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Iraq and the Oil Connection

What demonstrates that oil is the focus of U.S. foreign policy?

December 18, 2002

What demonstrates that oil is the focus of U.S. foreign policy?

There are plenty of indications that oil deposits around the world are being depleted — and that progress is being made in developing alternative sources of energy. And yet, the Bush energy policy nevertheless remains steadfastly dedicated to the consumption of oil.

This desire to sustain an oil-based economy may provide insight into the underlying reasons for the current U.S. focus on Iraq.

The real issues involved in this effort go far beyond any simplistic claim that the Bush Administration is just trying to make the world safe for oil companies.

The real situation is more complex than that. But oil, it seems, is still at the bottom of everything.

Not that a successful occupation of Iraq wouldn't create a better business climate for the U.S. oil industry. After years of sanctions, the Iraqi oil industry is a mere shadow of its former self.

Whereas Russian, French, and Chinese firms have positioned themselves to benefit from Iraqi oil once sanctions are ended, it is U.S. companies, left in the cold so far, that stand to gain the most from regime change in Baghdad.

Rehabilitating those facilities would be a lucrative job for the oil service industry, including Vice President Cheney's former company, Halliburton.

But U.S. policymakers have bigger fish to fry than this. A successful invasion of Iraq could gain enormous leverage for Washington over the world oil market. It would fatally weaken OPEC — and limit the influence of other suppliers such as Russia, Mexico and Venezuela.

Controlling Iraqi oil would allow — among other things — the United States to reduce Saudi influence over oil policy.

Since September 11, 2001, rifts between Washington and Riyadh have appeared — and may well widen given that Saudi Arabia's increasingly restive population is reeling from economic crisis.

That's why — both in the Middle East and in other regions, securing access to oil goes increasingly hand in hand with a fast-expanding U.S. military presence.

From Pakistan to Central Asia to the Caucasus — and from the eastern Mediterranean to the Horn of Africa — a dense network of U.S. military facilities has emerged. Many bases have been established in the name of the "war on terror." But what they really have in common is their proximity to major oil production facilities or strategically important pipelines.

In Colombia, meanwhile, the stage is set for the United States to get drawn ever more deeply into the country's civil war. The Bush Administration has decided to provide training and equipment for Colombian troops.

Why? It's not, as one might think, solely because of the country's drug exports to the United States. In reality, these U.S.-supported troops are also protecting an oil export pipeline against frequent bombings by rebel forces.

That, then, is also how the Bush Administration's Iraq policy fits into the larger scheme of its foreign policy. Sure, there are legitimate concerns about Saddam's weapons capabilities. And about drugs produced in Columbia. But, in each case, there is more to U.S. involvement then the Bush Administration lets on.

And it's not just Saddam Hussein. In a broader sense, U.S. policy aims to reinforce the world economy's reliance on oil — and on an energy system whose guarantor is the United States.

Of course, the availability of cheap oil undermines efforts to develop renewable energy sources, boost energy efficiency — and control greenhouse gas emissions.

All along, these have been compelling reasons in and by themselves to bring the oil age to an end.

And one more compelling reason: Since the late 19th century, too many wars have been fought, too many millions died and too many regions of the world have been militarized and destabilized — all in the pursuit of "black gold."

The Bush Administration's emphasis on oil holds U.S. foreign policy hostage to an energy source that is, quite simply, the wrong one.

No war is really good. But a war fought for oil — which is the essential reason for the Iraqi adventure — is worse because it reinforces an energy policy that will lead to more wars and environmental problems. Now is the time to say “no” to oil — and the war for oil.