Don't Panic 

Does oil play a role in the Bush administration's determination to invade Iraq?

Oil? What are you talking about? Olive oil? Baby oil? Oil of Olay? Me no understand this word oil. Me hear TV say Iraq no about oil, silly. Iraq about security, topping terror, helping Iraqi people and fighting evil.

You could be forgiven for believing the above to be the truth. That's because the White House has defined the terms of the debate on Iraq in such a simplistic way that it makes the plot of Superfriends cartoons look like Tolstoy. Public debate about Iraq has focused overwhelmingly on just two factors: 1) Saddam's military threat, and 2) does the U.S. need an international coalition and/or the UN's approval to invade? Absent from the debate is the three-letter word that makes us care about Iraq in the first place. The word is sex ... I mean oil.

Discussing Iraq without discussing oil is like writing about the beach without mentioning the ocean. That the White House chooses to discuss Iraq in the context of its war on terror instead of oil is no surprise. Since 9-11, the White House has tried to lump as much of its agenda as possible under the heading of "war on terror". Remember the idiotic TV spots from earlier this year equated smoking pot with supporting terrorists (never mind that buying gasoline puts money in the hands of terrorism-sponsoring states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran).

So, yes, of course oil plays a role in Iraq -- a big one. Our overriding strategic interest in the Middle East is to ensure unfettered access to oil. It has been for decades. As our continued support for the repressive, fundamentalist, medieval, terrorist-sponsoring, baby-eating Saudi regime (OK, maybe they don't eat babies) shows, oil trumps all other concerns. The Gulf War was about keeping Kuwaiti and Saudi oil in friendly hands. Prior to that, we supported Iraq in its war against Iran for the same reason, except in that case, we were trying to keep Saudi, Kuwaiti (and Iraqi) oil out of Iran's hands.

With 15 of the 19 9-11 hijackers identified as Saudi citizens, the White House has been forced to acknowledge that the "friendly hands" of the Saudi regime may not be so friendly. A recent briefing given to the Pentagon by the RAND Corporation went so far as calling Saudi Arabia the "kernel of evil." That's not to be confused with the Axis of Evil (Iraq, Iran, North Korea) or the Barber of Seville (Rossini).

Just as important a factor to consider is that Saudi hands may not have all that good of a grip on their oil. When they're overthrown (and they will be) they may be replaced by a bin-Ladenesque regime that would die before it sold us so much as a squirt of WD-40.

So what does this have to do with Iraqi oil? Saudi Arabia and Iraq have the largest and second-largest supplies of oil in the world. Invading Iraq, overthrowing Saddam Hussein, and successfully installing a U.S.-friendly government that endures (an awfully tall order) would make the U.S. less dependant on the Saudis. Saddam Hussein's brutality and weapons are just an excuse. After all, we didn't stop being his ally in the 1980s when he gassed Iranian soldiers and his own people, or tried to develop nukes. We only stopped when he threatened our oil. A large-scale military occupation of Iraq also gives us a strong military presence in the Persian Gulf should we feel the need to fight for the Saudi and Kuwaiti oil fields.

With oil execs as president and VP, as well as a national security adviser (Condi Rice) who as an oil tanker named after her, only an idiot would believe that oil isn't a major, if not the main factor in all this.


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