Dave Winer points to what he calls “an excellent op-ed piece in the NY Times a few days ago, by Max Boot, that disassembles the theory that the US wants to go to war with Iraq to somehow control the oil.” The problem is that Boot doesn’t actually understand why oil is the root of the war.
Boot poses the question “is America going into Iraq in search of ‘Black gold’”. The answer to this is clearly no: America doesn’t get a steady stream of oil from Iraq at present, because of the embargo, and doesn’t really need the extra few million barrels of oil Iraq would initially produce post-occupation. As Boot says, it would take time to build up Iraq’s oil production capacities to the extent that they would have a significant impact on world oil prices.
But this completely misses the point, which is about the future of the entire region, not just Iraq. First of all, Iraq sits on about 11% of the world’s unexploited oil reserves, second only to Saudi Arabia’s 25%, and something that will be deeply significant to the oil industry in 10 or 20 years time. The oil industry – and by extension, American industry – simply cannot afford to have an committedly anti-US country with that amount of potential future power over the oil market. The oil industry, which of course Bush and most of his team have experience in, is used to thinking long-term about oil reserves, and the decision to get rid of Saddam while their is an opportunity is simply an extension of that kind of thinking. By doing so, they could ensure that some 41% of the worlds oil reserves (Iraq’s, Saudi Arabia’s, and North America’s) were under effective US control.
Secondly, of course, there is the potential that Saddam has for destabilising the region. Although it’s almost certain that Saddam’s military capabilities aren’t up to much at the moment, if he were to acquire significant amounts of long-range missiles, he would pose a serious threat to Saudi Arabia and other big players in the oil market. The “weapons of mass destruction” accusations are a red herring: What matters is long range missiles. Just as North Korea is a threat because of its ability to put 1000 missiles on top of Seoul within 10 minutes, so an Iraq with lots of missiles could cause havoc in the Middle East – and thus, seriously threat the oil market, and US industry.
Thus, the war is about ensuring that Iraq no longer has the capability to disrupt oil supplies from the region, and to secure its oil reserves by turning the Iraqis into a “friendly” nation. The gamble that the US government is taking is that, in doing so, it doesn’t significantly destabilise the region in the short turn, by increasing support for Islamic fundamentalists in friendly or passive countries. The bet also takes this into account, by proposing a massive investment in post-war Iraq, a kind of Marshall Plan for the country that would turn it towards democracy and freedom. Whether it will work or not, I don’t know.
Ironically, going to war to secure the economic future of your country seems to be to one of the cogent (if not necessarily moral) reasons for doing it. I’m still against this war, but that’s primarily because I think that it’s more likely to destabilise the region, increasing support for terrorist organisations like Bin Laden’s outfit, and also because I simply dislike the hypocritical tone of American critics of the European position: A position they often don’t even understand.