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Blood for Oil?

I'm a bit surprised to see Josh linking to this. I think the "no blood for oil" critique is about on a par with the "preemption is evil" critique. Both pretty drastically understate the nature of the strategic failure here. After all, if you fight a war for oil, at least you get some oil at the end of the day. People like oil. But we don't have any more oil than we could have had otherwise. Indeed, we have less. And we didn't preempt anything. We've got nothing! Near as I can tell, the Michael Moore / Ted Rall UNOCAL pipeline didn't get built either.

In the minds of Bush's lazier critics we're now awash in affordable fossile fuels and threats have been pre-empted. Back in the real world, we've got diddly squat. It's a much rawer deal than this crowd understands.

July 9, 2004 | Permalink


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you miss the point of the criticism. the point they are making is that those things are why the bushies did what they did. the fact that they have been thus far unsuccessful does not dispel their motives. and several have gotten (even more) filthy rich off these actions (read: Dick "F*ck off!" Cheney).

Posted by: anon cannon | Jul 9, 2004 10:44:13 AM

Matt, one of the calculations here is that Iraq was underproducing. So, yes, part of the strategy is "more oil."

Posted by: praktike | Jul 9, 2004 10:51:50 AM

You got a better reason than oil? 'Cause at this juncture, that's about the only rationale that makes any sense.

Oh, and what anon cannon said.

Posted by: Special Patrol Group | Jul 9, 2004 10:56:01 AM


You seem to assume that the blood for oil argument is about oil for the country. I think the argument is more often made that the oil is for corporations friendly to the administration. In this way it could be a war for oil with no net gain in how much oil the country gets, just a change on who we are getting it from. I'm not necessarily proposing that myself, just pointing out that the fact that we do not have a net gain in oil in no way proves that this wasn't about oil.

I think that the rationales for war where much more complicated than that, but in a larger sense there is no question that it was about oil. After all, if Iraq did not have oil the US would care as much about Iraq as it did Rwanda (for human rights abuses) or Pakistan or Russia (for WMD proliferation)

Posted by: Jamison | Jul 9, 2004 11:16:13 AM

You know, Matt, at one point I dismissed the "No blood for oil!" critique as naive and simplistic.

But in fact, the more I read about it, the more I begin to grasp the concept of oil as the ultimate strategic commodity, absolutely indispensable to the economic future not just of this country, but the globe.

I don't know if you afford any credence to the "Peal Oil" crowd, but Kjell Aleklett of Sweden's Uppsala University quoted Cheney in a 1999 speech saying this:

"For the world as a whole, oil companies are expected to keep finding and developing enough oil to offset our seventy one million plus barrel a day of oil depletion, but also to meet new demand. By some estimates there will be an average of two per cent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead along with conservatively a three per cent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means 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? Governments and the national oil companies are obviously in control of about ninety per cent of the assets.

Oil remains fundamentally a government business. While many regions of the world offer greet oil opportunities, the Middle East with two thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies, even though companies are anxious for greeter access there, progress continues to be slow."

Awfully convenient, then, that "the prize" happens to be largely ruled by inhuman tyrants like Saddam Hussein, don't you think?

Posted by: Gil | Jul 9, 2004 11:19:05 AM

The real question is...

How stupid are these guys?

I think you, me and everybody else missed the whole point of that Unocal thing in F9/11. My wife (who doesn't follow politics to save us on monitors) pointed out to me, that the real point of that Unocal thing wasn't to show that Bush attacked Afghanistan. In reality, the administration had to be dragged kicking and screaming, mainly because to not do anything would have been political suicide. No, the reason for the light touch on Afghanistan was to avoid creating the situations like we see to the scale on Iraq. Just so there was a chance on getting it done. That was the point Moore was making I think. Which is kind of counter-intuitive coming from someone like Moore.

Iraq is a completly differnet story.

Where's the money in Iraq? The money is in the reconstruction, obviously. The oil may help pay for it, but so may the US government. Does it matter? Nope. So if you follow the money, you actually see a situation in Iraq where stability is not only not possible, but it's not even wanted. The instability is good for business there. Every well that gets blown up, every pipeline destroyed, is another one that needs to be replaced.

That's the follow the money conspiracy theory. Do I think it was all about that? Of course not. I think that there was more than a fair amount of ideology and politics involved. But in reality, those arn't good reasons either.

Posted by: Karmakin | Jul 9, 2004 11:20:55 AM

I think the phrase we should be looking at is "at least Oil for Blood." Matt, you are right that the oil from Iraq isn't coming cheaply, and may not be coming at all to us, but world oil supplies are fungible. More oil anywhere in the pipelines means something to the US as a consumer of oil. There can have been no conceivable reason we would go into Iraq and propose staying in Iraq if it were not for the oil in the region just as we sure wouldn't have bothered protecting the saudis all these years without oil being involved. So, no, we were not naieve to think the war was "about" oil, but Bush and his supporters seem to have been more naieve than anyone could have been thought about the cost of all that oil.


Posted by: aimai | Jul 9, 2004 11:23:54 AM

Look, the Bushies may be stupid in some regards, and they certainly don't always plan very well, but I think if there's one thing they pretty much "get" it's oil. If the goal really was more oil, and oil profits, they're sufficiently well-versed in the workings of the global petroleum market to comprehend that the best strategy would've been simply to bring Saddam in from the cold (diplomatically) in exchange for preferred treatment for U.S. firms. Had we normalized relations with Baathist Iraq a couple of years ago, Iraqi oil production would be back to pre-sanctions levels, Iraqi oil infrastructure would be in the midst of an investment boom, and Saddam's military, backed by U.S. prestige and weaponry, would be doing a very able job of guarding Iraq's oil fields and pipelines.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida | Jul 9, 2004 11:46:57 AM

This thread epitomizes my disillusionment with the Democratic Party. After 33 years as a democrat who voted twice for Clinton and for Gore, I find myself wanting to vote republican simply because I cannot ally my self with a party of conspiracy theorists.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 9, 2004 11:49:22 AM

So Dave, you gonna vote for the adminstration that drummed up the Saddam/Al Qaeda conspiracy? Join the party that generated countless conspiracies in a attempt to derail the Clinton administration?

Posted by: Bragan | Jul 9, 2004 12:08:36 PM

I was appaled as anyone over the Starr witch hunt, but the war on terror is too important to play tit for tat. For me the Iraq war was about changing the dynamics in the middle east and freeing 20 million people. The "codling the dictator plan" just hasn't worked as 911 showed and we needed to replace it with the "give them democracy and freedom plan" which may take time, but needed to be started ASAP.

I'm happy that we did the right thing (free Iraq) possibly for a mistaken reason (the potential that Saddam would give WMD to terrorists although I am not convinced that if Sanctions were eliminated this would not have happened) than do the wrong thing (not free Iraq) for a conspiracy theory (oil, israel, haliburton, etc..).

Posted by: Dave | Jul 9, 2004 12:18:12 PM

Dave:You're right about one thing, the war on terror is very important.

However, "changing the dynamics", set back liberal reform groups 20 years. Dictators all over the planet are still and will always be coddled, and democracy and freedom has to come at THEIR terms, not ours.

Otherwise, it's all doomed to failed.

And oh yeah. International support is the most important part of the real war on terror. (Not this fake one you're talking about). A big part of this is avoiding any appearence of conspiracy/improper behaviour. The appearence is enough to derail the whole operation. So if it was necessarly, the powers that be needed to take steps to avoid any appearence of possible wrongdoing. Anything that the average person could take as a conflict of interest or any sort of corruption.

The Bush administration didn't do that.

Blame them for the conspiracy theories. Or maybe keeping the status quo of corruption was more important for them than fighting the war on terror. But I guess that would justify all the theories, now wouldn't it.

Posted by: Karmakin | Jul 9, 2004 12:22:37 PM

Why are we in the Middle East? What's the difference between the Middle East (poor, authoritarian) and Africa (poor, authoritarian)? The difference is that the Middle East has by far the greatest supplies of by far the most important commodity in the world. Whoever controls Middle East oil has a huge bargaining chip against the other industrial powers.

This isn't conspiracy theory, it's the conventional wisdom of foreign policy planners for the last 80 years. Was it conspiracy when the Allies made the Middle East a priority in WWII?

Just look at the government documents. Again and again they say very clearly that the key Middle East goal is "Western access to area oil supplies on acceptable terms" and denial of oil to hostile powers (USSR in the past, possibly China in the future).

Consider: "The United States has a great interest in denying the Near East to Soviet domination, in maintaining Free World access to its oil, rights of peaceful passage through the area, and in keeping important strategic positions available to ourselves and our allies." -National Security Council, 1960

"US interests [in the Middle East] continue to grow as Western access to oil becomes more important" -National Security Council, 1977

"The United States seeks a Middle East and South Asia at peace, where access to strategic natural resources at stable prices is unhindered and free markets are expanding." -Department of Defense, 2000

Incidentally, controlling Middle East resources has been the steady policy of Democrats and Republicans alike.

Posted by: Jake | Jul 9, 2004 12:32:39 PM

Setting liberal reform groups in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt,Yemen etc.. back 20 years is immaterial as these groups had zero chance of reform ever. It wasn't as if the reformers we anywhere near toppling Saddam before the US invaded. Creating democracy in Iraq is messy, but was our only shot. Face it, there are no liberal reformers in the middle east with any power. Even the Mullas in Iran have easily crushed the reform movement there.

A totally agree with you that the Bush administration flubbed the diplomacy effort before the war. They failed to play the game and it hurt the chance of getting popular support for the war, but that isn't a conspiracy theory. That's appropriate criticism and thats what the democrats should be talking about not oil pipelines, haliburton, and ties to the Bin Laden family.

There are plenty of real arguments for not voting for Bush and they get drowned out by conspiracy theories that turn off moderates like me.

The only other problem I have voting for Kerry is that I have no idea where he stands on anything. If he would just say " Invading Iraq was the right thing to do, but the diplomatic effort before the war was terrible AND here is what I would have done and the post war reconstruction was terrible AND here is exactly what I would have done, then he might have my vote. I want details about John Kerry's plan not just rhetoric about how bad Bush is.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 9, 2004 12:37:12 PM

Look, Dave. Which nation has the second-largest proven reserves on the globe? The nation we happen to be waist-deep in right about now. A nation that we now know - and really, knew before the war - had little if anything to do with the attacks of 9/11.

So we concoct this grand idea that we're going to affect some sort of reverse domino theory in the Middle East. Great. But the operative question is, had the hijackers been of, say, African descent, would we have played these cards in the manner that we did?

I'm not saying we went into Iraq with the intent of stealing their oil. What I'm saying is that securing access to this vital commodity is obviously in the best interests of THIS nation, and in our supposedly altruistic view, the world. And that this was one of the lenses, at least, through which the administration viewed the world in the wake of 9/11.

Posted by: Gil | Jul 9, 2004 12:41:40 PM

Jake is right: while I don't think this was a 'war for oil' per se, it is certainly the case that the history of the U.S.'s involvement in the Gulf region has a lot to do with oil. For example, Saddam initially invaded Kuwait, which led to Operation Desert Storm, primarily because Kuwait was threatening to lower oil prices which would harm Saddam's power and Iraq's oil-based economy.

Posted by: trewq | Jul 9, 2004 12:50:11 PM

Also, check out this story (sorry guys, blogwhoring in effect): "Poland, which has sent troops to support the US-led forces in Iraq, has acknowledged its "ultimate objective" is to acquire supplies of Iraqi oil. The Polish Foreign Minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, said his country had never disguised the fact that it sought direct access to the oilfields."

As you can see from that post, "I have not been the biggest fan of the 'no blood for oil' argument," but evidence is evidnece is evidence.

Posted by: steve | Jul 9, 2004 12:56:15 PM

I'm not saying oil was irrelevant to the decision. Oil was what made Saddam dangerous because of the revenue it brought in even under sanctions(see UN oil for food Scandal). But if the US really only wanted the oil flow, Bush could have pulled a France and cozied back up to Saddam, got sweetheart deals for US oil companies and avoided an expensive and politically difficult war for himself.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 9, 2004 12:57:57 PM

The debate on America's motives in the Middle East always seems curiously ahistorical, rarely noting the constant patterns of behavior or referencing internal government documents. Check out William Stivers's book, America's Confrontation with Revolutionary Change in the Middle East, 1948-83 to get a better perspective (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0312021925). His study is document-based, not based on speculation or guessing.

Posted by: Jake | Jul 9, 2004 12:59:09 PM

The important thing isn't the *flow* of oil, but the control over potentials. We have enough oil at cheap enough prices right now because we control the Saudis. But under a neoconservative administration - one that believes the best time to expand and consolidate American power is when we are strongest - taking over Iraq was an obvious goal once 9/11 overcame domestic skepticism. Their overoptimistic idea was to grab the country, be welcomed as liberators, and establish control over that oil in case things in Saudi ever went bad. With the International Energy Agency forecasting increased dependence on Middle East oil in coming years and supplies starting to tighten as China and India start consuming more, neocons probably thought this the ideal time to secure control over the #2 reserves in the world. It's longterm strategic thinking, not short-term concern for prices.

Posted by: Jake | Jul 9, 2004 1:09:20 PM

". After all, if you fight a war for oil, at least you get some oil at the end of the day."

Uh, no.

George W. Bush indisputably started a *company* "for oil", yet didn't end up with any oil.

That's because he *failed*.

It's entirely possible to start a war for oil and then end up without any improvement in the oil supply. For starters, if the war is based on premises which are invalid (overestimates of production capability). Or if the execution of the war is inadequate - say, by using insufficient troops so that it is easier for insurgents to sabotage production.

This is the same hole that exists in arguments that Halliburton couldn't have been involved for profit, because they haven't profited. What matters is not the result, what matters is the business proposition that got them involved in the first place. Halliburton may well have been set up with business deals that seemed like a sure thing for massive profits. But those deals may have been based on Cheney and Wolfowitz's confidence that we'd be welcomed with candy and flowers, and there'd be no insurgency. Under actual conditions, Halliburton isn't making high profits, despite their herculean efforts to cheat the US taxpayer.

But that doesn't mean there wasn't some degree of corruption. It just means the deal went sour.

Posted by: Jon H | Jul 9, 2004 1:13:11 PM

If we invaded Iraq because were afraid that "things in Saudi Arabia might go bad" then why not just take over Saudi Arabia? We could have just connected the saudi highjackers to someone in the royal family.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 9, 2004 1:13:20 PM

It should also be said that as much oil, the war was about establishing permanent military bases in Iraq from which to police the region (which in turn is necessary in order to control the oil). As the Stivers book makes clear, foreign policy planners have long been concerned about establishing military bases that can support Middle East intervention. Nationalist sensibilities restricted them to Diego Garcia (in the Indian Ocean) for years. It wasn't until the invasion of Kuwait gave them the opportunity to strongarm the Saudis into basing American troops that they had bases in the region, which they then made permanent after the war. But things in Saudi were starting to sour, the troop presence was extremely unpopular and endangering the rule of the friendly Saudi dictators. So they figured Iraq would make a more suitable base. Again, they were much too optimistic. We'll have to see if they get a stable military presence or if civil war and continuing attacks make Iraq unsuitable too.

Posted by: Jake | Jul 9, 2004 1:18:34 PM


How was creating democracy in Iraq our only shot? What is the connection between 9/11 and Iraq? If our intent is to defeat Al Qaeda and help establish democracy, shouldn't the Bush adminstration have done a much more thorough job in Afghanistan rather than being so reliant on Afghan warlords and diverting resources to Iraq?

Are you saying that the only chance democracy has in the Middle East is if it is forcefully imposed?

Even if a stable, pro-US democracy becomes established in Iraq, despite everything working against such an outcome, do you really think that outcome would be a net benefit to the US considering all that it has cost us so far in blood, money, and lost credibility and all that it will continue to cost us for years to come?

Given the fact that no substantial cache of WMD has been discovered, why do you think that the containment of Saddam wasn't working?

As for Kerry, if you don't know where he stands on issues, including Iraq, I suggest you visit his web site. Why do you expect Kerry to provide details about his plans for Iraq when the situation remains so fluid and months before he would be able to execute those plans. Isn't it enough to know that Bush has done an abyssmal job in Iraq and elsewhere and to know in general terms what Kerry's intentions are (such as working to repair alliances mangled by Bush)?

Posted by: Bragan | Jul 9, 2004 1:21:17 PM

We didn't invade Saudi Arabia because:
1) there are already Saudi rulers who accept American domination and who are in danger of overthrow for this reason; making American domination more explicit thru conquest would have decreased the ability of the USA to dominate, not increased it;
2) Hussein was a good target to make an example to the world of the consequences of resisting American power; attacking a client state would send exactly the wrong message, that even accepting American domination wasn't good enough;
3) They thought (it turns out mistakenly) that they'd be welcomed in Iraq by overthrowing Baathist tyranny; they knew that already anti-American Saudis would never welcome them.

Posted by: Jake | Jul 9, 2004 1:24:24 PM

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