Would U.S. troops be in Iraq if that country didn’t have a drop of oil under its sand? Most politicians dodge that kind of question. And for years, the U.S. news media-with few exceptions-have elided the oily obvious. Such denials go back a long way.
“We are also talking about maintaining access to energy resources that are key-not just to the functioning of this country, but to the entire world,” the president said. “Our jobs, our way of life, our own freedom and the freedom of friendly countries around the world would all suffer if control of the world’s great oil reserves fell into the hands of Saddam Hussein,” he declared.
Papering over corporate interests with humanitarian ones is standard media operating procedure for presidents and their administrations along with many pundits. On the last day of November 2003, with U.S. troops occupying Iraq, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman gushed that “this war is the most important liberal, revolutionary U.S. democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan.” He lauded the war as “one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.” Friedman did not mention the estimated 112 billion barrels of untapped oil in Iraq.
A dozen years later, weeks before the invasion of Iraq, liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen launched a barrage of invective against a member of Congress who had dared to identify oil as “the strongest incentive” for the impending war. Cohen was vitriolic. The first word of his column was “liar.” From there, he peppered his piece with references to Representative Dennis Kucinich as an “indomitable demagogue” and a “fool” who was “repeating a lie.”
The same Post article quoted former CIA Director James Woolsey-a Chalabi supporter who, according to a Legal Times story, had been on the payroll of Chalabi’s group. Woolsey said: “France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we’ll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them. If they throw in their lot with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them.”
On Wall Street, financial analysts were inclined to be much more candid than politicians or political reporters. “Think of Iraq as a military base with a very large oil reserve underneath,” said Fadel Gheit, an expert on the oil industry for Oppenheimer & Company. He added: “You can’t ask for better than that.” After more than a quarter century of tracking the oil business, Gheit commented: “Think of Iraq as virgin territory. … It is the superstar of the future. That’s why Iraq becomes the most sought-after real estate on the face of the earth.”
The documents, McQuaig wrote, “suggest that those who took part in the Cheney task force-including senior oil company executives-were very interested in Iraq’s oil and specifically in the danger of it falling into the hands of eager foreign oil companies, rather than into the rightful hands of eager U.S. oil companies. As the documents show, prior to the U.S. invasion, foreign oil companies were nicely positioned for future involvement in Iraq, while the major U.S. oil companies, after years of U.S.-Iraqi hostilities, were largely out of the picture.” Of course, for oil corporations based in the USA, that picture would drastically change after the invasion.
The next day, the Associated Press reported that “President Bush answered growing antiwar protests yesterday with a fresh reason for U.S. troops to continue fighting in Iraq: protection of the country’s vast oil fields, which he said would otherwise fall under the control of terrorist extremists.” The end of another AP dispatch noted: “A one-time oilman, Bush has rejected charges that the war in Iraq is a struggle to control the nation’s vast oil wealth. The president has avoided making links between the war and Iraq’s oil reserves, but the soaring cost of gasoline has focused attention on global petroleum sources.”
This article is adapted from Norman Solomon’s new book “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” For information, go to: www.WarMadeEasy.com