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Control of Oil Behind Bush Drive for War with Iraq


From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Feb. 10, 2003


Critics Charge Control of Oil Behind Bush Drive for War with Iraq

Interview with Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

With the White House moving rapidly to deploy troops and weapons necessary for their war against Iraq, the diplomatic end game is now in sight. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation of evidence at the Security Council represented a final effort by the Bush administration to gain support for their war plans from an ever more skeptical American public, European allies, Russia and China. While it's not yet clear whether Mr. Bush will seek a second resolution from the U.N. authorizing military action, it is almost certain the president is willing to disregard growing international opposition and launch a unilateral U.S. attack if necessary.

The Bush administration puts forth three major reasons to justify their plans for war: to destroy Baghdad's alleged weapons of mass destruction; to confront and reduce the threat of international terrorism; and to promote democracy in Iraq and the Middle East. But, although little talked about in the U.S., one of the major issues at stake in any future war with Baghdad is control of Iraqi oil. With Iraq sitting on top of the world's second largest reserves of crude oil, the potential prize for the U.S. and its oil companies is enormous.

Colin Powell stated recently that if the U.S. ousts Saddam Hussein from power, America plans to hold Iraq's oil fields "in trust." But the industry publication "Oil Daily" reported that the State Department's oil and gas working group has been meeting to discuss post-war management of Iraq's oil sector, including the possibility of privatizing the industry. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, who assesses the control of Iraqi oil as a central motive behind President Bush's plan for a second Persian Gulf War.

Michael Klare: Let me say to begin with that preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, fighting terrorism and promoting democracy are good things. I think all of us would like to see that happen. The question is whether that's really the motive for the president's war on Iraq and that's where I'm doubtful.

I've tried to argue that if weapons of mass destruction were our primary concern and worry, we should be focused on North Korea and Pakistan before we turn to Iraq, because Pakistan and North Korea pose a much greater threat of weapons of mass destruction use than does Iraq at this time.

And I argue that if terrorism is our concern, we really should be going after al Qaeda and its member organizations -- and that invading Iraq will help al Qaeda, not confine it, not destroy it.

And finally I argue that if promoting democracy was our concern, I wonder why the president and his officials did not object to Saddam Hussein's tyranny when they were in positions of power before in the first president Bush's administration, when the U.S. was allied with Saddam Hussein.

Between The Lines: Now, if it's not the weapons of mass destruction, if it's not terrorism or democracy -- what about oil, what about control of oil? You have written about the declaration of the Carter administration back in 1980; some called it the "Carter Doctrine," where he stated the U.S. position that America should control world oil security and our access to it. Do you want to expand on that?

Michael Klare: The fact is that America has become dependent on oil from the Persian Gulf since World War II. We rely on Persian Gulf oil for a significant share of our total energy supply, and that dependency is growing all the time. It has been U.S. policy since the Carter period to use military force when necessary, to protect the flow of oil from the Gulf against any hostile power. That was first declared by president Jimmy Carter in 1980 and then reiterated in 1990 by President George Bush Sr. when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Really, what's happening now I think is a continuation of the Carter policy in the sense that Iraq can be seen as a threat to American dominance of the Persian Gulf oil region and the continuation of a policy to eradicate such threats.

Between The Lines: What do you think the U.S. goal is in invading Iraq, in regard to control of oil? Do you think the U.S. will install its leader to direct oil resources back to the United States through U.S. oil corporations? Or how do you think this will work for the U.S. in a way that won't be so blatant and really put the U.S. on the spot in terms of world condemnation?

Michael Klare: You know, I don't think that the Bush administration is particularly worried about world condemnation. What the Bush administration is worried about is the fact that the United States is running out of oil. We were once self-sufficient in oil production up until the 1950s. But since then, we have become ever more dependent on oil from the Persian Gulf and this dependency is likely to grow enormously in the years ahead as American oil disappears. I think that's what worries them more than anything else. So we want control of the largest suppliers of oil in the world and those are Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Iraq has the second largest supply of oil; perhaps it's the first major supplier of oil in the world if all of the undiscovered fields there bear fruit. I think the administration is determined that American companies will have control over significant portions of that undeveloped oil.

Between The Lines: What's the potential for backlash here in terms of world opinion about the view that the United States is just crassly and belligerently going into another nation just to pirate its resources? Is that likely to develop into some large schisms across the globe that will haunt us later?

Michael Klare: I think those schisms are already there. Anybody who's traveled in Europe, read the European press or the Asian press, or students who've been traveling to Europe are constantly accosted by people in those countries that will say, "We have nothing against you personally, but we despise your government's policies." And I think there is a lot of anger directed at this country.

Now, what we have to worry about is to what degree will that result in violence against us? And I do worry that if we invade Iraq, this will be viewed by many people, at least in the Islamic world, as an attack on Islam rather than an attack on Saddam Hussein. That's why I feel that in the interests of counter-terrorism, which I think really should be a priority -- an invasion of Iraq is exactly the wrong approach. I think it's going to make conditions worse, not better.

Michael Klare is the author of "Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict," published by Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt.


Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, nationally syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending Feb. 14, 2003.

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