by Antonia Juhasz, Oil Change International

Antonia Juhasz, a fellow at Oil Change International, spoke at All Souls Church, a venerable Unitarian-Universalist institution on Manhattan's Upper East Side, on June 6, 2007, upon the release of the paperback edition of her book The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time (HarperCollins). In her talk, she dissected the corporate interests that have driven Bush's Iraq adventure, and explored how the quest for global control of oil to assure continued US hegemony in the 21st century interlocks with these interests. Finally, she discussed strategies for building an effective movement to end the occupation of Iraq. This transcript is provided by WW4 REPORT from a video taken by independent journalist Zaya Haynes. Bracketed clarifications and elaborations were added by Juhasz via e-mail. Audience questions have been paraphrased.

I finished my book a year ago, and sadly the analysis has only gotten more pertinent. I remember having conversations with my publisher before the book came out, where he was saying, "You know, I think the war is going to be over, and all these issues are not going to be relevant anymore, and nobody's going to be concerned about oil anymore, and I'm not sure how this is gonna fly." And I said, "I hope you're right, I hope you're right!" Unfortunately, the war continues, the issues have become far more pressing as we edge closer to a potential war against Iran, we face conflicts around the world—increasingly more violent, and spreading—over, I would argue, economic issues, many of which have their basis in oil.

The analysis I put forward attempts to put an economic face on these issues that we're confronting, and to help direct our activism—because I wrote this book to help create, sustain, build out movement, and to give us some clear targets for our activism. And the targets I keep coming back to over and over in my long history of doing this work, are a handful of corporations, and their relationship to a handful of government leaders. And I entitled the book The Bush Agenda not to give undue credit to George Bush, but also to make clear that he's in no way a random character in this story. It's under his administration that a series of very powerful trajectories and ideas have culminated and—hopefully—reach an apex. But I must add that it's an agenda that preceded him, one that its advocates certainly hope will outlast him, and its one that it certainly behooves us to understand so we can resist it...

This is the first time in history that the president, vice president and secretary of state are all are all former oil or energy company officials. In fact, the only other president to come out of the oil industry is... [waits for audience response] Yes, his father, George Bush Sr. Now while its very well appreciated at this point that Condoleezza Rice had a Chevron oil tanker named after her, the Condoleezza—it is less appreciated (as is frequently the case for women) that she earned it. She spent ten years on the board of directors of Chevron. She was the head of their policy committee. She is an expert in the former Soviet republics, the Caspian region, which is awash—although it was thought to be far more awash in oil than it actually is, but in any case a source of great interest for oil companies. And she helped facilitate the movement of Chevron in particular into that region. She is intimately connected to the industry, and is a very skilled tactician and deserves a good deal of credit—credit that she's not often given.

I think it's well known that President Bush comes out of the oil industry. I think its also well-known that he has a tendency to run oil companies into the ground. But nonetheless that is his background, it is where he comes from and where many of his connections still remain. And of course Vice President Dick Cheney's background in the Halliburton corporation is well known. Halliburton is the largest energy services corporation in the world.

To understand the agenda put forward by this group of men (and woman), it's useful to look back. I go back in the book quite far in tracing the history of US economic interests in the Middle East and in Iraq, but I'm going to start tonight just going back ten years, and just understanding the different links between the first Bush war on Iraq and the second Bush war on Iraq.

With the first Bush war, I believe the motivation had a great deal to do with the fact that from 1984 the United States had been successfully and increasingly making headway into Iraq. President Reagan opened up economic relations with Saddam Hussein, he aggressively pushed an economic agenda with Hussein, and was helped along quite well in that course by Henry Kissinger. Kissinger's new group at that time, Kissinger Associates, advised companies seeking access to Iraq. The Bechtel corporation of San Francisco managed a chemical complex for Saddam Hussein that made the precursor to mustard gas. Halliburton built oil infrastructure. Lockheed-Martin sold him helicopters. Chevron was able to market his oil. The list goes on and on of US companies that were able to get in.

But they were denied one very important thing, and continued to be denied even after Reagan pushed to get greater entrance, even after Bush pushed even harder, loaned Saddam Hussein a billion dollars worth of cash, did all sorts of thing to help Saddam Hussein. Hussein would not do one very important thing. He wouldn;t let US oil companies into Iraq. He wouldn't give foreign companies ownership of his oil. And his oil is—or was, now it's Iraq's—the second largest oil reserves in the world. Very, very important oil reserves that the US is being denied access to.

Now, the urgency for getting this oil increased over time. Right around the mid-'70s, the United States hit itw own peak of oil production, and from that point on we've been on the down slope. That mean we've been looking further afield for oil. We also increasingly realized that the [largest concentration of the] remaining oil in the world—about two thirds of the world's oil—is in the Middle East. And the United States increasingly built an agenda that stated quite clearly that it would use its military to get its hands on Mideast oll.

But that's a hard thing to do when you have to project your military all the way across the world to get your hands on a resource. The United States needed a reason to get troops on the ground in the Middle East. We also had Saddam Hussein increasingly resisting the agenda put forward by the first Bush administration. For instance, the Bechtel corporation didn't just want to manage petro-chemical plants, it wanted to build a pipeline to get Iraqi oil out of Iraq to the port of Aqaba, Jordan. And George Schultz, Reagan's secretary of state and a former president of the Bechtel corporation, worked aggressively to try to get that pipeline for Bechtel. Many other people worked, Kissinger worked. Hussein said no.

He also threatened Israel. He also kept saying, "I'm gonna be the big guy on the block in the Middle East." And the United States decided it would be a very good idea to replace Saddam, and to have a reason to bring US troops into the Middle East.

So the United States went to war against Saddam Hussein—unsuccessfully, however, was not able to unseat him, realized it wasn't going to be worth the effort to stay in place, didn't want, in the words of Dick Cheney, to "own Iraq" at the time.

So half a million US troops went into Saudi Arabia at the time of the first Gulf war, and a lot of them stayed. And the United States began to build up its military presence in the Middle East from that point forward.

Some very important thing changed in between the first Bush war on Iraq and the second. One of the most important things that changed was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Suddenly the United States was the lone superpower, and suddenly the United States was trying to figure out what did that mean and what did we want to do in that position. Some people thought we should enjoy the "peace dividend," right? And have full healthcare for all, and free education, and all these great ideas—none of which came to pass.

Others, who increasingly came to put into a school called the neoconservatives, believed that we should use this position to become not just the lone superpower, but to become a truly imperial power, and they stated it as such. A full 16 members of the current Bush administration worked in the Project for the New American Century in between the first Bush and the second Bush war on Iraq, and that's where they wrote specifically that the United States is an imperial power, like Rome, should be an imperial power, like Rome, and should be such an economic and military force that no country in the world would even consider challenging us. And we should do the things that Rome did, including invading, including fundamentally transforming the countries we went into, so that they would resemble us and serve our economic interests. And that was a very different frame from the realization of the world that the first Bush administration had,

Another thing that happened in the intervening years was Clinton. One of the wonderful things Clinton did for the world [smirks], was to aggressively push corporate globalization policies—through the World Trade Organization, through the North American Free Trade Agreement, through the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (and if you don't realize, I'm being sarcastic that this is a wonderful thing). The effect that this had was a tremendous consolidation of power and political influence and monetary influence in the hands of...who? [Waits for audience reaction.] Corporations! Corporations became much, much more powerful. A shift in power—of economic power, of political influence—happened.

Clinton also, by the way, implemented the brutal, horrific, deadly sanctions against Iraq—and military interventions, bombings. I would argue, however, that the sanctions were very, very different in terms of the agenda of the Clinton administration. I think the Clinton administration wanted to keep Iraq at arm's length. The Clinton administration serviced—and the future Clinton administration, if there is one, will also service—different corporate interests. The oil and gas industry is the industry of the Republicans. There have been outliers, but it mostly always has been, and is. The Democrats have different corporate interests that they service, but oil isn't generally one of them. I don't think the Clinton administration was particularly interested in advancing a war for oil.

A number of consolidations happened at this time, and were particularly advanced when the second Bush administration came to power. At this time, Exxon merged with Mobil. Chevron merged with Texaco, and bought Unocal. Conoco merged with Pillips. Where there used to be hundreds of oil companies, there were now just a very small handful, and they became uber-companies. ExxonMobil is the largest company in the world. It surpassed Wal-Mart last year to earn that title. In 2003, ExxonMobil earned the highest profits of any corporation in world history, ever. Adjusted for inflation, period. Then it topped in 2004, topped it in 2005, and topped it again this year—$40 billion in pure profit. What does $40 billion buy you? An administration that is part and parcel to yourself and your own interests. An administration that's willing to go that extra mile and get you that oil.

Now, US oil corporations—and BP and Shell—face a particularly difficult situation, and did entering into this administration. There's not much oil left that they own. There's only about ten years left of oil that they own, in their reserves. That's very troubling for an oil company. They need more.

Another very troubling thing happened right when this Bush administration took office, the first ten days into the Bush administration. Vice President Cheney organized the Cheney Energy Task-Force. This was the group that was going to decide future energy policy for the United States. And who was on it? Was it the Sierra Club? [Laughter.] No. Exxon. Chevron. Bechtel. Halliburton—they were all in the room. Also coal, and also nuclear power. And they said, "Hmmm, what should our future energy policy be?"

And they took a map of Iraq and they laid it out on a table. And they looked at where all Iraq's oilfields were, and how much oil they had. And a phrase that I've used to describe Iraq—and I've actually received e-mails asking me to stop doing it, but darn it, I'm gonna do it anyway—I think they see Iraq as a pimple of oil that has yet to be plucked. [Laughter.] OK? It is bursting at the seams with oil. It is right below the surface, it is inexpensive to get at.

For US oil companies, the average cost to get a barrel of oil out of the ground is between 10 and 20 dollars a barrel. In Iraq, it costs 60 cents a barrel to get it out of the ground. What a good deal that is, right? Iraq has about 80 fields of oil; only about 17 have even begun to be developed. It is literally a bonanza of oil. They know where it is. They know how much is in each field...

Now, they're looking at this map of oil, right? They're also looking at a list that says "foreign suitors to Iraqi oil." Saddam Hussein had been signing contracts for that ting that the United States had been denied all this time, this oil under the ground—and he was signing these contracts with companies from China, France and Russia. Does anybody know what these three countries have in common? They're all members of the Security Council. He was signing these contracts with the members of the Security Council to try to get the sanctions removed. He was dangling lucrative oil contracts in front of their faces and saying "If you want these, you have to cancel the sanctions."

The companies were signing contracts, but their governments hadn't quite gotten around to standing up to the United States to end the sanctions. So these guys were standing around this table saying, If the sanctions are removed and Saddam Hussein remains in power, all of this oil is going to go to all of these other companies. all these other countries, and we are going to be shut out." Not desirable.

Contrary to public opinion, there was a very clear, detailed post-invasion plan for Iraq. It was an economic plan, it was ready before the war, it was written by private companies, it was implemented to a T by Paul Bremer, the head of the occupation government of Iraq. He issued 100 orders—they're known as the Bremer orders. They are so neatly delineated in my book, that they've appeared out of my book on websites for industries that are trying to get US businesses excited about going to Iraq and doing reconstruction there and taking over. They list my analysis of the Bremer Orders and say "See, it's a free-market haven, you can go there!" Not the purpose that I wrote this book for, so I'm eagerly hoping you will take it and use the analysis to better purpose!

[Several oil companies were involved in the drafting through their positions as advisors to the U.S. and Iraqi governments at the start of the war. More directly, all of the largest oil companies are on the board of the International Tax and Investment Centre which is very public about its direct participation in drafting the oil law. All of the oil companies were also represented on the Cheney Energy Task Force. Thus, I surmise that Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Marathon, Shell and BP all had a hand in the drafting.]

This plan was put in place by Bremer. The plan implements, for those of you who are familiar with corporate globalization policy, every wish of every World Bank policy, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization—everything they couldn't get but wanted to get—was implemented in Iraq.

What is explicitly excluded is the oil—not for lack of trying by certain sectors of the conservative movement in the United States. But how do you fight a war for oil? What does it look like? Do the tanks come in and then Exxon comes behind with a flag and puts the flag in the ground and says "Our oil"? Well, there were certainly some people on the right who wanted to do that. They wanted Bremer to privatize Iraq's oil, straight up. Saner minds prevailed—realizing that the Iraqis might not really take to kindly to this particular thing. One of the things Bremer did was to fire the entire Iraqi military and send half a million men home with their guns. And some people thought this might not be such a good combination, you know? [Laughter.]

So they said, we should use a subtler process. And that process started before the war as well. What it looks like is, you write a law. And the law takes Iraq from a nationalized oil system, essentially closed to foreign oil companies, particularly US ones, and privatizes it. Turns it over to foreign oil companies. Here's the law, we've got it. Now the Iraqis need to implement it, so it looks like it's their law.

So the Iraqi government is put in place, and the Bush administrations starts to put pressure on the Iraqis immediately to pass this law. The Iraqis resist, resist, resist. Then in January, President Bush finally announces publicly—on the same day he announces the surge—the Iraqis must pass the oil law. Essentially, although he didn't say these words, the Iraqis must privatize their oil, they must turn it over to US oil companies. We're going to introduce a surge of US troops to insure that you do it. And the language he did use, was that the surge will provide the political space for the Iraqis to work on what he called the "benchmarks." And this was one of the benchmarks.

Now how many of you have heard of the revenue-sharing plan for Iraqi oil? The revenue-sharing plan is three sentences out of a 40-page law. The 40 pages take Iraq's oil revenue and give it to US oil companies. The Iraqis get to share among themselves the five dollars left over when the five billion has gone out the door. [Figurative, not literal—no actual figures available.] And that's not even guaranteed. The revenue-sharing part is three sentences that say the Iraqis should start looking at plans to maybe think about one day sharing the revenue, if they change the constitution and pass another law... That's what the three sentences say.

So, the president announces the benchmark. Now, I just wrote the new afterward to The Bush Agenda in February, and I was very excited in the afterward about the Democrats taking over the House and the Senate. [Laughter.] One of the main reasons I was excited was that the Democrats taking over the House and the Senate was a reflection of tremendous activism and organizing—a resistance by the American public to the war, to the Bush administration, to the administration's policies. Getting people out to vote, voicing their opposition to the war, organizing against the war, getting the Democrats in... The Democrats came in, we were all excited. I was one of half a million people who marched in Washington DC [Jan. 27, 2007]. I was able to speak at a panel organized by Congressman [Maxine] Waters and [Lynn] Woolsey, where I told them that the next time we come if the Democrats haven't ended the war, we're gonna sit down around the capital, and we're gonna bring or sleeping bags, and we're gonna stay until you end the war! And they responded very positively to that idea. They were excited, that that's what they were there to do, was end the war.

Then what happened? Lots of politics, lots of politcking. And the Democrats adopted the language of the benchmarks. And there was all this debate going back and forth—"the Democrats want Bush to include the benchmarks, Bush doesn't want to include the benchmarks..." The benchmarks were the oil law, and a bunch of other really ridiculous stuff... The Democrats adopted the language of the benchmarks, and they said Iraq has to pass the oil law, and if it doesn't... first they said, when the negotiations were happening—we'll end the war! That was OK! Good! [Laughter.] Then they said, Oh wait a minute, we didn't mean that. Then they said, Pass the oil law or...we will cut off the reconstruction funds! And that's the language that was included in the supplemental war spending bill, that's the language that President Bush signed, and that's what we've got today: A very clear message to the Iraqis from the United States Congress.

Iraqi oil workers went on strike yesterday. [Applause.] They went on strike for better wages, for better benefits, for better working conditions—and in opposition to the oil law, and in opposition to their government's consideration of the law. The oil law has now passed the Iraqi cabinet, and is now sitting in the parliament. There is tremendous resistance to it in the parliament. What Iraqis have asked us to do is to continue to push, continue to demonstrate that we absolutely refuse to in a war being fought for oil.

Now just to be clear—a war for oil is about corporate profits, its definitely about that; its about Chevron and Exxon and Conoco. But its also about a lot more than that. Its about the imperial designs that this administration has, its about hegemonic power, its about denying the oil to other countries that might want to buy it, its about being the most powerful country in the world that owns it. And it is a moment in time when we're being asked by the world to say that we, the American public, don't agree with that.

People, I know, are getting tired of protesting... People feel at this point, we got these guys elected and they failed us, we march and it fails... And our friends and family members say, "What's the point of all this political activism you're doing?" The answer is that this is the only thing that's ever ended wars. Activism, social change, is hard. It's slow. You don't always get your picture on the front page of the paper. You don't always get accepted by your friends and family. You don't always march on Saturday and then the thing you wanted happens on Sunday, and you get to go home and it's great! No, its not like that. Not at all. Sometimes you don't even see the change you want in a whole lifetime of working. But it doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. And when we protest, people around the world also see it. It may not come up in our newspapers—but believe me, it gets carried everywhere else. And they get to say, "Oh, there are people in the United States who are different from their government! Wow!"

And that's what they say, they say "wow." Because I go around the world, and I meet people who say "I didn't know there were Americans who felt this way, I feel so much better!" So that's one of the things we get to do, we get to have the privilege of doing this work here—and not trying to do it in Iraq, and not trying to do it in Iran, and not trying to do it in Syria, and not trying to do it in Afghanistan.

Question: Can you talk about the reconstruction contracts and the permanent military bases that are supposedly being built?

There has been $50 billion spent on reconstruction in Iraq. Who do you think got the money...? Bechtel and Halliburton. US corporations, 150 of them, have received all the reconstruction money [up to 2007]. I detail in the book how the money's been spent, and who spent it. One of the most important things in the reconstruction story if the Bremer Order that said Iraqis could not be given preference in the reconstruction effort, but US companies could. Now, US companies have gotten that money, and they have failed miserably at the reconstruction. However, because of the soldiers on the ground, because of the captains and commanders complaining every day for four years that this is insanity, that the Iraqis have to do this work, this has slowly begun to shift. And Iraqi companies and Iraqi workers have increasingly—not nearly enough—started to receive reconstruction money. And every positive example you've ever read about in the reconstruction in Iraq. it's always been an Iraqi company.

Now there's at least tow things that need to happen. The first is, US companies that received money for jobs they have not done in Iraq have to return the money. Period. Simple. Easy. Done. That money needs to go to Iraq. There are desperate reconstruction needs. Before the war, there was water, there was electricity, there was sewage. There was healthcare, there was education. Now there are none of those things. Before the war there was 24 hours a day of electricity. Today there are between four and six. The electricity runs the water systems, runs the sewer systems. Without one you can't have the other. There's no electricity in the hospitals. This has nothing to do with the violence right now—nothing. This has to do with the failure of the reconstruction. It's a travesty. That money needs to go to Iraqi companies and Iraqi workers.

The money has also gone to build permanent military bases. Now, there's been Congressional language introduced saying no permanent military bases. [This language has been included now in several appropriations bills.] Here's how they've gotten around that is in the definition of "permanent." They're building a base and its "secure"—there's lots of cement and big buildings. But it's "secure," its not "permanent." They can bulldoze it at any time.

That's a problem. And the way to solve it isn't to say you want less safe military bases, but to bring the troops home so they won't have a need for the military bases. And we need to say that we actually know the difference; this is game of words...

The other strategy is being put forward is the Korea strategy. Yeah? We're going to stay there to keep the peace and separate out the warring forces, just like we are doing between South and North Korea. We're gonna be there for 50 years.

One of the details of the oil law is 30-year contracts for foreign corporations. If you're gonna have a 30-year contract and you're in a war zone, what are you gonna need? [Audience: "Permanent military bases."] Yeah.

Q: How can we address our addiction to automobiles and airplanes, that consume so much of the oil that we use?

I'm writing a new book. And that's gonna be called The Break-Up: The Case for Taking Apart Big Oil. And I think one of the main things that we have to do to be able to kick those addictions is to get rid of the political forces that are making it impossible to have this discussion on an equal basis. And that's a big point. [Applause.]

So that's putting pressure on the producers. At the same time, we also have to put pressure on ourselves, the consumers. We have to be given alternatives, though. For most of us—though if you live in New York City it's a slightly different situation from the rest of the country—public transit simply doesn't exist. The country was built intentionally to use cars. We know the history of how the industry killed attempts at public transit, how it killed existing public transit. However, much of the United States was built using federal highway dollars to intentionally move us out [of the urban centers], to get us to use the car. We have to do a lot of re-investing, rethinking, to move ourselves into communities where we can walk.

Q: Why hasn't Bush been impeached?

I was working on the Hill for Congressman [John] Conyers during the Clinton impeachment proceedings, and my job became reading the Starr Report. And I decided that wasn't particularly what the Detroit tax-payer wanted me to be doing with my time. That was one of the reasons I decided it wasn't such a good idea for me to be working on the Hill.

There is an amazing impeachment movement alive and well in the United States. We are also seeing this administration crumble before out eyes. That's not random. That's through years of activism and organizing. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz. Libby. And that's just the beginning, and it's important. We don't nearly enough celebrate our victories and declare them as our own. Rumsfeld wasn't fired because Bush woke up one day and saud, "Gee, I guess it's time to get rid of Rumsfeld." That was four years of organizing and effort. Who here was part of the "Give Rumsfeld the Pink Slip" movement? Code Pink dressed up in pink slips to demand they give Rumsfeld the pink slip!

So the impeachment movement is working and needs to be heralded. I think talking about impeachment is a critically important step in the road to what I actually think is the most important thing, which is ending the war. And we need to link the two as much as possible in our discussion. I worry somewhat when impeachment is seen as an end in itself, and not a tool to help us achieve other ends. Because if Bush is impeached and Cheney's impeached, and a wonderful representative from San Francisco, Miss Pelosi became president, the war wouldn't be over.

Q: Is this war about privatizing oil, or about America's rivalry with China, as some say?

It's bigger than oil. Oil. as I said, isn't just about "oil." Oil is about China. Oil is about making sure that the United States remains the hegemon. And the way to do that is to make sure that we have the oil, not China. Now, when I give this talk in front of more conservative audiences, they raise their hand and say, "We have to get the oil, because China will get it otherwise. Don't you understand, Antonia? This is important. China is our big rival. If China gets the oil, then they'll become a superpower..." And then, I don't know, they don't finish the sentence so I don't know what happens next, but it's bad! [Laughter.] Definitely bad.

Getting the oil is about China. It is about denying other powers form challenging US supremacy. That's what it's about. Guaranteeing US supremacy.

Q: What do you think would happen if the US left Iraq, and how do you respond to the propaganda that it would create a regional conflagration?

What I can say is that the Iraqis don't want us in Iraq. A poll was taken of the broad Iraqi public, and it found about 72% want the occupation to end. But a poll taken of Baghdad residents found that around 75% said they would feel safer if US troops left. Not just they want us to go, but they would feel safer. A year ago, a poll taken of US troops on the ground found a similar percentage said US troops should be gone within a year—that we've done our job, we've done the best we could. And that is an incredibly unprecedented sentiment by troops on the ground.

So the Iraqi public doesn't want us in Iraq. The troops on the ground don't want us there. A number of generals have come out to say we shouldn't be fighting the war. The American public doesn't want us in the war. So we know one thing... There's really just about five people who want us in Iraq. And they're the ones who are seeking to profit from this war.

Now, Iraqis don't say, "Leave, because tomorrow we'll have peace if you leave." No, they say, "The first thing we need to get things moving in the right direction is for you to stop occupying our nation. And then we'll figure out the rest from there."

That's the answer. Nobody can tell you what's going to happen. But we know that the occupation has to end.



Oil Change International

Interview online at Google Video

See also:

Oil & Utility Union Leaders on the Struggle Against Privatization
from Building Bridges, WBAI Radio
WW4 REPORT, July 2007

From our weblog:

NYT op-ed: no to Iraqi oil "denationalization"
WW4 REPORT, March 14, 2007

Alan Greenspan vs. Naomi Klein: who has rights to Iraq's oil?
WW4 REPORT, Sept. 27, 2007


Transcribed and edited by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Nov. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution