After a long exile, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP are back in Iraq. The war-torn country is in chaos and 4,000 American soldiers have died, but the oil industry is enjoying swollen profits. In this essay, Bill connects the dots to explain the role of oil in the US decision to wage war against Iraq.
BILL MOYERS: 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 then told reporter 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," Wolfowitz said, "because the country floats on a sea of oil."
Shades of Daniel Plainview! You remember Plainview — the monstrous petroleum tycoon in the movie There Will Be Blood. Half-mad, he shouts: "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. Our soldiers were making sure no one could get at the oil except — guess who?
Take a look at this headline the other day in The New York Times: "deals with Iraq are set to bring oil giants back." Read on: "Four western oil 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 granted 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 1990s, 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?" Cheney asked. "While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East...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 handed back-door keys to the white house, and their CEOs and lobbyists were trooping in and out for meetings with their old pal, now Vice President Cheney. The meetings are secret, conducted under tight security. But as we reported in July 2003, among the documents that turned up from some of those meetings were maps of oil fields in Iraq and a list of companies that wanted access to them. The conservative group Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club filed suit 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 very oil industry 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 oil. The last time I looked, it was more than $140 a barrel. Where are you, Rupert, when we need the facts?
At those hearings earlier this week, scientist James Hansen, who 20 years ago alerted us 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 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.
That's it for the Journal. We'll be off next week for the July 4th concert.
You'll see us here again in two weeks.
I'm Bill Moyers.