Yes, the Iraq War was a war for oil, and it was a war with winners: Big Oil.
It has been 10 years since Operation Iraqi Freedom’s bombs first landed in Baghdad. And while most of the U.S.-led coalition forces have long since gone, Western oil companies are only getting started.
Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq’s domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies. A decade of war later, it is largely privatized and utterly dominated by foreign firms.Advertisement
From ExxonMobil and Chevron to BP and Shell, the West’s largest oil companies have set up shop in Iraq. So have a slew of American oil service companies, including Halliburton, the Texas-based firm Dick Cheney ran before becoming George W. Bush’s running mate in 2000.
The war is the one and only reason for this long sought and newly acquired access.
Oil was not the only goal of the Iraq War, but it was certainly the central one, as top U.S. military and political figures have attested to in the years following the invasion.
“Of course it’s about oil; we can’t really deny that,” said Gen. John Abizaid, former head of U.S. Central Command and Military Operations in Iraq, in 2007. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan agreed, writing in his memoir, “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” Then-Sen. and now Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the same in 2007: “People say we’re not fighting for oil. Of course we are.”
For the first time in about 30 years, Western oil companies are exploring for and producing oil in Iraq from some of the world’s largest oil fields and reaping enormous profit. And while the U.S. has also maintained a fairly consistent level of Iraq oil imports since the invasion, the benefits are not finding their way through Iraq’s economy or society.
These outcomes were by design, the result of a decade of U.S. government and oil company pressure. In 1998, Kenneth Derr, then CEO of Chevron, said, “Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas-reserves I’d love Chevron to have access to.” Today it does.
In 2000, Big Oil, including Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell, spent more money to get fellow oilmen Bush and Cheney into office than they had spent on any previous election. Just over a week into Bush’s first term, their efforts paid off when the National Energy Policy Development Group, chaired by Cheney, was formed, bringing the administration and the oil companies together to plot our collective energy future. In March, the task force reviewed lists and maps outlining Iraq’s entire oil productive capacity.
Planning for a military invasion was soon under way. Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, said in 2004, “Already by February (2001), the talk was mostly about logistics. Not the why (to invade Iraq), but the how and how quickly.”
In its final report in May 2001 (PDF), the task force argued that Middle Eastern countries should be urged “to open up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment.” This is precisely what has been achieved in Iraq.
Here’s how they did it.
The State Department Future of Iraq Project’s Oil and Energy Working Group met from February 2002 to April 2003 and agreed that Iraq “should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war.”
The list of the group’s members was not made public, but Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum – who was appointed Iraq’s oil minister by the U.S. occupation government in September 2003 – was part of the group, according to Greg Muttitt, a journalist and author of “Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq.” Bahr al-Uloum promptly set about trying to implement the group’s objectives.
At the same time, representatives from ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Halliburton, among others, met with Cheney’s staff in January 2003 to discuss plans for Iraq’s postwar industry. For the next decade, former and current executives of western oil companies acted first as administrators of Iraq’s oil ministry and then as “advisers” to the Iraqi government.
Before the invasion, there were just two things standing in the way of Western oil companies operating in Iraq: Saddam Hussein and the nation’s legal system. The invasion dealt handily with Hussein. To address the latter problem, some both inside and outside of the Bush administration argued that it should simply change Iraq’s oil laws through the U.S.-led coalition government of Iraq, which ran the country from April 2003 to June 2004. Instead the White House waited, choosing to pressure the newly elected Iraqi government to pass new oil legislation itself.
This Iraq Hydrocarbons Law, partially drafted by the Western oil industry, would lock the nation into private foreign investment under the most corporate-friendly terms. The Bush administration pushed the Iraqi government both publicly and privately to pass the law. And in January 2007, as the ”surge” of 20,000 additional American troops was being finalized, the president set specific benchmarks for the Iraqi government, including the passage of new oil legislation to “promote investment, national unity, and reconciliation.”
But due to enormous public opposition and a recalcitrant parliament, the central Iraqi government has failed to pass the Hydrocarbons Law. Usama al-Nujeyfi, a member of the parliamentary energy committee, even quit in protest over the law, saying it would cede too much control to global companies and “ruin the country’s future.”
In 2008, with the likelihood of the law’s passage and the prospect of continued foreign military occupation dimming as elections loomed in the U.S. and Iraq, the oil companies settled on a different track.
Bypassing parliament, the firms started signing contracts that provide all of the access and most of the favorable treatment the Hydrocarbons Law would provide – and the Bush administration helped draft the model contracts.
Upon leaving office, Bush and Obama administration officials have even worked for oil companies as advisers on their Iraq endeavors. For example, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad’s company, CMX-Gryphon, “provides international oil companies and multinationals with unparalleled access, insight and knowledge on Iraq.”
The new contracts lack the security a new legal structure would grant, and Iraqi lawmakers have argued that they run contrary to existing law, which requires government control, operation and ownership of Iraq’s oil sector.
But the contracts do achieve the key goal of the Cheney energy task force: all but privatizing the Iraqi oil sector and opening it to private foreign companies.
They also provide exceptionally long contract terms and high ownership stakes and eliminate requirements that Iraq’s oil stay in Iraq, that companies invest earnings in the local economy or hire a majority of local workers.
Iraq’s oil production has increased by more than 40% in the past five years to 3 million barrels of oil a day (still below the 1979 high of 3.5 million set by Iraq’s state-owned companies), but a full 80% of this is being exported out of the country while Iraqis struggle to meet basic energy consumption needs. GDP per capita has increased significantly yet remains among the lowest in the world and well below some of Iraq’s other oil-rich neighbors. Basic services such as water and electricity remain luxuries, while 25% of the population lives in poverty.
The promise of new energy-related jobs across the country has yet to materialize. The oil and gas sectors today account directly for less than 2% of total employment, as foreign companies rely instead on imported labor.
In just the last few weeks, more than 1,000 people have protested at ExxonMobil and Russia Lukoil’s super-giant West Qurna oil field, demanding jobs and payment for private land that has been lost or damaged by oil operations. The Iraqi military was called in to respond.
Fed up with the firms, a leading coalition of Iraqi civil society groups and trade unions, including oil workers, declared on February 15 that international oil companies have “taken the place of foreign troops in compromising Iraqi sovereignty” and should “set a timetable for withdrawal.”
Closer to home, at a protest at Chevron’s Houston headquarters in 2010, former U.S. Army Military Intelligence officer Thomas Buonomo, member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, held up a sign that read, “Dear Chevron: Thank you for dishonoring our service” (PDF).
Yes, the Iraq War was a war for oil, and it was a war with losers: the Iraqi people and all those who spilled and lost blood so that Big Oil could come out ahead.
Saudi Arabia’s Role in 9/11 and Why the U.S. Government has Kept it Hidden
Given by James Kreindler ’77, Partner, Kreindler & Kreindler LLP.
Currently, Mr. Kreindler is the co-chair of the Plaintiff’s Committee in the 9/11 Litigation on behalf of the 9/11 families to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its role in the 9/11 attacks. The lawsuit alleges that members of the government of Saudi Arabia provided critical financial and logistical support to the 9/11 hijackers prior to September 11, 2001. This is the first case to proceed under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, passed by Congress in 2016.
Sponsored by the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding
Recorded Monday, October 28, 2019
Credit…U.S. PGA Tour Archive, via Getty Images
WASHINGTON — When you are the president’s best friend, you may be called on for many services — some dicey, some soothing, some world-shaking, and some profoundly personal.
In his new book, “First Friends,” Gary Ginsberg chronicles the unelected yet undeniably powerful people who shape presidencies.
We know too well how the advisers of presidents with all-access passes to the Oval can make or break legacies.
Look at how George W. Bush’s presidency was ruined when Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld got him to invade Iraq.
But there has been less focus on the often “unseen hands,” as Ginsberg calls them, the BFFs busy on the sidelines.
He became interested in the topic as a lawyer vetting vice-presidential candidates for Bill Clinton. He was joined in the last round by Harry McPherson, an old Washington hand who has been the White House lawyer for Lyndon Johnson.
McPherson believed that if L.B.J., a solitary man at heart, had had an intimate, he might have navigated Vietnam more adroitly. So McPherson wanted to know, “Does Al Gore have any friends?”
When Gore stumbled over the answer, McPherson wondered, “If he can’t develop or even claim one real friendship, how’s he going to lead a nation?”
But Clinton didn’t seem to care; he had enough friends for both of them.
Ginsberg examines First Friends in nine presidencies and the impact of the back-room counsel. His tales include:
Bill Clinton dispatching Vernon Jordan to talk Hillary Clinton out of leaving him after he publicly confessed to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
David Ormsby-Gore, the British ambassador and an old friend of Jack Kennedy, helping to guide Kennedy through the Cuban Missile Crisis and signing a nuclear test ban treaty.
Bebe Rebozo relaxing the coiled and paranoid Richard Nixon by mixing martinis, making steak and Cuban black-bean dinners and paying to put a bowling alley in the White House basement.
Eddie Jacobson, an Army buddy and partner of Harry Truman in a Kansas City haberdashery, helping persuade Truman to recognize the state of Israel.
Edward House serving as a de facto chief diplomat for Woodrow Wilson, negotiating the World War I armistice and the doomed Treaty of Versailles, until Edith Wilson came along and dismissed him as “a perfect jellyfish.”
Presidents can put their friends in awkward circumstances. Nixon asked Rebozo to help him with a shadowy fund-raising scheme, and Clinton got Jordan — the two loved to talk about women — involved in trying to get Lewinsky a cushy job at Revlon in New York, before that scandal exploded.
And sometimes the friends put the presidents in a bad light. “By the late 1960s,” Ginsberg writes, “F.B.I. agents investigating criminal syndicates had identified Rebozo as a ‘nonmember associate of organized crime figures’ … The F.B.I. now had reason to believe the Key Biscayne lots Nixon had purchased were owned by a business associate of Rebozo’s connected to organized crime.”
First Friends trade interesting gifts. When Thomas Jefferson was in Paris, he kept in touch with James Madison with presents marking current obsessions.
“Jefferson mostly sent books about political philosophy, European governments, and failed democracies, as well as contraptions like a telescope that retracted into a cane, phosphoretic matches, a pedometer, and a box of chemicals to further indulge Madison’s growing interest in chemistry,” Ginsberg writes. Madison sent sugar maples, Pippin apples, and pecans, but was unable to procure a live opossum.
Abraham Lincoln and his friend Joshua Speed, a Springfield, Ill., shopkeeper, had a rare intimacy. The two shared Speed’s bed for years in Springfield after Lincoln told Speed he couldn’t afford a mattress. Historians still debate the nature of this relationship.
But when Speed moved back to the family farm in Kentucky and said he did not want to surrender his right to own human property, Lincoln wrote him bluntly about his disappointment.
“You know I dislike slavery; and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it,” Lincoln chided, urging Speed to think of those “poor creatures hunted down” and “carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils.”
Other friends specialized in sycophancy. As Pat Nixon said of Rebozo, “Bebe is like a sponge; he soaks up whatever Dick says and never makes any comments. Dick loves that.”
Citing the example of Donald Trump, “the friendless president,” Ginsberg told me that leaders need that emotional engagement of knowing that there is another soul who has their interest at heart.
I asked Ted Kaufman, the longtime loyal pal of Joe Biden, who nursed him through Beau’s passing, what it means to be a First Friend.
“I’d walk across cut glass for him,” he replied, “and I think he’d do the same for me.”
Republican foreign policy was once defined by clashing world views. Now it’s defined only by loyalty to the president.
At first glance, the recent drone strike ordered by President Trump against an Iranian general would seem to return Republican foreign policy to the George W. Bush era. Several elements of the attack reflected the approach to the world defined by Mr. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney: a belief in the efficacy of military force, the validity of pre-emptive attack and the determination to avoid seeking approval from congressional leaders. But on closer examination, such comparisons fail. In his foreign policy, Mr. Trump represents something wholly new.
The president’s recent actions underscore the fact that the Republican Party has no guiding principles; it has only Mr. Trump, who demands loyalty to himself as its leader. Nor does the party leadership have senior figures with long experience in foreign policy who might challenge Mr. Trump’s thinking. The Republican Party, which once served as home for a variety of clashing philosophies about foreign policy, has lost its moorings.
Consider the party’s history in recent decades and the contrast with where the party stands today. Over the past half-century, the Republicans had been loosely split between two approaches for dealing with the world. One was the traditional, alliance-centered internationalism that had held sway, for example, under President George H.W. Bush. The other was the hawkish unilateralism of the party’s neoconservatives, who had gathered strength during the Reagan administration.
During the George W. Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell carried forward, if imperfectly, the ideas of internationalism; Vice President Cheney embraced many of the views of the neoconservatives. These two schools of thought came into acrimonious conflict over Iraq, Israel, North Korea and other issues.
Now, under Mr. Trump, the Republican Party has been transformed in such a way that neither internationalists nor neoconservatives hold influence in the White House. Mr. Trump has weaved, wavered and reversed course on foreign policy based on his views of the moment, and as he has, the Republicans have followed. The factional disputes that characterized the Bush years have been replaced by a single question: Are you loyal to President Trump or not?
There is no one to challenge Mr. Trump now. In contrast, consider the era of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Powell. Those two men were the most durable figures at the top of America’s foreign policy apparatus from 1988 to 2008, encompassing the end of the Cold War and its aftermath.
During those 20 years, Mr. Powell served for nine years under four American presidents as national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs and secretary of state. Mr. Cheney served for a total of 12 years as secretary of defense and vice president. The Trump administration has nothing comparable; indeed, not one of the senior leaders in the current administration, including the vice president, secretary of state and defense or national security adviser, has been involved at the top ranks in any previous administration.
Even the more experienced officials Mr. Trump initially appointed to senior foreign-policy jobs, like former Defense Secretary James Mattis and the former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, had spent less previous time in senior Washington positions than veterans of previous Republican administrations (who also included figures such as Brent Scowcroft and Robert Gates). And even these older hands — the “adults in the room,” as they were often called — left the Trump administration within two years.
Determined, experienced advisers can sometimes deflect a president’s worst instincts and ideas. While doing book research in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, I ran across the astonishing fact that in the fall of 1988, well after the Iran-contra scandal was behind him, President Reagan secretly tried to revive efforts to pay Iran for the release of American hostages in Lebanon, and to forge a new relationship with Iran.
“We have billions,” Mr. Reagan told Mr. Powell, his national security adviser. But Mr. Powell was adamantly opposed to the idea and made sure it didn’t happen. (In the early 2000s, he was less strongly opposed to the idea of going to war in Iraq, the venture strongly supported by Mr. Cheney.)
It is tempting for liberals to assume that all their opponents on the political right are alike, or stem from the same source — and that therefore, Dick Cheney somehow led to Donald Trump. But that’s not correct; Mr. Trump’s origins, outlook and style are quite different from those of Mr. Cheney.
Mr. Cheney’s rise to power — indeed, his very persona — was based on a preoccupation with government processes and a familiarity with the national-security bureaucracies (call them the “deep state”) that Mr. Trump so often disdains. Mr. Cheney has at times voiced disapproval of some of the linchpins of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy, such as his dealings with Russia and North Korea. John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, represented the last link in the top ranks of the Trump administration to the determinedly hawkish policies advocated by Mr. Cheney.
As for Mr. Powell, it is at this point hard even to recall how or why he identified himself as a Republican. Yet at the time the Cold War was ending, the Democrats were calling for a “peace dividend” that included substantial cuts in the defense budget, and Mr. Powell, working closely with Mr. Cheney, labored hard, and for the most part successfully, to resist those efforts.
Mr. Powell’s eventual alienation from the Republican Party was a result of the same forces and dynamics that would eventually propel the rise of Mr. Trump: nativism and hostility toward immigrants and racial minorities. When Mr. Powell appeared before the Republican National Convention in 1996, he made a plea for diversity and tolerance.
“The Hispanic immigrant who became a citizen yesterday must be as precious as a Mayflower descendant,” he told the delegates then. That speech was greeted by a smattering of boos. In 2008, when Mr. Powell announced he could not support the Republican presidential nominee (even though it was his old friend John McCain), Mr. Powell specifically cited the mood of Republicans who had claimed that Senator McCain’s opponent, Barack Obama, was a Muslim.
The Trump Republicans long ago abandoned Mr. Powell and virtually everything he stood for — and while it may seem less obvious right now, they have cut loose from Cheneyism, too. We can see the party’s absence of ideas or strategy in the current policies on the Middle East and North Korea.
The drone strike came alongside Mr. Trump’s purported effort to lessen America’s involvement in the Middle East. His personal diplomacy with Kim Jong-un of North Korea and President Vladimir Putin of Russia might appear to be in line with Mr. Powell’s emphasis on diplomacy — but under Mr. Trump, what has counted so far is only the word “personal,” not the diplomacy. As a result, the Republicans are left with no past and no ideas, merely a single man and his vagaries.