First Published: 2007-09-17

Greenspan Spills the Beans on Oil

Could it be that many Americans remain silent because we are unwilling to recognize the Iraq war as the first of the resource wars of the 21st century? Asks Ray McGovern.


Middle East Online

For those still wondering why President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney sent our young men and women into Iraq, the secret is now largely out.

No, not from the lips of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. It appears we shall have to wait until the disgraced general/diplomat draws nearer to meeting his maker before he gets concerned over anything more than the blot that Iraq has put on his reputation.

Rather, the uncommon candor comes from a highly respected Republican doyen, economist Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006, whom the president has praised for his wise policies and prudent judgment.

Sadly for Bush and Cheney, Greenspan decided to put prudence aside in his new book, The Age of Turbulence, and answer the most neuralgic issue of our timeswhy the United States invaded Iraq.

Greenspan writes:

I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.

Everyone knows? Would that it were so. But its hardly everyone.

There are so many, still, who cant handle the truth, and that is understandable. I have found it a wrenching experience to conclude that the America I love would deliberately launch what the Nuremburg Tribunal called the supreme international crimea war of aggressionlargely for oil.

For those who are able to overcome the very common, instinctive denial, for those who can handle the truth, it really helps to turn off the Sunday football games early enough to catch up on whats going on.

There they could have seen another of Bushs senior economic advisers, former Treasury Secretary Paul ONeill on Jan. 11, 2004, discussing The Price of Loyalty, his memoir about his two years inside the Bush administration.

ONeill, a plain speaker, likened the presidents behavior at cabinet meetings to that of a blind man in a roomful of deaf people. Cheney and a praetorian guard that encircled the president would help Bush make decisions off-line, blocking contrary views.

Cheney has a Rumsfeldian knack for aphorisms that dont parse in the real world like deficits dont matter. To his credit, ONeill picked a fight with that and ended up being fired personally by Cheney. In his book, Greenspan heaps scorn on the same Cheneyesque insight.

ONeill made no bones about his befuddlement over the presidents diffident disengagement from discussions on policy, except, that is, for Bushs remarks betraying a pep-rally-cheerleader fixation with removing Saddam Hussein and occupying Iraq.

Why Iraq? 'Largely Oil'

ONeill began to understand right after Bushs inauguration when the discussion among his top advisers abruptly moved to how to divvy up Iraqs oil wealth.

Just days into the job, President Bush created the Cheney energy task force with the stated aim of developing a national energy policy designed to help the private sector. Typically, Cheney has been able to keep secret its deliberations and even the names of its members.

But a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit forced the Commerce Department to turn over task force documents, including a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries, terminals, and potential areas for exploration; a Pentagon chart Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts; and another chart detailing Iraqi oil and gas projectsall dated March 2001.

On the 60 Minutes program on Dec. 15, 2002, Steve Croft asked then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, What do you say to people who think this [the coming invasion of Iraq] is about oil? Rumsfeld replied:

Nonsense. It just isnt. Theretherethere are certain............. things like that, myths that are floating around. Im glad you asked. Iit has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil.

Au Contraire

Greenspans indiscreet remark adds to the abundant evidence that Iraq oil, and not weapons of mass destruction, was the priority target long before the Bush administration invoked WMD as a pretext to invade Iraq.

In the heady days of Mission Accomplished, a week after the president landed on the aircraft carrier, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz virtually bragged about the deceit during an interview.

On May 9, 2003, Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair:

The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason...

During a relaxed moment in Singapore later that same month, Wolfowitz reminded the press that Iraq floats on a sea of oil, and thus added to the migraine he had already given folks in the White House PR shop.

But wait. For those of us absorbing more than Fox channel news, the primacy of the oil factor was a no-brainer.

The limited number of invading troops were ordered to give priority to securing the oil wells and oil industry infrastructure immediately and let looters have their way with just about everything else (including the ammunition storage depots!).

Barely three weeks into the war, Rumsfeld famously answered criticism for not stopping the looting: Stuff happens. No stuff happened to the Oil Ministry.

Small wonder that, according to ONeill, Rumsfeld tried hard to dissuade him from writing his book and has avoided all comment on it. As for Greenspans book, Rumsfeld will find it easier to dodge questions from the Washington press corps from his sinecure at the Hoover Institute at Stanford.

Eminence Grise...or Oily

But the other half of what Col. Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powells former chief of staff at the State Department, calls the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal is still lurking in the shadows.

What changed Cheneys attitude toward Iraq from his sensible remark in 1992 when then-Defense Secretary Cheney defended President George H.W. Bush's decision in 1991 not to follow up the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait with the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the conquest of Iraq.

How many additional American casualties is Saddam worth? Cheney asked in August 1992. Not that damned many. So I think we got it right...when the president made the decision that we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.

Then, there were Cheneys revealing, damning remarks as Halliburton's CEO?

Oil companies are expected to keep developing enough oil to offset oil depletion and also to meet new demand, Cheney said in autumn 1999. So where is the oil going to come from? Governments and the national oil companies are obviously in control of 90 percent of the assets. Oil remains fundamentally a government business. The Middle East with two-thirds of the worlds oil and the lowest cost is still where the prize ultimately lies.

Not only Cheney, but also many of the captains of the oil industry were looking on Iraq with covetous eyes before the war.

Most forget that the Bush/Cheney administration came in on the heels of severe shortages of oil and natural gas in the U.S., and the passing of a milestone at which the United States had just begun importing more than half of the oil it consumes.

One oil executive confided to a New York Times reporter a month before the war: For any oil company, being in Iraq is like being a kid in F.A.O. Schwarz.

There were, to be sure, other factors behind the ill-starred attack on Iraqthe determination to acquire permanent military bases in the area, for one. But that factor can be viewed as a subset of the energy motivation.

In other words, the felt need for what the Pentagon prefers to call enduring military bases in the Middle East is a function of its strategic importance which is a functionyou guessed it, a function of its natural resources. Not only oil, but natural gas and water as well.

In my opinion, the other major factor in the Bush/Cheney decision to make war on Iraq was the misguided notion that this would make that part of the world safer for Israel.

Indeed, the so-called neo-conservatives still running U.S. policy toward the Middle East continue to have great difficulty distinguishing between what they perceive to be the strategic interests of Israel and those of the United States.

Why Are Americans Silent?

Could it be that many Americans remain silent because we are unwilling to recognize the Iraq war as the first of the resource wars of the 21st century; because we continue to be comfortable hogging far more than our share of the worlds resources and will look the other way if our leaders tell us that aggressive war is necessary to protect that siren-call, our way of life, from attack by those who are just plain jealous?

Perhaps a clue can be found in the remarkable reaction I received after a lecture I gave two and a half years ago in a very affluent suburb of Milwaukee. I had devoted much of my talk to what I consider the most important factoid of this century: the world is running out of oil.

Afterwards some 20 folks lingered in a small circle to ask follow-up questions. A persistent, handsomely dressed man, who just would not let go, dominated the questioning:

"Surely you agree that we need the oil. Then what's your problem? Some 1,450 killed thus far are far fewer than the toll in Vietnam where we lost 58,000; it's a small price to pay... a sustainable rate to bear. What IS your problem?"

I asked the man if he would feel differently if one of those (then) 1,450 killed were his own son. Judging from his abrupt, incredulous reaction, the suggestion struck him as so farfetched as to be beyond his ken. It wouldnt be my son, he said.

And that, I believe, is a HUGE part of the problem.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. A former CIA analyst, he is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. His e-mail is



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