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Cherchez Le Petrol By: Joseph Yeager
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, November 12, 2002


The defeat America Left, in its attempts to undermine the moral credibility of U.S. military action against Saddam Hussein, has been noisily proclaiming its opposition to the putative exchange of "blood for oil."  By "blood for oil" the Leftists mean that America's real reason for pursuing war against Saddam is a rapacious desire for Iraqi crude.  For those of us who were actually conscious on 9-11, and who witnessed the cataclysmic consequences of inattention to Middle Eastern hatred of America, such seeking after remote rationales for war when obvious ones exist may seem ludicrous.  But the Americaphobes who make such accusations leave little doubt about the reality and sincerity of their beliefs.

Hence, William Stewart of The Santa Fe New Mexican writes, "Just why is Iraq so important?  The short answer is not Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction, but 'oil.'"  Or, to hear Democratic Congressman, Jim McDermott tell it, "I think that the president may have a two-pronged plan here, one over oil and the other to win the fall election." 

Ed Vulliamy, Paul Webster and Nick Paton Walsh, writing for The Observer are even more blunt: "The Bush administration, intimately entwined with the global oil industry, is keen to pounce on Iraq's massive untapped reserves, the second biggest in the world after Saudi Arabia's."  Furthermore, "Washington's predatory interest in Iraqi oil is clear, whatever its political protestations about its motives for war."  Lee Siu Hin, pontificating for ZNet declares that "American military campaigns against Iraq are the determining factor for international oil prices, and--what is less widely known--are the best way to steal Iraqi oil." Continues Hin, "...The overriding motivation behind U.S. policies is to retain hegemony over the oil-rich Persian Gulf which provides about a quarter of the world's oil. 

Above all, the goal is to send an unmistakable message: that any country bold enough to stand up to the U.S. will reap the same unprecedented and brutal consequences inflicted upon Iraq."  Kenneth Davidson of Dissent Magazine reports that, "The Bush administration may be telling the world that the reason the U.N. Security Council has to approve an attack on Iraq is because of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capability, but the real reason France and Russia are being told to get on board the U.S. military bandwagon is Iraq's oil reserves."  And finally, Mo Mowlam, former cabinet member in Tony Blair's government, informs us that "This whole affair has nothing to do with a threat from Iraq--there isn't one.  It has nothing to do with the war against terrorism or with morality. 

Saddam Hussein is obviously an evil man, but when we were selling arms to him to keep the Iranians in check he was the same evil man he is today." "In the same way he served western interests then, he is now the distraction for the sleight of hand to protect the west's supply of oil."

Now these arguments--actually banal assertions backed by little more than overwrought speculation, connect-the-black-helicopter-to-the-grassy-knoll theorizing, and delusional are readings of run-of-the-mill American security documents pertaining to energy policy--have been skillfully skewered by Peter Beinart in columns for the New Republic and the New York Post.  I seek simply to augment his work with a few additional points here, and then to squirt the Leftist "blood for oil" calumnies in another direction and toward more deserving targets.

The arguments of the petroleum paranoiacs divide into two schools.  The first and less fantastic of the two, claims that the performance of the American economy is tightly correlated to the flow of Iraqi oil.  Simply put, the greater the output of Iraqi crude, the lower the price of oil, the more spending change left in the pockets of American consumers, and the better the performance of the American economy.  And when the economy percolates merrily, voters are apt to reelect incumbent presidents. C
onversely, exiguous Iraqi oil equals a torpid U.S. economy and Gephardt, Gore or Kerry in the White House in 2004.

Unfortunately for those who wish to see something sordid in every American action, history does not support their claims. To wit, the American economy actually flourished from 1992 to 2000 in the very years that the flow of Iraqi crude was suppressed through sanctions.  Moreover, U.S.
economic performance plummeted in 1991, the year of the Gulf War, and before any malaise issuing therefrom could have developed.  This fact, combined with the candidacy of H. Ross Perot, accounts for the election of Bill Clinton and the defeat of George Bush.  Clearly, George W. Bush would have no interest in reprising his father's downfall by initiating a war that could enfeeble the American economy, at least in the short term.

The second school is that of the true, blue Bush-haters.  In short, these people contend that the president wants war with Saddam because victory will assure Bush's fat cat oil cronies a sizable chunk of post-war Iraqi oil reserves.  In return, grateful oil companies will back Bush to the hilt
with massive campaign contributions to his reelection bid.

Like most strictly ad hominem arguments, this one holds less water than a box of Triscuits in Death Valley.  In the first place, American oil companies will hardly have a monopoly on post-war Iraqi reserves.  French, Russian, Indian, Algerian, Vietnamese and Italian companies, among others, have long been maneuvering to secure a slice of this petroleum pie.  And while American  companies will get their fair share of the action--as well they should--this is hardly the stuff to drive the world's most powerful nation into a risky overseas war.  Second, we must bear in mind that while victory over Iraq will grant American oil companies greater access to Iraqi oil, the resulting glut of crude in the market will lower oil prices and thus cut deeply into potential benefits for the U.S. petroleum industry.

And third, we should consider the distinct probability--strengthened considerably by the Democratic Party's leftward lurch since the mid-term elections--that Al Gore will be the democratic presidential nominee again in 2004.  Does anybody seriously believe that American oil companies would ever support Al "Ban the Combustion Engine" Gore over George W. Bush?  For those who do, I direct your attention to the upcoming Village Idiots's Convention at Minnesota Democratic headquarters; Harry Belafonte, Barbara Streisand and Woody Harrelson will be keynote speakers.

But of course, the primary problem with both of these criticisms is that they mistake a single effect for the primary cause of the coming conflict.  Yes, American oil companies have an interest in post-war Iraq, and yes, the United States has very real--and completely legitimate--concerns about its future oil supplies.  And in the long run, America's energy situation may very well improve as a result of toppling Saddam.  But fair and reasonable people need not look to these possible results as the motive for war.  One only need note the fact of 2,800 dead Americans with the promise of more to come, Saddam's historic use of weapons of mass destruction, his animus against the United States, and growing evidence of his links with Al Qaeda. 

The civilized world does not need an atomic Assurbanipal, floating on seas of crude and dispensing funds, intelligence, and mass weapons to the Al Qaeda heathen. The history of the 20th century teaches us that allowing evil men to become too powerful is a policy fraught with peril.  Thankfully, our president hasn't forgotten this lesson.  Unfortunately, many of his critics have.

And what of Hussein's evil and its relatinship to the "blood for oil" critique?  What about the blood of the innocent Iraqi victims of Saddam's barbarism?  Does this not count for something in the grand moral calculus as well?  I would argue that Saddam's past dead, and those to come if he is
not deposed, are all too readily forgotten by the moral poseurs on the Left.  As a corrective to those who talk of Saddam's "alleged" weapons of mass destruction, let us here recall the history of Saddam's abatoire.

In a depressing article for The New Yorker, Jeffrey Goldberg reminds us in no uncertain terms why Saddam must go. He notes that Saddam's murderous attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja is "the only time since the Holocaust that poison gas has been used to exterminate women and children."  Goldberg's sources estimate the number of those killed in Saddam's gas and germ attacks in Kurdistan at anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 with 4 million people affected.  According to Goldberg, "experts now believe that Halabja and other places in Kurdistan were struck by a combination of mustard gas and nerve agents, including sarin (the agent used in the Tokyo subway attack) and VX, a potent nerve agent." Aflatoxin, a biological agent that produces liver cancer-- children are especially susceptible--may also have been used.  Iraqi scientists, speaking to the U.N.'s Charles Duelfer, acknowledged that Iraq had weaponized aflatoxin. 

Among other biological agents found by weapons inspectors in Iraq are anthrax, botulinum toxin, Clostridium perfringens, and wheat-cover smut. These pathogens cause everything from muscular paralysis to gas gangrene to hemorrhagic pneumonia.  Hussein Kamel, the defector son-in-law of Saddam who was murdered upon returning to Iraq, spoke openly about Iraq's development of offensive chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.  Goldberg also reports a tape recording of Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, addressing the Baath Party on the subject of the Kurds.  On the tape, al-Majid rages, "I will kill them all with chemical weapons!  Who is going to say anything?  The international community?  F*** them!  The international community and those who listen to them."  Iraqi Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz informed the U.N.'s Richard Butler, point blank, that "We [Saddam's regime] made bioweapons in order to deal with the Persians and the Jews."  And finally, Goldberg reports University of Liverpool geneticist, Christine Gosden's belief that "it is quite possible that countries of the West will soon experience chemical- and biological-weapons attacks far more serious and of greater lasting effect than the anthrax incidents of last autumn and the nerve-agent attack on the Tokyo subway system several years ago--that what happened in Kurdistan was only the beginning."

But we need not take Goldberg and The New Yorker at their word.  An executive summary issued by the U.S. State Department on September 13, 1999--a year before the "war monger" Bush won the White House--reports, among other horrors, that child mortality rates in the regions of Iraq controlled by Saddam are more than double those of areas administered by the U.N.  It states further that "Baghdad's refusal to cooperate with the oil-for-food program and its deliberate misuse of resources are cynical efforts to sacrifice the Iraqi people's welfare in order to bring an end to U.N. sanctions without complying with its obligations."  The report also notes increasing attacks against Shi'a civilians in southern Iraq, tank attacks against the towns of Rumaitha and Khudur in response to protests aginst the "maldistribution of food and weapons," the murders and arrests of hundreds of Shi'a religious, and the large-scale demolition of civilian homes, villages and the expulsion of large numbers of inhabitants.  Between autumn 1997 and September, 1999, more than 2,500 Iraqi prisoners were executed.  Iraq also executed thousands of Iranian prisoners of war during its conflict with Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran.

Among the more ominous statements about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction are the report's affirmation that "Iraq loaded VX, anthrax, botulism toxin, and other chemical and biological agents into Al-Hussein missile warheads and deployed them during the Gulf War," and that "Iraq loaded thousands of munitions such as aerial bombs, tactical rockets, and artillery shells with a variety of chemical and biological agents similar to those used against Iran and against Iraqi civilians." 

Under the heading of "Regime Change" the State Department avers that "Saddam's record over
the past 10 years ... demonstrated that he will never comply with U.N. resolutions and that he will continue to repress his own people and threaten his neighbors.  That is why we believe that the only way to address the security needs of the international community and the needs of the people of Iraq is through a new government in Baghdad, one that is committed to living in peace with its neighbors and respecting the rights of its citizens.  Iraq, the region, and the world would be better off with a new government in Iraq."

The case for deposing Saddam is iron-clad, the evidence against him overwhelming.  He is a vile slaughterer of his own people and, with his ghastly bouillabaise of chemical and biological weapons, is a manifest menace to peace-loving peoples the world over. There is no "blood for oil" critique to be made of U.S. policy.  Deep sixing Saddam is the only decent thing to do.

But what about the reluctance of the French and Russians to support regime change until the mid-term elections magically transformed President Bush from supposed ninety-eight-pound asthmatic weakling into genuine 900-pound geopolitical gorilla equipped with death-ray vision and kung fu grip? Could their opposition to regime change have been motivated by impulses far cruder than pacifism?

As a matter of fact, it is chiefly the French and the Russians who have been doing oil business with Saddam Hussein all these years.  It is the French and the Russians who had a vested interest in keeping Saddam in power--no matter the depths of his barbarism--in order to preserve sweet contracts for Iraqi crude.  For instance, Lukoil, Russia's largest oil company, signed a 20 billion dollar deal with Saddam's Iraq in 1997 to drill the West Qurna oil field.  Russia's Slavneft has reportedly signed a 52 million dollar contract to drill the Tuba field in southern Iraq, and a 40 billion dollar Iraq-Russian joint venture to explore oil reserves in Iraq's western desert reportedly is in the pipeline.  Russia is also said to fear that a post-war glut of Iraqi oil would lower oil prices and thus discourage foreign investment in the development of Russia's Siberian oil fields.  The largest long-term contract in Iraq's oil-for-food program is with France.  And the French company Total Fina Elf has been negotiating for rights to develop the Majnoon field along the Iraq-Iran border.

It is, therefore, quite clear that the French and Russians have been busy grubbing for Saddam's oil money even as he gassed and contaminated the Kurds and steamrolled the Shi'as.  It is equally evident for all with eyes to see that the hardball played by the French and Russians in relation to a tough U.N. resolution against Saddam had far less to do with high principle and much more to with lining their own pockets.  One may justifiably ask, who, exactly, has been guilty of trading blood for oil?




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