From Cold War to Oil War



“Oil has meant mastery throughout the 20th century.”

-Daniel Yergin, Cambridge Energy Research Associates, Washington, D.C.


Columbian troops guarding Occidental’s oil pipelines against rebels “wear patches featuring an oil drilling rig,” reported The New York Times (Oct. 4). American troops storming Iraq wellheads won’t be so blatantly marked but that doesn’t mean that both armies won’t share the same mission-maintaining the flow of oil to the stronghold of predatory capital, the United States.

If Iraq’s brutal regime were not excuse enough to wage war for its oil, another rationalization would need to be invented. And one has been invented, the U.S. allegation that Iraq authorities were complicit in the skyjacking crashes of Sept. 11, 2001. That accusation, more than allegations that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, has hoodwinked many Americans into thinking that a war against Iraq is a matter of self-defense.

If most Americans knew that U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie told Iraq authorities, shortly before Iraq attacked Kuwait, that the U.S. had no interest in what Iraq did about Kuwait, more Americans might doubt, if not reject, the U.S. charges of bin Laden ties with the Iraq regime.

Despite the U.S. government’s attempts to mask its grab for Iraq oil with tough talk about terrorism, and its declarations that a war against Iraq would be a battle between good and evil, there are both mainstream and liberal commentators, as well as analysts in the radical press, who declare it’s going to be an oil war, and there’s no two ways about it.

The well-known geopolitics expert and Amherst professor, Michael Klare, wrote in the March 2002 issue of Current History magazine, “If the real motives were made clear-that this is a grab for oil and an attempt to break the back of OPEC-it would make our motives look more predatory than exemplary.”

Washington Post writers reported on Sept. 15 that American and foreign oil companies have already begun maneuvering for a stake in the country’s huge proven reserves of 112 billion barrels of crude oil, the largest in the world, outside Saudi Arabia.

The former CIA director R. James Woolsey told the Post reporters that if France and Russia back the U.S. war, “we’ll do the best we can to insure that the new government and American companies work closely with them.”

The Sunday San Francisco Chronicle on Sept. 29 featured a front page article by one of its staff that began, “The world’s biggest oil bonanza in recent memory may be just right around the corner, giving U.S. oil companies huge profits and American consumers cheap gasoline for decades to come. And it all may come courtesy of a war with Iraq.

“Once production reaches its full capacity the enormous increase in supply could weaken OPEC and shift the balance of power among the world’s major producers.”

Experts, such as Klare, note that since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon has given new emphasis to the protection of the supplies of oil and natural gas. Those experts calculate that with worldwide energy consumption rising by two percent a year, competition for the world’s oil will escalate, with no end in sight.

A 1999 Clinton White House report spelled out corporate America’s designs on foreign energy resources: “[T]he United States will continue to have a vital interest in ensuring access to foreign oil supplies. [W]e must continue to be mindful of the need for regional stability and security in producing areas to insure our access to, and the free flow of, these resources.”

Two years later, the Bush White House issued a National Energy Policy report echoing Clinton’s report: “[B]y any estimation, Middle East oil producers will remain central to world oil security” and remain “a primary focus of U.S. international energy policy.” The report explained that imported oil made up half of the U.S. current consumption and was expected to rise to two-thirds in no more than 20 years.

And much earlier, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the Carter Doctrine, holding that Persian Gulf oil was a vital U.S. interest and threats to that interest would be “repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

The U.S. government’s “national interest” in Middle East oil predates the First World War, during which the Allies smashed the Ottoman Empire and in time colonized the peoples of the lands now called Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. These and smaller states came to be dominated by Britain and France, while U.S. oil companies played second fiddle-for awhile.

However, the United States used its might during World War II to muscle its way ahead. The Christian Science Monitor (April 13, 2002) reported that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on his return from the Yalta Conference met with the Saudi king, ibn Saud, aboard a U.S. Navy cruiser in the Red Sea and in a bit of personal diplomacy cemented a “gentleman’s agreement that guaranteed the U.S. the Arabian Peninsula’s oil.”

Klare writes, “To fulfill its side of the bargain, the United States has provided Saudi Arabia billions of dollars worth of modern weapons, has trained and advised the Saudi army and paramilitary police, and, since 1990, has deployed large numbers of American combat personnel in the kingdom.”

Iraqi opposition leaders looking for some crumbs reportedly have proposed “a consortium of American companies to develop Iraq’s oilfields.” But their approval of a U.S.-led attack would provide no more than a thin cover for U.S. policies. However, if there is a former U.S. oil company executive among them, the U.S. might ensure his presidency of Iraq, as it has Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, a former top adviser to Unocal.

The mainstream press has reported wheelings and dealings among national competitors to determine who gets a share of what has been hailed as “the world’s biggest oil bonanza in recent memory,” Iraq’s oil reserves. The United States, which is the odds on favorite to become the dominant power in Iraq once the smoke of battle clears, is busy, the media reports, horse trading Iraq’s oil for international support of its threatened takeover.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and lesser emissaries daily are jetting here and there trying to round up war coalition partners in exchange for a share of the oil spoils. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin snorts that the sweaty deal-making taking place is not an “Oriental bazaar,” but who can help but wonder why that particular notion occurred to him.

From Alaska to Colombia, and from Africa to Central Asia and beyond, the U.S. government and corporate America are relentlessly securing oil resources. But no area compares with the vast oil supplies that underlie the Middle East. And no part of the Middle East is as ripe for takeover as is Iraq.

Make no mistake; the oil war is of a piece with corporate America’s battle with its international competitors, the pursuit of profit by other means.

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