George W. Bush has Texas crude running in his veins, yet the word “oil” did not cross his lips in his Sept. 12 speech to the United Nations. Nor did Bush mention Osama bin Laden, the man he vowed to “hunt down” only a few months ago.
Instead, he delivered a tirade against Iraqi leader,Saddam Hussein. He offered no evidence to link Hussein to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and no proof that Iraq is producing or seeking to produce weapons of mass destruction. And, predictably, he had not a single word to say about Iraq’s 112 billion barrels of oil, ten percent of the world’s reserves, all of it nationalized.
Yet we know Bush, like Vice President Richard Cheney, is an oil man with a direct, personal interest in the tens of billions in profits to be reaped from the oil fields of the Middle East.
A year before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Harken Energy Corporation of Dallas, of which George W. Bush was a senior director (chair of the “ethics” committee), signed a contract with the government of Bahrain granting Harken exclusive rights to drill offshore near the island emirate.
It was an open secret that Harken, a small, struggling oil company, secured the deal only because of its tight links to the Bush family. George W. Bush sold off his 212,000 Harken shares just before the company announced deep losses. But Harken Energy still holds the contract with Bahrain.
Vice President Dick Cheney’s personal stake in Middle East oil is even more obvious. After the Gulf War, Cheney served as CEO of Halliburton, the world’s largest oil field equipment and development corporation. Cheney profited from the sale of oil pumps to Iraq through a subsidiary, Dresser Industries, which circumvented the U.S. blockade of Iraq by funneling the equipment through a French go-between. Just before Halliburton announced huge losses from asbestos liability, Cheney sold off his holdings, securing $37 million in personal profits.
So Bush’s claim that Saddam Hussein must be forcibly removed leaves open the question: Is this a war against terrorism or a war for oil?
Republican Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire, campaigning for reelection last April, told a crowd of Republicans that the U.S. should stop buying Iraqi oil and, instead, steal it. “Why don’t we just take his oil?” Smith bellowed. “Why buy it? Take it.”
Smith’s platform of oil larceny didn’t help him. He was defeated in the GOP primary by fellow Republican John Sununu, Jr. But Sununu did not challenge Smith’s call for seizing Iraqi oil fields.
The ultra-right Heritage Foundation features on its website an article by James A. Phillips, who writes, “Regardless of whether Iraqi involvement with [Osama] bin Laden’s network can be established conclusively … U.S. military forces should seize Iraq’s southern oil fields.”
S. Fred Singer, of the Hoover Institution, writing recently in Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times, openly ruminates on “a possible takeover” of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields, with proven reserves of 264 billion barrels, and ultimately retrievable reserves of a trillion barrels. That is a full 25 percent of the world’s oil reserves.
Singer ponders a scenario in which “the Saudi family loses control of the oil and its revenues … through internal revolt … or perhaps by a foreign power.” It would be, he writes, a war to “liberate the wells of Arabia.”
Under the headline, “In Iraqi War Scenario, Oil is Key Issue,” The Washington Post Sept. 15, reported, “A U.S.-led ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could open a bonanza for American oil companies long banished from Iraq, scuttling oil deals between Baghdad and Russia, France and other countries.”
Staffwriters Dan Morgan and David B. Ottaway quote former CIA director, R. James Woolsey, “France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we’ll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them.”
In short, Russia, France, and Britain will be granted “junior partner” status in dividing up the loot. The U.S. takeover could also mean that Iraq pulls out of OPEC, the Post writers suggest, a death blow to the efforts of oil-producing nations to win a fair price for their most vital resource.
It is all hush-hush. The State Department’s “Future of Iraq Group” does not list oil as a topic of discussion. An official of the National Security Council (could it be NSC Director Condoleeza Rice, a former board member of Chevron?) “declined to say whether oil had been discussed” in Bush’s private tete-a-tete with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Post reported.
Yet U.S. oil giants are already salivating over the prospect of shouldering aside Russia’s Lukoil to develop the 15-billion barrel West Qurna field in southern Iraq and are “already squabbling over the giant Kirkuk oil field which Arabs, Kurds and minority Turkmen tribesmen are eyeing in the event of Hussein’s fall. … companies such as ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco would almost assuredly play a role.”
They quote Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the U.S.-backed Iraqi National Congress, that he favors “creation of a U.S.-led consortium to develop Iraq’s oil fields.”
George Caffentzis, a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern Maine, who has written extensively on oil and the Middle East, told the World, “There is no doubt in my mind that a reversal of the nationalization of the oil industry that took place throughout the world in the 1970s is a very important aspect of the Bush administration’s policy.”
Most of the oil in the world, he added, remains nationalized, so privatization of Iraq’s huge oil fields could be a first step toward worldwide privatization of this vital resource.
“It should not be surprising that people who believe in neoliberal globalization should want to apply the same principle to the oil industry,” he said. “A U.S.-dominated Iraq would certainly forward that project.”
Takeover of Persian Gulf oil fields moved to center stage in July when The Washington Post leaked a story that the secretive Defense Policy Institute (DPI), headed by the notorious warhawk, Richard Perle, conducted a briefing at the Pentagon in which Laurent Murawiec branded Saudi Arabia as “the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent in the Middle East.”
Murawiec, a scholar at the Rand Corporation, charged that Saudi Arabia is “active at every level of the terror chain.” He called for giving the Saudis an ultimatum: “Stop backing terrorism or face seizure of its oil fields.”
The DPI briefing touched off speculation on whether Bush and Cheney consider the “road to Mecca to run through Baghdad.” In other words, removal of Saddam Hussein is only the first step in Bush’s endless war for oil.
The Bush administration hushed up this DPI briefing, protesting that Murawiec does not represent U.S. foreign policy and that the U.S.-Saudi “strategic partnership” remains rock solid.
But no one in the Arab and Muslim world interpreted it that way. The Arab-language satellite television network, Al Jazeera, dedicated its most popular talk show to the “explosive” briefing, charging that the Pentagon has drawn up a top secret contingency plan to “partition the kingdom … a plan to invade Saudi Arabia and set up a puppet regime in the oil-rich Eastern Province.”
Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi writer, commenting on the Pentagon plan in the Christian Science Monitor, charged that a U.S. puppet state “would supposedly guarantee U.S. oil supplies and shift U.S. troops away from the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.”
The Arab Daily, an English-language newspaper sponsored by the Saudi government, features on its website a column by Dr. Basim Abdullah Alim, headlined, “Enmity toward Islamic world.” Far from being an idle exercise, he charged, the DPI briefing “has been presented to the Pentagon as a comprehensive study on the future moves to be taken toward the region. The study was prepared at the request of the U.S. Defense Department. The explosive document … clearly shows a malice toward the Islamic world and exposes the real face of U.S. leaders and its institutions.”
Caffentzis wrote an illuminating article, “Oil and the Islamists,” for the New Internationalist Magazine last December. He describes a “hidden civil war within the oil-producing countries, from Algeria to Iran” that provides a context for the “brutal attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”
In 1998, he writes, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah invited the CEOs of U.S. oil companies to meet with him in Washington, D.C. According to Arab Studies Quarterly, Abdullah “asked the oil company executives to submit to him recommendations and suggestions about the role their companies could play in the exploration and development of both existing and new oil and gas fields.”
These recommendations were then submitted to the Saudi Supreme Council for Petroleum and Mineral Affairs in early 2000. Later that year, the Saudi royal family pushed through a new foreign investment law, permitting direct foreign investment in Saudi Arabia for the first time in 70 years. “Wholly owned foreign businesses will have the right to own land, sponsor their own employees and benefit from concessionary loans previously available only to Saudi companies,” Caffentzis writes. “Clearly, the ‘right to own land’ would be a red flag for anyone committed to the sacred character of the Arabian Peninsula. …This law constituted in effect, a NAFTA-like agreement between the Saudi monarchy and the U.S. and European oil companies.”
In May 2001, the Saudi monarchy took the next step, signing an agreement with ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Conoco and Enron for a $25 billon deal to develop natural gas in Saudi Arabia.
The Islamist movement views these incursions by foreign corporations protected by U.S. troops at military bases on the peninsula as a sacrilege to the Holy Land of Islam. It comes amid a drastic plunge in per capita income among the Saudi people, from $13,000 in 1983 to about $8,000 in 1993. While the elite continue to enjoy their lavish lifestyle, protected by the Pentagon, the masses are pushed deeper into poverty and unemployment, a source of growing anger and frustration directed at both the Saudi aristocracy and the U.S.
But part of the aristocracy, too, is in revolt against this devil’s bargain. Some of the oil revenue, Caffentzis writes, as well as billions of dollars in CIA covert funds, “financed and trained the very generation of dissidents who are now so violently turning against them.” The elite dynasties in both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia “must both be worried about family members who have been compromised by their past connections to the networks they now claim to be responsible for the event of Sept. 11.”
This includes, he charges, the family of George W. Bush. He cites a report in The Wall Street Journal of Jan. 28 that “George Bush Senior works for the bin Laden family business in Saudi Arabia through the Carlyle Group, an international consulting firm.” This may explain why George W. Bush did not mention bin Laden in his U.N. speech. In the view of oil men like Bush and Cheney, and their far right supporters, a direct U.S. takeover of Middle East oil fields is an attractive option that removes the middle man. Why share the loot?
If the Bush administration succeeds in its war against Iraq, the first item on the agenda of the U.S. occupation force will be nullification of Iraq’s Public Law 80, the most important achievement of the 1958 revolution. It prohibits “concessions to any foreign company” and mandated the transfer of “all matters connected with oil to the Iraq National Oil Company.” It laid the basis for the nationalization of all Iraq’s oil fields, pipelines, refineries, and tankers and the use of the revenues to benefit the Iraqi people.
But Anthony Sampson, author of “Seven Sisters: An Investigation of Oil and Politics in the Middle East,” warns that the Bush-Cheney plan for permanent military garrisons, not only in Iraq but also in Saudi Arabia, is fraught with danger. “A permanent [U.S.] military presence in both Saudi Arabia and Iraq,” he writes, “would present the greatest possible provocation to the rest of the Islamic world, which includes most of the other crucial oil producers on which America depends.”
Tim Wheeler is the editor of the People’s Weekly World.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org