War in Iraq boils down to oil profits

By Tom Weston
Guest Columnist

"The flow of (Persian) Gulf oil will continue to be crucial to the economic well-being of the industrialized world for the foreseeable future ...Every president since Richard Nixon has recognized that ensuring Persian Gulf security and stability is a vital U.S. interest." (Foreign Affairs, June, 1997). This statement by two former National Security Advisors states the consensus among U.S. policymakers for more than 30 years: The United States has, and will continue, to dominate Persian Gulf oil. To do this, the United States armed the former Shah of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq's Saddam Hussein, fought a major war and continues to station large military forces in the Gulf.

The reasons for trying to control the Gulf are clear enough: It has two-thirds of the world's proven oil reserves, and since oil is vital for all industrialized economies, the power and profits that come with control of oil are enormous. It is also clear that Saddam Hussein's regime is a threat to U.S. control, since it is ambitious, has had a powerful military and could use oil revenues to build up again if sanctions were lifted. All this seems to provide a rational explanation for the consensus among U.S. policy insiders, but that is not the way the Bush administration presents its pro-war policy to the public. Administration spokesmen avoid even mentioning the word "oil," and defend their war plans with arguments about weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and terrorism.

Iraq's weapons are certainly not irrelevant, since it might try again to take Kuwaiti or Saudi oil. The Bush administration concedes that Iraq does not have nuclear weapons, although it might have chemical or biological ones. Iraq's most serious future threat, however, would not be WMDs, but the conventional forces that it has relied on in the past. The United States has not been especially concerned about WMDs unless they were in unfriendly hands - India and Pakistan were only slapped on the wrist for developing nuclear weapons. The real aim of the administration is not about WMDs, but rather "regime change," as they sometimes admit.

Another argument, that Iraq is allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorists, is important to the administration's case, since it would connect a war against Iraq with the war on terrorism. The evidence that they have been able to marshal for this claim is, however, little short of ridiculous. Speaking to the Security Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell rested his whole case on a supposed link between the Iraqi government and Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist based in a part of northern Iraq not controlled by Baghdad. There is evidence that Zarqawi is a bad guy, but no good evidence that he is allied with Iraq. As USA Today (Feb. 6) reported, "Some U.S., British and other nations' intelligence officials have cautioned that though Zarqawi's web of connections is suspicious, it does not mean he and his groups are working with Iraq."

Some have proposed other non-oil explanations for U.S. war plans, suggesting that President Bush is just an inarticulate boob who wants to outdo his dad. Whether he is a dim bulb or not, however, he has advisors around him to remind him that "it's the oil, stupid." Vice President Dick Cheney was the CEO of Haliburton, the world's biggest oil services company, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was a member of the board of directors of Chevron-Texaco, which named an oil tanker after her.

The fact that oil is the main issue does not mean that those of us that need to drive to work or school should be in favor of a war. Only about 14 percent of oil consumed in the United States comes from the Persian Gulf, and more efficient cars or alternative energy sources might make it possible to do without it. Control of the Gulf is critical, however, for the profits of the giant oil companies like Exxon-Mobil and the power of U.S. global corporations. French, Russian and Chinese companies have deals for Iraqi oil that would come into play if sanctions end. That would mean a loss of profits and power over those countries by U.S. corporations. The U.S. government doesn't mean to let this happen, no matter how Iraqis or Americans get killed. "No blood for oil" is a good slogan for growing the movement to oppose this war, but "No war for oil profits" is better. That is what the war will really be about.

- Tom Weston is a professor of philosophy at San Diego State.

- This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec. Send e-mail to letters@thedailyaztec.com.