When US Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked if the war on Iraq was about oil, he denied it, claiming “the oil of Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people.” Few people believed him. The war on Iraq is all about controlling the Gulf region, the cheapest supplier of 60% of the world’s oil.
Bush also wants to crush Saddam to strengthen US imperialism’s prestige and advance its longer-term political interests worldwide. Bush’s advisers hope that an invasion will make any other “third world” leader contemplating opposition to the US think again.
Iraq is sitting on 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves along with roughly 215 billion barrels of possible reserves – more than any other country except Saudi Arabia. With as much as $9 trillion in potential oil profits at stake, the oil companies’ $12.6 million in Presidential campaign contributions are looking like a lucrative investment.
But campaign contributions are not the only link between Big Oil and the White House. Vice President Dick Cheney made $39 million in five of his eight years as CEO of Halliburton, the world’s largest oil services firm. During the 1991 war on Iraq, Cheney was Bush Sr.’s Defense Secretary, and afterwards Halliburton made a killing on contracts to re-build Kuwait’s oil industry.
George Bush, Jr. spent time as a Texas oilman as well, but he was a failure and needed his father’s powerful friends to repeatedly bail him out.
The US wants to lessen its dependence on Saudi Arabian oil. “Successive American presidents have gone to great lengths to cultivate the unsavory and dictatorial House of Saud…” since 1945 (The Economist, 9/12/02). But Saudi Arabia’s opulent, oppressive monarchy has become increasingly unpopular and unstable as living standards have steadily declined for ordinary Saudis. Right-wing Islamic fundamentalists hostile to the US are getting stronger, while right-wing Islamic fundamentalists in power and friendly with the US are getting weaker. The US ruling class fears that the flow of cheap oil into the US could be interrupted if the House of Saud falls.
Plans to invade Iraq actually predate the “War on Terrorism.” In April 2001, Dick Cheney commissioned an “energy security” report that said: “Saddam Hussein has … demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his own export program to manipulate oil markets. Therefore the US should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments.”
Many claim this war will benefit average Americans because our economy and cars depend on oil. However, if the oil giants increase their control over oil, it is unlikely to translate into cheaper gas at the pump. The oil companies will try to just pocket the difference.
Under the current global capitalist system, the oil of the Middle East only enriches the Arab rulers and Western oil corporations, while the Arab masses live in abject poverty. Socialists fight for the giant oil conglomerates in both the US and the Middle East to be taken into public ownership under democratic workers’ control and management.
On this basis, the enormous oil wealth could be used to eradicate poverty and free up the resources to invest in environmentally clean energy sources – solar, wind, and water power. Investing in fast, free, convenient mass public transit systems in the US would also create jobs and reduce our dependence on oil – a resource that most scientists agree will run out in 40 years and is warming the globe with disastrous consequences.
France, Russia & China’s “Opposition” to the War
Just as oil is motivating Bush’s war drive, Iraqi oil makes leaders in France, Russia, and China hesitate. These governments’ wavering opposition to the war is not motivated by heart-felt concern for the Iraqi people. Unlike the US, these governments have negotiated deals with Saddam for privileged access to Iraq’s oil. “Some industry insiders reckon that Zarubezhneft, the Russian firm … may have secured oil concessions worth up to $90 billion… The national oil companies of China and India … have also been given slices of the pie.” (The Economist, 10/10/02)
These governments fear that “American oilmen insist that any [new] regime would tear up existing contracts” and sign new ones with US corporations (The Economist, 10/10/02). These governments, as well as Germany’s, are also restrained by their people’s overwhelming opposition to war. Additionally, they fear the destabilization of the entire Middle East, which would backfire on their own imperialist interests.
In the end, though, they will not forcefully block a US war. Faced with the reality that the US is determined to go to war, they will accommodate themselves to this fact and make sure they are not completely cut out of the oil action.
Justice #33, February 2003