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June 19, 2008

Comments

Several centuries hence, when the Bush archives are finally released, it will turn out that this was all a juvenile plan by W you to play a game of "Limbo: How Low Can You Go?" with America's world reputation.

Seriously, between this and the Status of Forces Agreement, you'd think SOMEBODY would recognize the PR problems, both abroad and domestically. It's like they're reading protest signs

I know the more disturbing part of this is that the US probably went to war at least partly to secure oil contracts or strategic oil supplies, but since I've been reading IR books lately the first thing that strikes me is just how mindbogglingly stupid these people have to be about the practicalities of how this looks.

As a side note, I find the "war for oil" story both convincing and not. Again, it may be my orientation toward International Relations, Economics, history, and other things that lean toward 'realpolitik' analysis of foreign affairs, but I tend to doubt the "corporate greed" explanation. Oil companies wanting to get into Iraq again was probably a contributing factor, and oil definitely was. But I think the most alluring "oil factor" would be government/national interest in increasing oil supplies and having a strategically pliant country providing it.

Kinda like this: the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran (1941). Notice: substantial corporate interest - the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company - but that was catered to because of strategic opportunity.

Of course, a longer term view might have noticed that Iran morphed into a major antagonist for the West (and an opponent of the USSR, too) within 40 years.

As a side note, I find the "war for oil" story both convincing and not. Again, it may be my orientation toward International Relations, Economics, history, and other things that lean toward 'realpolitik' analysis of foreign affairs, but I tend to doubt the "corporate greed" explanation. Oil companies wanting to get into Iraq again was probably a contributing factor, and oil definitely was. But I think the most alluring "oil factor" would be government/national interest in increasing oil supplies and having a strategically pliant country providing it.

I agree.

The "blood for oil" mantra can, at times, veer toward the overly simplistic. But one way or another, it flows back to that black sludge.

With Iraq, though, there were also other reasons for invading - other pet causes - for some of the architects. So someone could plausibly claim it wasn't "all" about oil. Not for "everyone."

My problem with the 'blood for oil' story (as I've said before, I'm sure) is that I think it gives altogether too much credit to the Bush administration.

One of the things I've found really striking, in reading about the runup to war, is that I have not seen, anywhere, any mention of a meeting in which the decision to go to war with Iraq was taken. If you think about it, that's just extraordinary. But it opens the possibility that there was no "reason" -- no unified anything -- why we invaded Iraq. GWB had his reasons, Cheney had his, and so on, but the government didn't have any unified reason at all. And thus it isn't true that "the reason" we went into Iraq was for the oil. That would do this administration the credit of thinking that it acted coherently enough to have "a reason". It didn't.

GWB had his reasons, Cheney had his, and so on...

right.

"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,"
-- Wolfowitz

"Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power"

It really is quite fitting that one of our main news sources - that is, teevee - involves flickering images being projected onto a screen.

I agree to some extent.

But I still think the Bush administration nodes that had the most power were pushing for war primarily because of oil - not just oil company profits mind you, but for geopolitical implications as well (putting our troops/footprint down in that region, boxing out competitors, gaining leverage with other oil products, etc.)

um, that would be "other oil producers..."

not "products"

Eric, are you familiar with this op-ed written by John Herrington (Secretary of Energy in the Reagan administration), published March 23, 2003 in the Los Angeles Times (link is to a copy; original requires payment).

An oldie but goodie.

Bushco viewed the war as a win-win, and had decided to do it almost before the first term got underway. At the time of Cheney's Energy Task Force (long before 9/11) it was already a done deal. Enough profits for oil-industry and defense-contractor cronies that everyone could get rich just on the slush funds, and George W. gets the political advantage of being a War Preznit, which he still believes is his ticket to Greatness. What was not to like?

"The fact that Iraq sits atop one of the world's largest reserves of oil had absolutely nothing to do with our decision to invade."

Sigh. There is a long difference in discussion from the blood for oil complaint and "absolutely nothing to do with..."

Wars have been fought with strategic concerns involving raw materials (ports, gold, water, agriculturally suitable land, and yes oil) playing a part forever.

Starting your piece off with "On the contrary, we invaded Iraq because of...9/11 and al-Qaeda. And Osama bin Laden. Who once got his tonsils removed in a Baghdad hospital. Before having tea with Saddam in Prague at the location previously chosen as the spot for the handoff of one of Saddam's many suitcase nukes..." pretty much convinces me that you couldn't possibly have an interesting point. Which is too bad because you do sort of get around to one later.

Oil, is in fact important.

Seriously.

Saddam did in fact invade Kuwait over oil, and we felt forced to react to that especially with his threat against Saudi Arabia.

This, with his later actions made it very easy to make a case for invasion afterwards.

This invasion was probably a large mistake both because the Bush administration clearly had no plan (not even a half-plan) for post-invasion, and because it may have been completely a horrible idea even with a plan.

But at this point, years later, oil contracts don't really show what you seem to think they show. At this point all sorts of people are trying to take as much advantage as they can.

It would be like noticing that police departments often seize valuable assets under the incredibly unfair asset forfeiture drug-war garbage. Sometimes drug raids end up with citizens dead (and if you read Balko you will know that it happens ridiculously often and to people who are innocent). And very often these people's assets will be seized under asset forfeiture. But that isn't the same charge as saying that the person was shot FOR THE PURPOSE OF asset forfeiture. It is no doubt related and mixed in with the whole thing, but there is a lot more going on than that.

If we just wanted to invade someone FOR OIL, Kuwait would has easier navy access.

Just saying...

If we just wanted to invade someone FOR OIL, Kuwait would has easier navy access.

Not enough oil. Not as much landmass as Iraq. Not the same footprint.

Also important: Not the same plausible justifications (Saddam was a brutal dictator, in violation of UN resolutions, who had sponsored certain Palestinian terrorists - and "terrorists" could be used loosely in the salesmanship).

Invading Kuwait would have been a very, very hard sell.

In that sense, Iraq was perfect.

And the Kuwaitis are old Bush family friends and business partners; shile Sadaam Hussein tried to have W's daddy shot.

Are you saying there were considerations other than oil?

Serious considerations? Or just "Who once got his tonsils removed in a Baghdad hospital. Before having tea with Saddam in Prague at the location previously chosen as the spot for the handoff of one of Saddam's many suitcase nukes."?

"Not as much landmass as Iraq."

Which makes Kuwait more appealing not less. It is easier to control a smaller landmass. It also has a better strategic footprint for controlling oil than Iraq, with its location directly impacting sea access to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

Ehh, Kuwait had already been liberated from Saddam and made into a compliant oil state.

Then it was invaded again and made into the staging ground for the liberation of Iraq.

Well, of course it had something to do with the oil: Without the oil, Saddam couldn't have AFFORDED to be a threat to anyone. But that's not the same as this idiot notion that we invaded to steal the oil.

Yes there were considerations other than oil for some factions within the Bush administration.

But al-Qaeda and WMD were not serious considerations for many if at all. They were sales gimmicks.

I mean, who really thought Saddam had an operational relationship with an organization whose entire raison d'etre was to overthrow apostate regimes in the Muslim world such as...SADDAM'S!

Further, a nuclear program is very difficult to hide. We were certain Saddam had no nuclear program (the Dept. of Enerty and INR said so, as did the IAEA), so the WMD story was pretty flimsy.

War for mustard gas?

But why don't you tell me what you think were the real considerations?

Which makes Kuwait more appealing not less. It is easier to control a smaller landmass. It also has a better strategic footprint for controlling oil than Iraq, with its location directly impacting sea access to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

They were foolish in that they thought they could control all of Iraq. Also, Iraq's sized gives them land-based access to Iran, Syria and other countries (Jordan, SA).

But still we're engaging in a diversion. The main reason Iraq was picked was because it was an easier sell and there was some plausible justification. There is absolutely NO way we could have sold the notion of an unprovoked invasion of Kuwait. So evern if Kuwait was more attractive, Iraq was politically doable. At least after 9/11.

But the PNAC letter urging Clinton to invade Iraq was drafted years before 9/11 and had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or WMD. Iraq had been a target for some time for, what should be, obvious reasons.

Geopolitical power politics.

Brett,

Who was Saddam a threat to and why?

And who said anything about "steal"?

Finally, is it really an idiot notion to presume that a nation would go to war with another for valuable resources? Can you think of any time in history that this has occurred?

Perhaps the better question would be, can you think of the few times when that wasn't the justification?

"Further, a nuclear program is very difficult to hide."

Which is why we weren't shocked by Pakistan's nuclear testing in 1998?

Which is why we weren't shocked by the state of Saddam's nuclear program immediately after we repulsed his invasion of Kuwait?

Which is why we knew all about Libya's nuclear program before it was publically abandoned in response to our threats about Iraq? I'd especially like to see you address Libya.

I don't mind that you aren't convinced by the WMD argument (especially in light of the hindsight knowledge that we didn't actually find such programs post-invasion). I'm not however buying your characterization of the whole thing as "Who once got his tonsils removed in a Baghdad hospital. Before having tea with Saddam in Prague at the location previously chosen as the spot for the handoff of one of Saddam's many suitcase nukes..." or other such mischaracterizations of the whole thing.

1. His neighbors, who he had ALREADY invaded. And everyone else reliant on the oil deliveries his future military ventures would disrupt.

2. It's implied, by the very notion of "for the oil".

3. No, but we didn't do it in this case.

1. His neighbors were opposed to the invasion and counseled against it (in private albeit, most of the time, though publicly as well at times). Funny that.

2. Well, let me un-imply it.

3. Depends on who you're talking about.

1. His neighbors, who he had ALREADY invaded.

So the US invaded Iraq in defense of Kuwait and Iran? But isn't Iran part of the ol' "Axis of Evil"? It's so hard to keep up.

And everyone else reliant on the oil deliveries his future military ventures would disrupt.

Actually, everyone reliant on oil from under Iraq opposed the invasion for the fairly obvious reason that the US invasion of Iraq were definitely going to disrupt oil deliveries. And did, of course.

2. It's implied, by the very notion of "for the oil".

The war in Iraq was not directly about gaining access to the oil, but about gaining economic dominance over world supplies of oil (See Peter Dale Scott's analysis from 2003 Bush's deep reasons for war in Iraq.)

True, the Bush administration did plan to sell off all other Iraqi industries to the highest bidder once they had conquered, and failed only because such sales would have been of such dubious legality that none of the potential bidders would risk the investment.

3. No, but we didn't do it in this case.

*shrug* There's literally no other motivation, unless you believe Bush did it because he wanted to show off to his dad.

Sebastian,

We were shocked that Pakistan had a weapon, not that they had a nuclear program.

Which is why we weren't shocked by the state of Saddam's nuclear program immediately after we repulsed his invasion of Kuwait?

Again, the state of the program vs. existence. Regardless, there were means to monitor Saddam's Iraq after the first Gulf War that made even those earlier efforts at concealment more difficult. The Dept. of Energy, IAEA and INR all concluded there was no active nuke program. For good reason.

Which is why we knew all about Libya's nuclear program before it was publically abandoned in response to our threats about Iraq? I'd especially like to see you address Libya.

I'd love to.

Actually, negotiations with Libya on a whole host of issues (acknowledging Pan-Am, abandoning sponsorship of terrorism and abandoning WMD in exchange for lifting UN and US sanctions/other punitive economic measures) were first probed under the first Bush administration and began in earnest under the Clinton administration.

The negotiations eventually followed a set track of quid pro quo mutual concessions. First, there was some form of acknowledgement about PAN-AM (years prior to the invasion of Iraq). The PAN-AM issue was placed first for mostly PR reasons I guess, but such it was.

After 9/11, Qaddafi took advantage of the moment, and came out strongly against terrorism, and offered his assistance to us. He gave us very solid access to his intel on operatives in his region, and even put out a $1 million reward locally for info leading to the capture of al-Qaeda operatives.

He was rewarded again.

The last remaining piece of the negotiations was WMD. The WMD phase of the negotiations began prior to the invasion of Iraq.

Still, they dragged on a bit. Qaddafi was trying to play the game a little cute and perhaps keep going with some projects on the sly, but we already knew that he had a nuke program. In fact, after we busted a ship containing parts from NoKo, we sprung that incident on his unsuspecting negotiators at the next round of talks. They were red-faced and admitted what we had already discovered.

BTW: It was not an advanced nuclear program. And Libya's decision to abandon it was not in reaction to the invasion of Iraq. Libya wanted out from underneath the onerous sanctions, and there was a three stage process that had begun in the 1990s that was followed regardless of invading Iraq.

You're mixing up the other negotiations with the nuclear question in Libya. The Pan-Am issue was of course a large one, and subject to many negotiations. The prevalence of the nuclear issue was not brought out until well into 2003 and even then the seriousness of the progam was not discovered until the seizure of ceintrifuge parts in October of 2003 and even that was after the Libyan-initiated talks of March 2003 at which time we discovered the program was immensely more advanced than we had previously suspected.

Conflating the nuclear surprises in Libya with the rest of it doesn't portray an accurate picture of the situation. It also doesn't help you with "Further, a nuclear program is very difficult to hide" unless you mean something like "We will tend to know about it but be completely unable to tell whether or not it is in an early or late stage." Which may very well be what you meant.

But if THAT is what you meant, there are all sorts of other policy problems which flow from it which make your tea with Saddam in Prague/all about oil jab especially unconvincing.

If it is true that we can merely detect a program but can't discriminate between advanced and non-advanced programs (which the GWI experience with Iraq and the more recent experience with Libya may well indicate) then the argument for intervening at *apparently* early stages becomes much stronger.

"But the PNAC letter urging Clinton to invade Iraq was drafted years before 9/11 and had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or WMD. Iraq had been a target for some time for, what should be, obvious reasons."

This doesn't help your oil argument as much as you think, because the PNAC letter begins:

We are writing you because we are convinced that current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War. In your upcoming State of the Union Address, you have an opportunity to chart a clear and determined course for meeting this threat. We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power. We stand ready to offer our full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor.

The policy of “containment” of Saddam Hussein has been steadily eroding over the past several months. As recent events have demonstrated, we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition to continue to uphold the sanctions or to punish Saddam when he blocks or evades UN inspections. Our ability to ensure that Saddam Hussein is not producing weapons of mass destruction, therefore, has substantially diminished. Even if full inspections were eventually to resume, which now seems highly unlikely, experience has shown that it is difficult if not impossible to monitor Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons production. The lengthy period during which the inspectors will have been unable to enter many Iraqi facilities has made it even less likely that they will be able to uncover all of Saddam’s secrets. As a result, in the not-too-distant future we will be unable to determine with any reasonable level of confidence whether Iraq does or does not possess such weapons.

It is nice to see Republicans and Democrats so close together that they are forced to argue over minutia, but technically Atrios wins this argument. We know that the administrations stated reasons for the war were lies, and that they knew they were lying. There is no way now to know what the real reasons for the war were with any certainty.

I just note that the war worked out incredibly well for Republicans as long as they don't care about what happens to Iraqis, soldiers, or America. And that they don't want the war to end.

Fair enough on the WMD/PNAC letter. I hadn't read it in a while, and was perhaps thinking more along the lines of the PNAC manifesto - which talks more about global American hegemony.

But I don't agree with this:

You're mixing up the other negotiations with the nuclear question in Libya. The Pan-Am issue was of course a large one, and subject to many negotiations. The prevalence of the nuclear issue was not brought out until well into 2003

The WMD was part of the three-tiered negotiations. The order had been set well before 2003. They decided to take on each step separately, but each party knew that WMD would be dealt with eventually - would have to be dealt with eventually if Libya was to get the full measure of relief that it sought.

You also have to remember that the level of scrutiny focused on Iraq post-Gulf War I (and with respect to imports into that country) made it harder for Iraq to conceal any form of nuclear program than other nations not under that same level of scrutiny.

INR, the Dept. of Energy and IAEA each concluded that Iraq didn't even have an active nuclear program. That is a pretty strong conclusion.

Oil, is in fact important.

Well that's a plain fact, isn't it?

I'm not in the "we invaded to steal their oil" camp. Iraq's the lever for projecting our power into the middle east in pursuit of our interests, construed as broadly as you like. Oil is certainly a piece of that, but the Iraqi invasion was not about "stealing Iraqi oil" any more than it was about "reforming the poltics of the middle east" or "disarming a dangerous dictator".

Of course, the question of whether playing chess with other people's countries is any better or worse than just breaking down the doors and stealing their stuff is an interesting one. I have my opinions, but that's not really what I want to talk about here.

What I do want to point out here is that it's not necessary to assume that we invaded Iraq to steal their oil to find this set of agreements reprehensibly corrupt. All that is necessary is to note that the companies involved are all American or close partners to American companies, that the contracts are no-bid, and that we currently have a great big army occupying the nation that's making the deal.

Have you ever had occasion to have business dealings with gangsters? Oddly enough, members of my family had that experience. I got to watch some of it.

No voices were raised, no overt threats were made, everyone was quite polite. The arrangements made were, all in all, fairly reasonable. The only thing unusual about it, at all, was that "no" was not one of the available answers.

This reminds me of that.

Thanks -

Iraq's the lever for projecting our power into the middle east in pursuit of our interests, construed as broadly as you like. Oil is certainly a piece of that,

Oil is almost all of that. Israel is another piece, but not nearly enough to make us commit to an invasion. If it weren't for the oil, we wouldn't care whether Iraq invaded Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or all of the above. Iraq's treatment of Kurds would have been of exactly as much interest to us as Sudan's treatment of its minority, without oil in the picture.

I agree that it's not just Iraq's oil, it's also about Kuwait's, Iran's, and the rest of the ME.

BTW, I'm actually kind of relieved b/c the the sweetheart deal for American oil companies at least shows some minimal competence on our part. If we're going to invade to get control of keystone resources, we should bloody well get control out of it, if nothing else. These companies are only nominally American, and we can't in practice make them give our consumers and industries preferential pricing, but it's better than nothing.

GWB had his reasons, Cheney had his, and so on, but the government didn't have any unified reason at all. And thus it isn't true that "the reason" we went into Iraq was for the oil. That would do this administration the credit of thinking that it acted coherently enough to have "a reason". It didn't.

This is what I've always thought, too. It seemed that everyone involved had various personal, professional or psychotic (Hi Tom Friedman!) to favor the war. It also helped that all power people and influentials had little to no stake in the success of the war beyond vanity.

When you think of the no bid contracts, the Heritage interns working at the CPA, the well-connected fly-by-night contractors. It ended up being one big free for all.

hilzoy: One of the things I've found really striking, in reading about the runup to war, is that I have not seen, anywhere, any mention of a meeting in which the decision to go to war with Iraq was taken.

Have you read Paul O'Neill's book? He describes how at the very first National Security Council meeting of the new administration, in February 2001, the agenda focused on how and when to move on Iraq militarily, not whether. He said it became clear to everyone in the room that this decision had been taken at some previous, small meeting that included Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld and it wasn't clear who else.

They came in determined to do it. It was always about bases and strategic control of the oil fields. Not the oil itself, but the ability to dictate/influence which companies got the development contracts, under what terms, and the pace of exploitation.

Who honestly thought that we built four or five mega-bases at a few $billion each, each 15 miles square, just to stay for a few years and "bring democracy to the Iraqi people"?

Everything else is flim-flam, whether for external or internal consumption.

@Trilobite: I thought this post by Bernard Chazelle was a bit over the top, but I see that the people he was talking about exist:

The more painful the Iraq adventure is for Americans the more conducive it is to our imperialist aims. The argument is that if we've paid with 4000 lives and trillions of dollars, the least the Iraqis can do for us is to give us control of their oil fields. The more Iraq appears to be a national catastrophe for us, the higher public support will be for grabbing the oil.

The Times piece is meant to bring antiwar types to the Cheney camp. The logic is this: "You hated that war, I know, but look, Iraq does not have the technical expertise to handle its own oil, so whether we like it or not, it'll be handed over to foreign companies. Now would you rather have the Chinese or Russians take control? We lost so much in this horrible war that we hate so much. So don't we deserve a tiny consolation prize? Plus, look, the process was opaque but apparently fair. At least we couldn't find any US oil expert to tell us otherwise."

I need some air.

Sebastian: If we just wanted to invade someone FOR OIL, Kuwait would has easier navy access.

Oh, for pete's sake. The U.S. currently occupies the northern third of Kuwait right this minute.

@Russell @3:35 pm: Well put. Language implying an imperial relationship gets quibbled to death here, so going with good old all-American gangsterism seems the only way to express the situation.

this is why people become communists

this is why people become communists

that's silly, you can't fluoridate oil

"Oh, for pete's sake. The U.S. currently occupies the northern third of Kuwait right this minute."

And, strangely enough, Kuwait is STILL selling their oil, themselves, for their own profit, at world prices. Weird, huh?

Of course one can fluoridate oil. The result is known as teflon and a necessary ingredient in the production of corrupt officials, pundits, CEOs etc.

"And, strangely enough, Kuwait is STILL selling their oil, themselves, for their own profit, at world prices. Weird, huh?"

Exactly.

And, strangely enough, Kuwait is STILL selling their oil, themselves, for their own profit, at world prices. Weird, huh

I strongly recommend Robert Vitalis' book on Aramco's relationship with the Saudi government. "America's Kingdom."

It kind of helps to clarify some of the important issues that Brett's quote elides.

@publius: To which comment is your 'this is why people become communists' a response? Or is it a reaction to the whole thread?

"It kind of helps to clarify some of the important issues that Brett's quote elides"

If you aren't going to give a hint about the issues you think it elides, it is going to be tough.

If you think for example that Kuwait does not in fact sell oil for its own profit, and that the US 'occupies' Kuwait to that end, just say so.

With the US military occupying their country, I think it unlikely that (for example) Kuwait would be able to vote for switching OPEC from dollars to euros - something which would be in their best interests, while the dollar contunues to fall.

And, strangely enough, Kuwait is STILL selling their oil, themselves, for their own profit, at world prices. Weird, huh?

Maybe I missed something. Did someone here raise an objection to Iraq selling their oil, themselves, for their own profit, at world prices? If so, I missed it.

The issue that is kind of smelly is the no-bid contracts, nominally for "service" so that they can "avoid the legislative stalemate", but paid in oil rather than cash.

I don't think that's the arrangement Kuwait has.

Thanks -

"With the US military occupying their country, I think it unlikely that (for example) Kuwait would be able to vote for switching OPEC from dollars to euros - something which would be in their best interests, while the dollar contunues to fall."

That shows a common misconception abouthow oil and/or currency is traded. The dollar falling against the euro has near-zero impact on the price of oil under either currency. If the dollar falls against the euro, that means that the price of oil in dollars goes up while the price of oil in euros doesn't. That doesn't impact Kuwait's bottom line at all.

So long as you are using a readily tradable currency it doesn't really matter which one you use. Dollars have been used for quite some time becuase they have always been readily tradable. And they continue to be. One of the good things about not rigging the currency market is that the price float discourages shortages.

So your "which would be in their best interests, while the dollar contunues to fall" suggestion appears to be wrong unless you meant something else.

What Russell said.

Sebastian,

The issues center around sweetheart deals that net the foreign firms windfall profits at the expense of the indigenous population. It amounts to exploitation in many circumstances.

To accomplish this, the foreign firms wisely share chunks of the income (though they are always trying to mask the true totals) with the ruling elites of the target country. This doesn't do much to spread wealth around, or political power, but rather entrenches despotism - with the elites enlisted as co-conspirators with their own vested interest at stake.

Democracy? Ha. Look what we're doing to the Sadrist trend. Some dedication to democracy.

Further, these firms impose staunch anti-union policies and other reactionary labor practices (for example, Aramco used to operate strictly segregated labor camps based on racial/ethnic origin of the workers, with disparaties in pay and amenities). Is it any wonder that the one and only law left over from the Baath Party era in Iraq was Saddam's law outlawing labor unions?

To be honest, I'm not all that knowledgeable about the situation in Kuwait. But I know a bit about Aramco and other oil firms and their dealings in SA, Iran and Iraq throughout most of the 20th century.

Ditto with their helpful "influence" in Nigeria. Which is also "free to sell its oil on the market..."

"The issues center around sweetheart deals that net the foreign firms windfall profits at the expense of the indigenous population. It amounts to exploitation in many circumstances."

Ok, but you're wandering pretty far afield from the "Oh, for pete's sake. The U.S. currently occupies the northern third of Kuwait right this minute." which brought the subject to the fore.

Furthermore, "windfall" puts the conclusion in the argument and ignores the fact that oil in the ground isn't very lucrative for anyone without drilling it up. "At the expense of the indigenous population" is the kind of breezy moral assertion that is surprising from you in this context. Compared to what? Sure Norway does a great job with oil and population, but the list goes down pretty quickly from there. I suppose you could argue that Iranian citizens are marginally better off under their country's oil management regime than the people in Saudi Arabia, but you would have to squint a little, ignore some glaring factors in favor of others, and be willing to split very fine hairs to get there.

Are you really suggesting that there wouldn't be despotic regimes exploiting their people in the Middle East if it weren't for companies like Aramco to help Saudi Arabia? There are some non-oil producing countries that neatly refute that idea. (Which I'm not sure you were advocating, so if you weren't please ignore).

"Democracy? Ha. Look what we're doing to the Sadrist trend."

Wow. Interesting to invoke the person who advocated bloody revolution against his rival religious sects three times in the last four years as indicative of a democratic trend. I'm not sure what you could possibly mean by that. Can we invoke crackdowns on the prominent members of the KKK in the 1960s as anti-democratic too? It may very well be that we have to work with Sadr, but can we please not pretend that he is a democratic force?

"To accomplish this, the foreign firms wisely share chunks of the income (though they are always trying to mask the true totals) with the ruling elites of the target country. This doesn't do much to spread wealth around, or political power, but rather entrenches despotism - with the elites enlisted as co-conspirators with their own vested interest at stake."

The elite class can spread that around further if they want to right? Or would you prefer that Aramco impose western ideals about income distribution norms on Middle Eastern countries from the outside? And again, you are aware that despots exist in the Middle East, and indeed all across the world, even when oil interests don't exist in a particular country.

It seems like you are invoking a brand of leftist thought that I'd be embarrassed to use even if I were making a caricature. Which is really weird because I'm pretty sure you don't believe that. But purely to be clear:

Yes, companies often deal with repressive regimes. Sometimes they even choose between two repressive regimes and support one over the other. But there wasn't some progressive utopia just around the corner for Saudi Arabia that the e-vile oil companies thwarted. And to the extent that Robert Vitalis believes there was (and he certainly alludes to it in his book) he is deluding himself and so are you if you believe him. There is nothing anywhere in the history of the Middle East in the past hundred years that suggests that as a serious outcome. And in fact, nearly all of the countries where there has been real progressive action has been in capitalist countries with lots and lots of e-vile corporations, many of them with American corporations. And in lots of places where it was tried without the influence of the nasty capitalists, there were some of the very worst human abuses in the recent history of the planet.

So, I'm not 100% sure I understood what you were getting at. I apologize if you weren't going in that direction.

Ok, but you're wandering pretty far afield from the "Oh, for pete's sake. The U.S. currently occupies the northern third of Kuwait right this minute." which brought the subject to the fore.

In my defense, that was not a topic that I was discussing per se. I'm merely pointing out that regardless of a military occupation, exploitation is quite possible.

Furthermore, "windfall" puts the conclusion in the argument and ignores the fact that oil in the ground isn't very lucrative for anyone without drilling it up.

Let's put it this way: the terms for getting that oil up and out have tended to differ quite materially when dealing with the third world as opposed to, say, our friends and neighbors.

I suppose you could argue that Iranian citizens are marginally better off under their country's oil management regime than the people in Saudi Arabia...

Oh I don't know. Iran's suffering has more to do with sanctions than the fact that Aramco or BP weren't allowed to keep going. Would the average Iranian citizen, without all the sanctions, be in a better position than the average Saudi? Actually, yes. The Saudis have done a particularly bad job of reinvesting oil money.

Wow. Interesting to invoke the person who advocated bloody revolution against his rival religious sects three times in the last four years as indicative of a democratic trend. I'm not sure what you could possibly mean by that. Can we invoke crackdowns on the prominent members of the KKK in the 1960s as anti-democratic too? It may very well be that we have to work with Sadr, but can we please not pretend that he is a democratic force?

He is a democratic force in that his movement represents roughly 20% of the population and if you're going to give people the right to vote, you shouldn't disenfranchise large swathes of said population and then call it democracy.

And can you point to the times that Sadr advocated bloody revolution against his rival sects? The comparison to the KKK is widely off the mark. Sadr's movement has worked with Sunnis in the past (Fallujah) and continues to espouse a rhetoric of outreach. Some of the sectarian cleansing was atrocious to be sure. But then, our allies like ISCI were partaking as well, but we don't take issue with their democratic bona fides. Wonder why?

The elite class can spread that around further if they want to right? Or would you prefer that Aramco impose western ideals about income distribution norms on Middle Eastern countries from the outside? And again, you are aware that despots exist in the Middle East, and indeed all across the world, even when oil interests don't exist in a particular country.

Aramco actively worked against the spread of democratic movements. Ditto labor organization. Such movements were deemed threats to their assets. Aramco also imported US-style Jim Crow-esque segregation (not just to SA, but to Central America as well). I am well aware that despots (and racism) exist without oil and US companies, but are you aware that countries with oil tend to be more despotic and the average citizen poorer? It's the curse of oil.

This is not leftist caricature, it is a realistic understanding of the way that geopolitical/economic power relationships have worked since the beginning of time. Client states, colonialism, capitalism, etc.

I'm not saying any of the following: All companies are evil. America is evil. Capitalism is evil. Without American corporations, there would be no despotism. These practices were invented by America. The people of the third world are/were all angels prior to exposure to colonial powers.

What I am saying, and this should be fairly non-controversial and I'm frankly surprised that it isn't, is that the history of American multi-nationals in the third world has several very dark chapters.

In the interest of profit, and favorable access to resources, the US multinationals have hired private militias, backed warlords, incited revolutions, civil wars, thwarted democratic movements, thwarted labor movements and overthrown governments. Sometimes the US government was complicit - actively and tacitly.

Not all companies do this all the time in every location. But it's not exactly unheard of either.

So, I'm not 100% sure I understood what you were getting at.

Here's what I'm getting at. Can't speak for anyone else.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India.

Of those other 40 offers, do you suppose that the offer made by the folks cited in the article was the one most advantageous to the Iraqi people?

I don't know the answer to that, but I have a crisp new Franklin that says the answer is "No".

How much freedom do you suppose the representatives of the Iraqi government had in selecting which offer they would, and would not accept?

How much leverage do you suppose they had in setting the terms for the agreement?

My Franklin also says the answers to these questions are "Damned little" and "Even less".

There were lots of folks with lots of different hard-ons for invading Iraq. Not least, to say the least, among those were the domestic US oil interests.

Anyone care to dispute that?

Well, it's payday for them. I say that's f***ed up.

It's not our oil. Iraq is not our country. The world doesn't belong to us. Capitalizing on the outcome of wars is also known as "profiteering", and it's obscene.

Stuff like that. That's what I'm getting at.

I hope that's sufficiently clear.

We're turning into a nation of thugs and gangsters, and I think it sucks. It makes me ashamed to be an American.

Thanks -

As Juan Cole reminded me today, that flaming caricature of leftist agitprop, Alan Greenspan noted:

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

Um, yeah. In various ways, largely (not entirely) about oil. Not all about American companies getting sweetheart deals, but that was one facet of the oil.

"Let's put it this way: the terms for getting that oil up and out have tended to differ quite materially when dealing with the third world as opposed to, say, our friends and neighbors."

Let's put it this way: When dealing with our friends and neighbors, oil companies don't have to demand a risk premium to account for the possibility of their assets being expropriated. Again. Unless a certain Democratic Congressman advocating nationalizing American refineries gets his way.

Right Brett. Saints they were. With only a small allowance for said contingencies.

"I am well aware that despots (and racism) exist without oil and US companies, but are you aware that countries with oil tend to be more despotic and the average citizen poorer? It's the curse of oil.

This is not leftist caricature, it is a realistic understanding of the way that geopolitical/economic power relationships have worked since the beginning of time. Client states, colonialism, capitalism, etc."

I'm really confused. The resource curse as generally understood is almost precisely the opposite of what you are positing. See the man who coined the term: Richard Auty (Sustainable Development in Mineral Economies). I don't want to oversimplify his work, but very generally it suggests that the resource curse damages the ability of countries in developing mature capitalist systems. It has very little to do with 'exploitation' and very much to do with the fact that the easy money makes it difficult to form the capitalist institutions (requiring competition and investment choices tempered by scarcity) which are necessary to have a long-term thriving economy. (Which is why Norway avoids many of the problems--it already had the capitalist institutions before oil was discovered, though it doesn't avoid the "Dutch Disease" currency problem). He also believes that corruption can often be a big problem, and by US measures even non-oil Middle Eastern nations tend to have enormous amounts of corruption.

So whatever you think about how geopolitical relationships have worked since the beginning of time (and I would argue that your sweeping characterization is a bit too sweeping), you seem to have invoked the resource curse to mean almost precisely opposite its thesis. That makes it very difficult to respond to you because the different parts of your response are pointing almost in opposite directions.

Why would they have to be saints to demand a risk premium when dealing with third world governments? I'd say it would have to be a pretty fair allowance, too, given how common asset expropriation is in the third world.

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