by Iqbal Siddiqui (Perspectives, Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 10, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1428)
Alan Greenspan’s recently published memoirs cut through a great deal of the official American bluster about the US involvement in Iraq, going straight to the heart of the matter. “I am saddened,” he wrote, “that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”
His bluntness caused consternation in Washington, and he was quickly persuaded to deny that he meant exactly what his words so clearly state. There was also disbelief that someone so close to Washington could make such a blunder. In fact, there are a couple of possible explanations. One is that, as Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Greenspan is an economist rather than a politician, and he simply overlooked the import of his words. In the circles he is accustomed to moving in, Republican and Democrat alike, it goes without saying that Iraq is largely about oil; and it did not occur to him that his saying so might cause ripples. His instincts for saying what needs to be said in any situation are evidently not as well honed as a politician’s. This, however, is to underestimate the political skills required to reach such a high position in Washington, even if one is a technocrat rather than a politician.
Another possible explanation rings rather truer. That is that Greenspan is simply giving voice to a frustration that many in Washington must feel, that the Bush administration is being clobbered for its handling of the war in Iraq because of its failure to establish peace and stability, and because of the number of US casualties, when in fact the real objectives of the invasion show every sign of being achieved; and in fact that the key objectives of the war might prove harder to achieve if there was peace, stability and a strong and popular democratic government in Baghdad, rather than the disorder that currently prevails.
What, then, of Iraq’s oil? Iraq has 115 million barrels of known oil reserves, and estimates of its unconfirmed reserves range from 220-300 million barrels. These would represent up to a quarter of the world’s oil resources. It would be surprising if the Energy Task Force established by former vice-president Dick Cheney in 2001 to develop future energy strategies, and whose discussions have been kept secret by the Bush administration on grounds of “executive privilege”, had not noticed this. Iraq is also one of the least exploited of major oil-producing countries. Writing in the London Review of Books last month, Jim Holt pointed out that there are only 2,000 oil wells in Iraq, compared to over a million in Texas alone. At today’s prices, this reserve would be worth about $30 trillion, compared to about $1 trillion spent by the US on its invasion and occupation of the country.
And for the US’s capitalist power elite, the equation is even better, as the American tax-payer is paying the bill while they rake in the profits. Not only that, but the bulk of the $1 trillion cost of the war is going to the military-industrial complex that they dominate. Setting aside the cost in the lives of American soldiers, mainly from the poorest sections of society and of minimal concern to those in power, and the political damage being suffered by the Republican Party (offset by the fact that they control the Democratic Party as well), it truly is a win-win situation for them.
The success of this agenda depends on two things: the passage of Iraq’s draft oil-and-gas law, which would cede control of 63 of Iraq’s 80 oil fields, as well as all undiscovered reserves, to foreign control for 30 years, which would be far harder to force on a strong and popular government than the current one; and a permanent military presence to protect these rights from an Iraqi Mossadeq in future. For the latter purpose, Washington is known to be building five permanent, self-sufficient “super-bases” far from urban areas, where there is the greatest resistance, and with little attention from the Western media. Each is capable of housing 25-30,000 men. Despite calls for a US withdrawal, the Bush administration increasingly talks of a permanent presence to support a friendly future government, and ensure that the sacrifices of recent years are not in vain.
Such control over Iraq and its oil will also enable the US to dominate OPEC, put pressure on its troublesome allies in Saudi Arabia, and push through its anti-Iran agenda. The invasion of Iraq a failure? Really?