Was Iraq Invaded for its Oil?
The left confidently states that Iraq was invaded for its oil, implicit in the argument that this is a bad thing. The right usually insists that invading and occupying Iraq was nothing of the kind, it was about removing a despot who was also a threat to the United States. I see a lot of people debating this issue on line, such debate consisting of pretty much what I just said…”It was about oil!” “No, it wasn’t!” Add name calling and irrelevant tangents as appropriate. I find this fascinating from several perspectives, the primary one being that this reduces the decisions behind the war and occupation to such a simplistic equation that it’s laughable. Or less diplomatically, anyone who maintains that either position is a valid argument is full of it.
I suppose some day I’ll try to write about the tendency of both sides of an issue to get caught up in overly simplified arguments, for today though the topic is oil. The relationship between oil and industrialized countries is very simple. Oil is their lifeblood. If an industrialized nation loses its access to oil, economic disaster follows, or at the very least fabulous expense if alternatives are available. Germany fought World War Two essentially using synthetic fuel made from coal, but it was very expensive and even then aviation fuel couldn’t be produced this way. At least not in the quantities required. In the waning years of the war the German military was crippled by lack of access to fuel, they would have been able to fight much longer and more effectively had there been oil in Germany.
Or for a more direct example of the link between oil and foreign policy, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was about oil. American textbooks neglect to mention that the USA embargoed Japan’s oil, which at that time came from southern California, and refused to even negotiate about it. Instead they sent the Japanese an ultimatum that was tantamount to Japan giving up its overseas empire before the USA would even discuss the issue. (Giving nations ultimatums they can’t reasonably be expected to capitulate to is America’s stock-in-trade for starting wars while pretending to be a peaceful democracy, again, another post someday.) The Japanese were in a pickle, the world was at war and there was no other source of oil on the world market. They had a choice between watching their economy collapse and their military become impotent for lack of oil, or go to war to seize the Dutch oil fields in Indonesia. They chose the later, as most governments including the USA’s would do.
The point here is that access to oil is a major consideration for industrialized countries at all times, especially ones that are maintaining any sort of military machine. It has been this way since the 1920s and will continue this way into the next few decades at least. The USA and its oil companies moved into the Middle East during the forties when it became clear that Saudi Arabia was the site of a vast sea of easily tapped oil. As one American official said in 1944, “The oil in this region is the greatest single prize in all history.” The USA spent the next few decades ensuring diplomatically and economically that American oil companies and pro-American governments remained in control of the region’s oil, even going so far as to overthrow the democratic government of Iran in 1953 when they attempted to nationalize their oil.
After the oil embargoes of the 1970s and lines at gas stations, the USA upped the ante and began to actually station military forces in the region, including task forces in the Persian Gulf and the building of a secret air base in Saudi Arabia. The USA armed Saddam and encouraged him to invade Iran and seize disputed oil fields after the Iranian revolution of 1979 and supported him through a near decade long war that took the lives of a million people or more. And when Saddam was goaded into invading Kuwait in 1990, the USA military presence in the region reached new heights. All of it very much publicly justified by various USA administrations in large measure by the need to protect the world’s access to oil in the Persian Gulf.
So we have an American foreign policy in the region designed since at least the mid 1940s to ensure American oil companies had access to the Middle East’s oil…but a trillion plus dollar invasion and occupation of the nation with the world’s fourth largest oil reserve has nothing to do with oil? The suggestion is basically ridiculous, especially considering how tight the current administration is with oil companies that are eager to get access to Iraq’s oil. Was oil the only reason for invading Iraq? Of course not, the Bush administration’s concern with a democratic stable Middle East, protecting Israel, and eliminating a perceived threat to America were part of the equation in some measure.
Is it arguable that the Bush administration truly did not consider oil in its decision making process regarding the invasion and occupation of Iraq? Dear God I hope not, because if the Bush Administration is that much out of touch with reality, we’re all in le doo doo deep.
(The above image of a destroyed Iraqi tank with Kuwait’s burning oil fields in the background is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, it is a grey scale low resolution copy of the original, and it is central to illustrating the post. Credit: AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. Almost everything most Americans think they know about Gulf War One is wrong. And yes, while American foreign policy in the Middle East is largely about securing the USA’s access to oil…there are better ways of going about this than air strikes, coups, and invasions.)