It Was Oil, All Along

Oh, no, they told us, Iraq isn’t a war about oil. That’s cynical and simplistic, they said. It’s about terror and al Qaeda and toppling a dictator and spreading democracy and protecting ourselves from weapons of mass destruction. But one by one, these concocted rationales went up in smoke, fire, and ashes. And now the bottom turns out to be . . . the bottom line. It is about oil.

Alan Greenspan said so last fall. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve, safely out of office, confessed in his memoir, “Everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” He elaborated in an interview with the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, “If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands, our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first gulf war.” Remember, also, that soon after the invasion, Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, told the press that war was our only strategic choice. “We had virtually no economic options with Iraq,” he explained, “because the country floats on a sea of oil.”

Shades of Daniel Plainview, the monstrous petroleum tycoon in the movie There Will Be Blood. Half-mad, he exclaims, “There’s a whole ocean of oil under our feet!” then adds, “No one can get at it except for me!”

No wonder American troops only guarded the Ministries of Oil and the Interior in Baghdad, even as looters pillaged museums of their priceless antiquities. They were making sure no one could get at the oil except . . . guess who?

Here’s a recent headline in The New York Times: “Deals with Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back.” Read on: “Four western companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.”

There you have it. After a long exile, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP are back in Iraq. And on the wings of no-bid contracts — that’s right, sweetheart deals like those given Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater. The kind of deals you get only if you have friends in high places. And these war profiteers have friends in very high places.

Let’s go back a few years to the 1990’s, when private citizen Dick Cheney was running Halliburton, the big energy supplier. That’s when he told the oil industry that, “By 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from? While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.”

Fast forward to Cheney’s first heady days in the White House. The oil industry and other energy conglomerates have been headed backdoor keys to the White House, and their CEO’s and lobbyists were trooping in and out for meetings with their old opal, now Vice President Cheney. The meetings are secret, conducted under tight security, but as we reported five years ago, among the documents that turned up from some of those meetings were maps of oil fields in Iraq — and a list of companies who wanted access to them. The conservative group Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club filed suit to try to find out who attended the meetings and what was discussed, but the White House fought all the way to the Supreme Court to keep the press and public from learning the whole truth.

Think about it. These secret meetings took place six months before 9/11, two years before Bush and Cheney invaded Iraq. We still don’t know what they were about. What we know is that this is the oil industry that’s enjoying swollen profits these days. It would be laughable if it weren’t so painful to remember that their erstwhile cheerleader for invading Iraq — the press mogul Rupert Murdoch — once said that a successful war there would bring us $20 a barrel of oil. The last time we looked, it was more than $140 a barrel. Where are you, Rupert, when the facts need checking and the predictions are revisited?

At a congressional hearing this week, James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who exactly twenty years ago alerted Congress and the world to the dangers of global warming, compared the chief executives of Big Oil to the tobacco moguls who denied that nicotine is addictive or that there’s a link between smoking and cancer.

Hansen, who the administration has tried again and again to silence, said these barons of black gold should be tried for committing crimes against humanity and nature in opposing efforts to deal with global warming.

Perhaps those sweetheart deals in Iraq should be added to his proposed indictments. They have been purchased at a very high price. Four thousand American soldiers dead, tens of thousands permanently wounded for life, hundreds of thousands of dead and crippled Iraqis plus five million displaced, and a cost that will mount into trillions of dollars. The political analyst Kevin Phillips says America has become little more than an “energy protection force,” doing anything to gain access to expensive fuel without regard to the lives of others or the earth itself. One thinks again of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. His lust for oil came at the price of his son and his soul.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog. Read other articles by Bill, or visit Bill's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar balkas said on June 30th, 2008 at 5:42am #

    some 160 US invasions, including invasions/occupations of afhg’n/iraq prove, that US is after the real estate.
    oil had flowed freely while saddam was in control; thus no need to attack iraq solely for oil.
    on a personal level, level of individuals making possibly/probably mns or bns from controling oil in iraq, is another matter .
    the empire, the 290mn people out of 300mn, r loosers.
    and may be, we all r paying for that war/occupation and not just the funny uncle. thank u

  2. Don Hawkins said on June 30th, 2008 at 8:49am #

    Bill and Michael good one. Of course it was about oil and money and power. Do the oil company’s or the coal company’s know how serious climate change is and what it will mean for my kids and there kids? Of course they do and yet this administration when it came to James Hansen and telling the truth about climate change did all they could to stop that truth from coming out short of burning books and are still doing all they can to continue with the confusion. If we don’t start now on slowing this little problem there will be plenty of confusion to go around. Now I could write many things on why these people do this but let’s keep it simple because they are idiot’s. All you have to do is look at the big picture to see that and the path we are now on and these idiot’s vision will take us all into the darkside. Am I being to hard on them, no. What James Hansen also said was that it will be of little consolation to try these idiot’s for crimes against humanity and nature if we don’t do what is needed to slow climate change.

    Talk, talk, talk. Everybody has one that little voice in the back of there head and what is it saying? We need to quite talking and do what is needed and what is needed? Some hard choices another part is to slow down until we can solve some very difficult problems and that would be well one big one is using right now 30% or more stuff than the Earth can reproduce. Talk, talk, talk.
    Now what is the Earth saying to us. Human’s you are taking out of the ground the carbon it took me millions of years to put there and I did that for a reason. Probably a good idea not to do this anymore do you see the signs.
    Now it sure looks like there is this little war going on and that is people who want to keep things the way they are and a few who see the signs. Who will win nobody.

    Come gather ’round people
    Wherever you roam
    And admit that the waters
    Around you have grown
    And accept it that soon
    You’ll be drenched to the bone.
    If your time to you
    Is worth savin’
    Then you better start swimmin’
    Or you’ll sink like a stone
    For the times they are a-changin’.

    Come writers and critics
    Who prophesize with your pen
    And keep your eyes wide
    The chance won’t come again
    And don’t speak too soon
    For the wheel’s still in spin
    And there’s no tellin’ who
    That it’s namin’.
    For the loser now
    Will be later to win
    For the times they are a-changin’.

    The chance won’t come again is a very important part.

  3. Deadbeat said on June 30th, 2008 at 9:44am #

    Oh, no, they told us, Iraq isn’t a war about oil.

    Who is the “they” that are telling “us” the war in Iraq is not about oil? Most liberals and “progressives” have been telling “us” that the war in Iraq IS about oil. The authors never identify those who are telling “us” otherwize. Unfortunately, Moyers checks are cut by Annenberg.

    Moyers has been on the wrong side of two key issues:
    Social Security and Zionism.

    On Social Security he has bought into the canard that Social Security is in “crisis” and the demographic canard used to sell cuts in Social Security and unfairly raising the retirement age. On Social Security he typically features such right wing advocacy. He never revealed the truth that his former boss — Lyndon Johnson — put Social Security on budget to deliberately understate military spending.

    Moyers also recently did a piece on “Christian” Zionism as if this is a major problem and as if this is where Zionism in the U.S. emanates. He even had the Liberal Zionist, Michael Lerner on the program to discuss this problem. Not once did Moyers ask Liberal Zionist Lerner about his own Zionism and the problem with “Jewish” Zionism. Since AIPIC membership is 90% Jewish and that they wield a great deal in influence on the political economy, as a journalist, Moyers missed a great opportunity to ask a direct question about Lerner’s own Zionism and “Jewish” Zionism is general.

    Moyers has never balanced his program with someone like James Petras who has written that the oil companies did not favor invasion and destruction in Iraq and most likely do not favor a similar fate for Iran. Yet Moyers has chatted across the table with a Zionist like Lerner.

    On the issues of Zionism and Social Security, Moyers lacks credibility. There are much better sources. Unfortunately because Moyers has cache, his voice will be pointed to by those of the “left” who wants to obscure Zionism in the United States.

  4. bozhidar balkas said on June 30th, 2008 at 10:17am #

    don hawkins,
    u r right ab climate change. bns of people may perish in less than a cent.
    that is why siberia looks mighty good to plutos. siberia may become much warmer while in africa even tomatoes might evaporate in heat.
    plutos want the planet; that’s why, i deduce, all this warfare.
    plutos will pick the best places to live in; the rest will saute to hell.
    but at least hell’s cooled dwn to suit even me. thanx

  5. hp said on June 30th, 2008 at 10:28am #

    Deadbeat is correct and honest. Bill Moyers, despite his cutesy left popularity and Mr. nice guy liberal peacenik is a gatekeeper for ‘the usual suspects.’

  6. dan e said on June 30th, 2008 at 2:45pm #

    It was Snake Oil, all along. Moyers was a pro-Israel “liberal” all along. hp & DB nailed it. Btw, “cachet”. But not to me. BM strikes me as just another suit-wearing phony, typical of the “Green” Democrat/Demogreen crowd.

    Yuppies for Intellectual Irresponsibility: diffrent snowjobs for diff. Eddicated Fools. Just another cog in the Ideological State Apparatus. Part of the Scam, the long night long.

  7. hp said on July 2nd, 2008 at 8:54am #

    Here’s a little taste of ‘the usual suspects’ progressive values.

  8. Shabnam said on July 2nd, 2008 at 7:25pm #

    Ismael Hossein-zadeh argues that the main reason behind the current militarism in the middle east is geopolitical concerns of Israel. He does not believe in Peak Oil theory and attacks the phony slogan of “no blood for oil”. Please take a look at the following article:

  9. lrothrock said on July 5th, 2008 at 5:57am #

    I don’t know about whether Moyers is a gatekeeper, but I do know that Christian Zionism is a problem, and hugely unrecognized, which is probably why he focused on it rather than Jewish Zionism (which is sort of a given, isn’t it?) I’d like to know where the idea that the oil companies “did not favor invasion” comes from, because as far as I could tell, everyone who had a voice was favoring invasion, and the power and money were all behind it.

  10. David Short said on July 28th, 2008 at 10:31pm #

    Since complaining about Jews is a great way to get yourself branded an anti-Semite, it seems rational to me to focus on things like Christian Zionism if you disagree with Israeli policies. After all, this is a battle for hearts and minds, in which we must take into account what tactics are most effective in opening people’s minds and hearts.