Is the war on Iraq about oil?

Taking the facts that Bush, Rice (she even has an oil tanker named after her!), and other members of his administration have stakes in the oil industry, there is no proven connection between Al Quaida and Saddam’s regime, and Iraq has vast reserves of oil, what is the argument that this war is not about oil?.

One some level, it is. Wars are almost always about natural resources, at some point. There are many more factors involved with Iraq, though. Keep in mind that Iraq’s oil has been going mostly to countries like France and Russia, who insisted that their contracts be honored after any change in government (and you wonder why the UN reacts so slowly).

For one, the region isn’t exactly stable, and however silly it sounds, there IS a lot of concern about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, not to mention the stability of neighboring nations and our sheer need to make an example of someone - and Iraq has been a thorn in our side for a while. One of the more embarassing legacies of Desert Storm was that basically nothing changed except thousands of people dying… Iraq kept its balance of power and command structure completely intact. Meanwhile, Bush has to be proactive against SOMEONE.

We “took out” the Taliban, but he has to keep moving to SOMEONE. Without solid proof of AQ hiding training bases elsewhere, you drop to the next likely target - Iraq, a nation that has a history of being “evil” and that we’ve been at a continued state of hosilities with for a decade, has neighbors that won’t be jumping to its defense (though they aren’t exactly happy, they all hate Saddam), and happens to have - hey look! - rebels that we can use as a meat shield to take the important targets without suffering casualties, and then prop up in charge and say they did it, giving an aura of legitimacy that isn’t as easily challenged.

Add that to the international propaganda that Iraq, a large modern nation with significant resources that thumbed its nose at the US for a decade, has fallen, as will all other enemies. It makes the US look fearsome. Grrrowl. Until we look at North Korea and try to figure out how to make China take care of them.

I don’t know how long this will be here, but…

My opinion:

I’m sure it is about oil. But we are talking about a major factor in the world’s economy. Are there any wars that are fought not for essentially economic reasons? In America’s case, the war of 1812 (freedom of the seas), the indian wars (“Hey, we should own all that land!”), the Civil War (fought largely because of states rights issues impacting economy)…

Even religious wars and genocidal wars seem to be basically about “Hey, lets kill these people and take their land and their stuff!” or “Hey, they have our land, let’s kill them and take it back!”

I think it’s mainly about wanting to have more control over the commodity which has the most impact on the US (and incidentally, the world) economy. If one man could gain control of that part of the world and retain it, he could give us (the west) a very damaging economic rollercoaster ride.

So, in a larger sense, it’s about protecting economic interests.

Disclaimer: the above is simply an opinion, no doubt soon to be viciously attacked from many fronts. Have a good time!

Moderator’s Note: I’ll just go ahead and move this to Great Debates and spare the GQ mods the trouble.

I think the oil thing is just a link in the chain. As much as I distrust the government, I’d also like to think that GW has gotten information, perhaps covertly or with some new technology, that Iraq does indeed pose a serious threat to the US. If he were to reveal it then the way he got it may be compromised meaning no more info. At least that’s what I hope, but when it comes to power and politics they’re all untrustworthy.

The war in Iraq will be about shaping the future of the Middle East. That is a region of the world that is backward politically economicly and yet it’s vast oil resources make it a critical strategic area.

Change needs to happen in that area of the world but we want change that, if not friendly to the West, can at least be dealt with on a rational level.

Iraq is the most powerful nation in that region. If we replace Sadaam with more moderate leadership, it opens the door for other countries in the region to turn to more moderate and democratic forms of government.
Of course we wouldn’t care at all about this region if it wasn’t filled with oil, but it is.

To show that this conflict is primarily about oil, IMO, requires that A) someone demonstrate that key members of the administration would benefit monetarily or politically from postwar Iraqi oil exploration or production; B) that US oil companies would benefit monetarily from Iraqi oil in ways they couldn’t simply by the lifting of UN sanctions, and that administration officials are colluding with oil companies to carry this out. AFAIK, neither of these points has been demonstrated in any of the many threads I’ve seen on this subject.

As much as I am skeptical about US foreign policy, I wish this war was about what msmith537 said. If indeed a regime change in Iraq happens, and democracy and stability take root (a big If), there ought to a cascading positive effect on other countries in the region, which is definitely good for the world as a whole.

Greater transparency, communication and cooperation between governments, along with enfranchised people will have a significant impact on reducing terrorism, and in solving the Israel-Palestine conflict.

On preview, I want to ask something regarding Gulf War I. Is there a consensus that the war was indeed about oil? Would the US have fought the war purely on moral or legal grounds? I am asking this because I find it strange when some people dismiss the direct connection between cheap oil (and even gas-guzzling automobiles) and foreign policy as ridiculous.

Well, here is the deal. I am pretty much willing to believe that this looming war is not about oil, except for the fact that I have yet to see a credible alternative explanation.

The whole notion that this is somehow about deposing a nasty dictator is one that I find laughable, if for no other reason than the fact that there are plenty of other nasty dictators that we could go after that we choose not to.

This all depends on what you mean by “about oil.” If you are arguing that, if Iraq didn’t have oil under its soil, the US wouldn’t be considering war against Iraq, then you are probably right. Oil (or strategic location or other stratego-economic significance) is close to a necessary factor before the US uses military force.

If, however, your argument is that the US is thinking of attacking Iraq in order to get its oil, you have to do a lot better. If the US simply wanted to make war for oil - grand theft on a huge scale - there are a lot of other targets that would be considerably easier to successfully attack. Venezuela springs to mind.

In sum, stragego-economic benefit, in this case oil, is necessary but not sufficient. If Iraq didn’t have oil, we wouldn’t be bothering them, but we are not considering an attack because they have oil.


No, the difference is that the world wouldn’t stand by and let America invade Venezuela because it is basically a civilised country. Besides it is much cheaper to let the CIA collude with some of the locals to depose the president and install a pro-american governement.

American administration is hoping that the world will support it, or just look the other way in Iraq. That is looking less likely all the time with absolutely no evidence of links to Al queda, or existance of WOMDs. Even the UK is starting to waver badly, with Blair facing a revolt by his own party members

Oil is a necessary condition? If it were indeed true, I would be outraged. Are you too?

It is one thing to defend a country (and its oil) from an invasion and another for oil to be a necessary condition in invading a sovereign nation.

I didn’t say oil, I said stratego-economic interest. Oil is one such interest.

As for my outrage, I’m outraged that the US does not use its military more. We should have intervened in Rwanda, we should have intervened earlier in Bosnia, and we shouldn’t limit our humanitarian interventions only to those places where we have a defined strategic interest, such as oil.

I said it was a necessary condition for use of military force. Further, I didn’t say (and don’t believe) that the purpose - even where oil is an interest - is to take the oil.

As an example, I am quite certain that any nation that tried to take over Singapore would face military intervention by the US, because Signapore controls vital shipping lanes. The US wouldn’t directly benefit, or take over those shipping lanes themselves, but it would still invade.


There was a very good article from Thomas Friedman on the oil issue.

IIRC, he pretty much made the argument that a possible war over oil wouldn’t be immoral on face. He says that this war would be as much about stopping Mr Hussein from controlling even more oil reserves than he does now, and holding it hostage to get more money to opress and terrorize folks.

I don’t know if I agree with Mr Friedman, but it was an interesting article, besides.

Let me suggest that while oil fits in the equation some place, the prospect of war has more to do with the international status quo and the nuclear club. Any country with the Bomb is automatically a great power, on that basis alone. We know that the US has it, as does Russia and God knows how many fragments of the Former USSR, the UK, France (for Pete’s sake), China, India and Pakistan, probably Israel, maybe Egypt, maybe Syria, and North Korea pretty soon. The last thing * the world’s only Super Power* needs is for more countries to get it and start asserting them selves—especially countries with a past history of suicidal aggressiveness. Despite the Marvel Comic Books language coming out of Washington, I am inclined to believe that the danger/ possibility/ likelihood that Iraq will have nuclear weapons in the near future is the real and legitimate reason for the US stance.

That the fall of Sadam might open the Iraqi oil field to exploitation is just a happy side effect. This is not to say that the guys at Texaco and BP and what ever the French and Russian oil giants are, are not salivating at the prospect of that banquet. Of course the oil guys might possibly have some influence with the Bush administration.

Note that there is a difference between Iraq and North Korea. First North Korea is a much more formidable opponent than Iraq and may well be in a position to blow a fair part of South Korea and Japan off the map. Second, North Korea has no proven oil reserves. Third, China might help out North Korea. Nobody is going to help Iraq beyond lip service.

If you take the Singapore example, why cannot a country do what it wants? Legal rights over the ocean may be fuzzy but in regard to oil found on land, Iraq has every right to refuse sales to the US. Hypothetically, if the entire Middle-East refused to trade oil with the US, then by your definition of stratego-economic interest, US would use their military to force them to sell the oil. Not an invasion, sure, but it is a violation of sovereignty. So, to repeat my question: do you find the use of military force for stratego-economic reasons (oil being one such example) acceptable?

I am with you on this. But, given the past decisions US has made, everyone is suspicious of any US involvement including strictly humanitarian interventions. If this mistrust declines, US and other developed countries would in a great position to improve the world.

Oil is a peripheral issue, in a way.

The war is NOT about the U.S. taking Iraq’s oil, or even opening up Iraq as a market for American oil companies. That is far too simplistic.

The point has been made about Venezuela - It has been unstable enough that an administration could certainly come up with some bogus reason to move in and ‘stabilize’ the country by making sure a U.S. puppet government was installed, if all the U.S. wanted was oil.

A much stronger case can be made that opposition to the war is based on oil. The two prime heel-draggers on this war are Russia and France, and it’s no coincidence that both of them are heavily invested in Iraq’s oil production.

Nonetheless, oil is a factor for several reasons: First, Saddam is a destabilizing influence in the region, and if he develops weapons of mass destruction and re-invades Kuwait, oil prices are going to go bananas and possibly throw the world into a recession. And especially if he invades Saudi Arabia after that.

Also, Iraq’s oil gives them money, which allows them to build lots of weapons. If Iraq didn’t have oil, it would be a warmer Afghanistan and would not be much of a threat.

So like it or not, the world’s oil supply is under threat from Saddam Hussein. And the world needs oil.

Then there’s Israel. Israel cannot stand to see Saddam develop nuclear weapons. He has attacked Israel before without provocation, and he’ll do it again. He actively incites hatred against Israel. He funds Palestinian suicide bombers. If the U.S. allows Saddam to build a nuke, there’s a good chance that it will land in Tel Aviv one day. Then Israel will respond with a massive retaliation, and the entire middle east will be a nuclear war zone. That too would have horrible consequences for the world.

Finally, there is the war on terror, and Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden himself has said that one of the main reasons for the jihad against America is because it maintains troops on what is considered sacred ground. And being allowed to keep those troops there means that the U.S. has to pussyfoot around the Saudi regime which is another of the instigators of Islamist terror. And the U.S. can’t leave Saudi Arabia while Saddam is next door.

If Saddam goes, the U.S. can establish a military presence in Iraq, and remove troops from Saudi Arabia. This would give the U.S. an autonomous foothold in the area, dependent on none of those corrupt little monarchy/dictatorships. This will allow the U.S. more leverage in fighting the war on terror. The U.S. can muscle Saudi Arabia into stopping funding for Wahabbi extremists. The U.S. can put muscle on Syria, Yemen, Libya, and other countries in the region to straighten up and fly right.

And, there are some who believe that Iraq is the key to peace in the entire middle east. I don’t know that I buy it, and I’m not fond of grand schemes to structure societies. But the idea is certainly compelling - a democratic, prosperous, secular Iraq would be a great example for Iran, which is heading towards democracy. There is even talk of a multi-state solution which would have Hashemites from Jordan set up a titular head of state in Iraq (they used to control the place), in exchange for allowing the Palestinians to return to Jordan. This solves the Israel problem as well, and becomes a foundation for a lasting, stable peace in the middle east.

Like I said, I don’t know if I buy that sweeping plan. I could shoot lots of holes in it, as could lots of other posters. But at least the possibility is there, and once Hussein is gone we’ll have lots of time to work out solutions.

Bottom Line: If Iraq didn’t have oil, and wasn’t in the middle east, but still did the things it is doing, the U.S. or other countries would have squashed it a long time ago. If it didn’t have oil, and also didn’t have any money to build weapons, no one would care about it. So oil is a factor, and a strong one. Just not in the simplistic, “Make war for the big oil companies” way that many on the left try to claim.

Could the “this is about oil” folks please do me a favor and explain “about oil” to what end? In other words, who profits?

Because here’s the thing. If the looming war is about oil, one of three things can happen: Iraqi oil production (and exports) will increase, they will decrease or they will stay about the same.

If exports increase, all else being equal prices will go down, hurting domestic producers of oil such as the little guys that President Bush has been palling around with during his career. It might also hurt the big international oil companies (see below). But it would be good for the portion of the American economy that uses oil rather than produces it. This is the vast majority of the economy, but no one has explained to me how Harken or any of the other domestic producers benefits from increased flow.

If exports stay about the same, we’ll have spent $10 Billion or so that could have gone to more productive uses, such as a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. :wink:

If exports decrease, than prices should go up, benefiting the big and little U.S. oil producers at the expense of the remainder of the economy. This strikes me as a poor reelection strategy. I believe that however the war on terror or anything else is going, if WTI goes for $40/bbl in 2004, we’ll all be debating the policies of President Gephardt.

OK, next step. All of the above is ceteris paribus. But, of course, the world is not. At the extreme, a successful U.S. invasion of Iraq could increase production by 2MM bbl/day (tops) or decrease it to zero (from pre-crisis amounts of about 2.3 MM bbl/day). OPEC alone could counter this if they choose, and in the past they’ve been reasonably disciplined (though not perfectly so) about doing exactly that after major finds in places like Canada, off Nigeria, in the Gulf deep water, etc. They’re pretty dedicated to keeping the long-run price in the $25-28/bbl range, allowing for short term spikes above and below that.

Next. Well, of course there’s control of the Iraqi fields themselves. This has two parts. The first, asked about above, is who decides how much oil comes out of the fields. The second is who profits from the production. Historically, Iraq itself (the state) has been the primary profiter of Iraqi oil, whilst French and Russian firms have been the main profiters from production and distribution. Is it a contention that the United States would actually take the oil money following a successful invasion? Or that the United States would encourage/force the new Iraq to award production contracts to American firms and that the French and Russians would sit there and allow it to happen? I’m just not buying that without some evidence. About the only U.S. oil firm I can see directly benefitting from an invasion is Halliburton – they have some technology for increasing production that no one else can match, and would logically get at least some contracts if new Iraq were to modernize production.

Last, for now. The big oil multinationals. Most of these guys are integrated at least from field to refinery, and some all the way to plastics facilities, gas stations, etc. So while their gathering operations would benefit from higher prices, their refineries and polyethylene plants and gas stations would benefit from lower upstream prices (when the price change is caused by supply push rather than demand pull). Since most of them are net producers of crude, I’m guessing they would mostly benefit from increased prices (and profit statments placed against oil prices seem to bear this out). But I’m open to the case that they want the lower prices that might come from increased Iraqi production.

So with that as some background, what is it? What, precisely is the oil interest that compels us to war? How does it work? Who benefits? I’m honestly interested to see the thinking here.

Dammit. Sam Stone stole my French and Russian thunder whilst I was composing.

Manhattan, as I tried to say above, perhaps not very well, while oil is a peripheral issue with Iraq, it is a factor. The collapse of Sadam’s regime, or its forcible removal, opens Iraqi oil fields to Western exploitation. Therein lies the possibility of gain. If, for instance, Texaco managed to obtain the concession for the development and sale of Iraqi oil don’t you suppose that might turn into a more profitable enterprise than surveying, drilling and pipelining Alaska oil in the Arctic slope. A new Iraqi government, be it a MacArthur-in-Japan type military government under the aegis of the US or a local dissident government under the aegis of the US, could be expected to look on Texaco (or some other Western oil company/companies) with some favor.