their oil. The Constitution of Iraq designates that the oil of Iraq is the property for all Iraqi people."
With that in mind, Kucinich explains, "I am calling for a Congressional investigation to determine the role the Administration may have played in the Hunt-Kurdistan deal, the effect the deal will have on the oil revenue sharing plan and the attempt by the Administration to privatize Iraqi oil."
Waxman has been ahead of the curve on Blackwater, seeking testimony from the firm's chairman at hearings scheduled for early October.
But Waxman needs to expand his focus, and the way to do that is by heeding Kucinich's call for an investigation into the Hunt deal.
That inquiry should begin with two fundamental questions:
Who runs Iraq -- the Iraqis or their colonial overlords in Washington?
And, if the claim is that the Iraqis are in charge, then why is Ray Hunt about to start steering revenues from that country's immense oil wealth into the same Texas bank accounts that have so generously funded the campaigns of George Bush and Dick Cheney?
John Nichols' new book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
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