In an op-ed in the July 28 New York Times, “Oil and Blood,” Bob Herbert insists on looking at the glaringly obvious elephant in the room that so many on all sides of the Iraq debate are blinding themselves to:
[T]he whole point of this war, it seems, was to establish a long-term military presence in Iraq to ensure U.S. domination of the Middle East and its precious oil reserves, which have been described, the author Daniel Yergin tells us, as “the greatest single prize in all history.”
You can run through all the wildly varying rationales for this war: the weapons of mass destruction (that were never found), the need to remove the unmitigated evil of Saddam (whom we had once cozied up to), the connection to al-Qaida (which was bogus), and, one of President Bush’s favorites, the need to fight the terrorists “over there” so we won’t have to fight them here at home.
All the rationales have to genuflect before “The Prize,” the title of Yergin’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning book.
It’s the oil, stupid.
Amazingly, Herbert dredges up for the edification of Times readers inconvenient realities which had heretofore gone noticed only by the policy elites themselves and “conspiracy theorists” in the blogosphere:
[I]n the summer of 2002, before the war with Iraq was launched. As The Washington Post first reported, an influential Pentagon advisory board was given a briefing prepared by a Rand Corp. analyst who said the U.S. should consider seizing the oil fields and financial assets of Saudi Arabia if it did not stop its support of terrorism.
Mercifully, the briefing went nowhere. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it did not represent the “dominant opinion” within the administration.
We noted the report from former RAND analyst Laurent Murawiec at the time, citing an AP account which got very little attention from such organs as the Times. We have also noted that administration hardliners have from the beginning seen Iraq as but the first step in a hubristic plans to reshape the Middle East and secure direct US occupation of its critical oil resources. Nice to get a little vindication from the op-ed page.
The point here is that the invasion of Iraq was part of a much larger, long-term policy that had to do with the U.S. imposing its will, militarily when necessary, throughout the Middle East and beyond. The war has gone badly, and the viciousness of the Iraq insurgency has put the torch to the idea of further pre-emptive adventures by the Bush administration.
Herbert closes with an inevitable analogy to Vietnam:
Lyndon Johnson ignored the unsolicited advice of Sen. George Aiken of Vermont — to declare victory in Vietnam in 1966. The war continued for nearly a decade. Many high-level government figures believe that U.S. troops will be in Iraq for a minimum of five more years, and perhaps 10.
That should be understood by the people who think that the formation of a permanent Iraqi government will lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops. There is no real withdrawal plan. The fighting and the dying will continue indefinitely. (Reprinted yesterday in Vermont’s Rutland Herald)
Alas, Hebert is probably right. Iraq is far more strategic to global power than Vietnam ever was. We have argued before that maintaining US global supremacy in the 21st century is the real imperative behind the Iraq adventure—and this math adds up whether or not you subscribe to the dogma on “peak oil.” Unfortunately, it is not only Bush supporters who refuse to see the oil elephant, but also some of his critics, who argue that the war is fundamentally about protecting Israel.