A recent discussion in one of my Middle Eastern studies classes on the topic of natural resources and U.S. foreign policy quickly spiraled into a melee of rhetoric — one which showed me how deeply misinformed many Americans remain about the nature of the U.S-led coalition intervention in Iraq. Most of my classmates were adamant that the U.S. unjustly invaded a sovereign Iraq in reckless pursuit of the world’s most sought-after natural resource.
The biggest flaw of the popular war for oil theory is that it stands upon a speculative foundation: the U.S. is a leading consumer of the world’s oil, Iraq is a major producer of oil and Bush and Cheney were former oil entrepreneurs. If one digs deep into research, one may also discover a certain Halliburton subsidiary named Kellogg, Brown and Root that had contracts with the U.S. military early in the war. These contracts were for military logistics — shipping of supplies, construction of base camps, mail delivery, trash collection and doing laundry. KBR was granted no contracts for Iraqi oil, and in fact was fired by the U.S. Department of Defense for overcharging for its services in 2006.
So what is this foggy concept? Did the U.S. invade to plunder black gold with brute military force? No U.S. or North Atlantic Treaty Organization theft of Iraqi oil has ever been reported by an official American private or governmental source, or for that matter by any Iraqi source.
Did the U.S. invade in order to open Iraq’s oil market? The U.S. already regularly purchased oil from Iraq prior to the invasion, though the amount was heavily dampened by trade sanctions. If the U.S. needed more oil, removing trade sanctions while requesting that the United Nations lower financial sanctions on Iraq would have done the job, as the country was producing well below capacity due to tight finances. Through the first year of the invasion in 2003, the U.S. imported notably less oil from Iraq than it had in the previous three years — less than 500,000 barrels per day. At the time Iraq was only our sixth-largest foreign supplier. In 2008 Iraq was our seventh largest supplier.
Or maybe the U.S. invaded in order to liberate the Iraqis, thus winning special favor in future oil deals. In December 2009, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil headed one of the largest oil auctions in the history of the industry. Some of the most lucrative contracts were awarded to companies from China, Russia and France — the three nations that most vehemently opposed the 2003 coalition invasion.
The most fundamental law of economics smashes the oil war hypothesis. Nine days before the kickoff of the invasion, the average U.S. retail price of gas was $1.72 a gallon. As we all know, the price has only continued to climb since then. Supply and demand proves the U.S. has clearly not benefited from any sort of secretive oil deals or increased import since the invasion.
What the U.S. seems to have forgotten is the official justification for the intervention: Saddam Hussein’s purported “weapons of mass destruction.” When it was discovered that no such operational weapons existed, all derision turned to the Bush administration. Had Bush intentionally misled the world in a belligerent quest for oil paid for in blood rather than in dollars?
Two irrefutable facts contradict this. First, no hard evidence has been uncovered that suggests the Bush administration intentionally misled anyone. Considering the sheer number of diplomats in Washington and among our NATO allies, this is astonishing. Second, in a series of interviews with FBI agent and Lebanese American George Piro, Hussein admitted he did not have WMDs in 2003, but had planned to resume his weapons program within a year. Out of perpetual fear of renewed aggression from Iran, he admitted to leading U.N. weapons inspectors on repeated wild goose chases to convince the international community he had WMDs, hopefully scaring off Iranian belligerence. The Bush administration did not have to deceive the rest of the world — Hussein did it himself.
The effect of Middle Eastern political stability on the global oil market was relevant to U.S. interest. The Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait caused slight spikes in global oil prices, and the effect on gas prices of a hypothetical major multinational war of attrition in the region could potentially bring many of the world’s modernized economies to a halt. The ultimate motivation for invasion was in fact a genuine — if not myopic — fear of Hussein’s weapons capabilities based on faulty intelligence and fueled in part by a post-9/11 state of semi-paranoia.
At such an outstanding academic institution like the University, we should really strive after the facts, not the trendy politically weighted anecdotes. Sadly, almost nine years since the invasion, the war for oil myth still stands as the most popularly accepted conspiracy theory in American history.
Jared Szuba is an LSA junior.