One of the Left's main themes in opposing the war to depose Saddam Hussein was "No blood for oil" – the argument that the ultimate goal behind invading Iraq was stealing Iraqi oil and gas. That phrase records no less than 23,000 times at google.com and turned up on signs at most rallies against the invasion. Behind it lies a deep, even conspiratorial, view of U.S. intentions. As the website http://www.nobloodforoil.org (ungrammatically) puts it, "To The Victors, Go the Oil."
Not only is this financially absurd (the war is costing much more than simply buying the commodity from Saddam Hussein) but Washington has been so hands-off of Iraqi oil, so willing to let Iraqis run this critical aspect of their country's national life, that it permits them to act exactly against not just U.S. interests but against Bush administration interests. Here's the story:
It is a little-noted implication of U.S.-led coalition forces seizing control in Iraq that the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority has been since last April effectively a part of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Put more starkly: the White House has a vote at the OPEC table.
In perhaps its most important action of the past year, OPEC decided yesterday to keep prices high by cutting production 4 percent, or one million barrels a day. The Wall Street Journal sees this step resulting from budgetary needs in Saudi Arabia and a weaker U.S. dollar, and it anticipates major consequences from it: "The move confirms the cartel's abandonment of its years-old efforts to maintain price stability and raises the prospect of greater volatility for consumers of oil and petroleum."
Not surprisingly, this Saudi-led step met with disapproval in Washington. White House spokesman Scott McClellan indicated that "The President is disappointed in today's decision. It is important that producers should not take steps that harm American consumers and our economy." And John Kerry immediately turned the high and rising price of oil into a campaign issue; "it has become clear that Bush did nothing to even try and prevent OPEC's recent cut in oil production."
Yet according to a report by State Department Watch (e-mailed, not posted), which I have corroborated with other sources, Iraqi oil minister Ibrahim Bahr Al-Ulum, representing occupied Iraq at the OPEC meeting in Vienna, came out in favor of the production cutback.
How do the oil-grab conspiracy theorists explain this? (April 1, 2004)
Nov. 13, 2009 update: And 5½ years later, how do they explain this report from Baghdad, "Rebuilding Its Economy, Iraq Shuns U.S. Businesses"?
Iraq's Baghdad Trade Fair ended Tuesday, six years and a trillion dollars after the American invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, and one country was conspicuously absent. That would be the country that spent a trillion dollars — on the invasion and occupation, but also on training and equipping Iraqi security forces, and on ambitious reconstruction projects in every province aimed at rebuilding the country and restarting the economy.
Yet when the post-Saddam Iraqi government swept out its old commercial fairgrounds and invited companies from around the world, the United States was not much in evidence among the 32 nations represented. Of the 396 companies that exhibited their wares, "there are two or three American participants, but I can't remember their names," said Hashem Mohammed Haten, director general of Iraq's state fair company. A pair of missiles atop a ceremonial gateway to the fairgrounds recalled an era when Saddam Hussein had pretensions, if not weapons, of mass destruction.The trade fair is a telling indication of an uncomfortable truth: America's war in Iraq has been good for business in Iraq — but not necessarily for American business.
American companies are not seeing much lasting benefit from their country's investment in Iraq. Some American businesses have calculated that the high security costs and fear of violence make Iraq a business no-go area. Even those who are interested and want to come are hampered by American companies' reputation here for overcharging and shoddy workmanship, an outgrowth of the first years of the occupation, and a lasting and widespread anti-Americanism.