No Appeasement for Oil

President George W. Bush wants a war with Saddam Hussein in order to secure control of the vast Iraqi oil fields. This is a line of reasoning that we often hear from those on the appeasement-oriented left. If one really believes that the administration is subservient to the whims of “Big Oil,” it may seem an enticing argument. Unfortunately, it is logically backward. Given that Hussein’s full compliance with U.N. weapons inspectors is implausible—making a confrontation exceedingly likely—it would be useful to debunk this “No Blood For Oil” myth once and for all.

Were increasing the profits of U.S. energy companies actually President Bush’s driving motivation, he would not be preparing the American military for a massive operation. The reason ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil are currently unable to tap the wealth of resources in Iraq is because of the U.N.-imposed economic sanctions that have been in place since Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The easiest way to get at Iraqi oil, therefore, is to end sanctions. Peter Beinart, editor of the New Republic magazine, illustrated this point in early October. “Attacking Saddam,” he wrote, “…entails huge financial costs, risks American lives, and could prompt civil war in precisely those parts of Iraq where oil companies want to drill. Lifting sanctions would far more easily produce the same result—since it is sanctions that have partially prevented Iraq from importing the equipment that it needs to boost oil production.” There are serious risks, moreover, that a war could lead to the devastation of many petroleum-rich fields, or that Hussein could torch his own reserves before he is conquered. At the very least, a pre-emptive U.S.-U.K. assault might cause a sharp spike in oil prices. It seems curious to argue, then, that Bush’s Iraq policy is compelled solely by the lure of petrodollars.

In fact, it is the three permanent U.N. Security Council members that generally oppose regime change by military intervention—Russia, France and China—whose decision-making is heavily guided by the oil factor. Each of these nations has existing stakes in the Iraqi oil fields, and would thus benefit from Hussein retaining power. Indeed, soon after last Friday’s disarmament resolution was approved, Russian, French and Chinese diplomats issued a joint statement claiming that it did not automatically permit the use of force should Hussein breach its terms or choose to delay the inspectors’ access. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was quick to maintain, “We have excluded from the resolution material that is unacceptable to Russia,” adding that “it does not include the automatic use of force” and it “confirms the international community’s commitment to Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Ivanov also remarked that “an overall settlement of the Iraq question … in particular includes the lifting of sanctions.”

Therein lies Russia’s—and France and China’s—fundamental quarrel with American strategy. Whereas Bush is preoccupied with removing a vile dictatorship before it acquires nuclear capability, they are more concerned with removing the U.N. sanctions. Over the past 12 years, energy executives from the three countries have negotiated provisional agreements with Hussein to begin major oil development projects on the day that sanctions are finally revoked.

Back in 1997, the Russian companies Lukoil, NK Zarubezhneft and Machinoimport signed a 23-year, $3.5-billion contract guaranteeing them access to the colossal West Qurna oil field—which may hold up to 15 billion barrels—once sanctions are lifted. Last week, the Iraqi newspaper Al-Zawra indicated that another Russian firm had solidified an arrangement to drill wells south of Basra.

A state-owned French company, TotalFinaElf, meanwhile, has recently been maneuvering to gain exploration rights in Iraq’s Majnoon field, which has projected reserves of 20-30 billion barrels. In addition, China National Petroleum Corporation is contracted to repair and develop sections of the Rumaila production zone, which was badly damaged during the 1991 Gulf War. These agreements, of course, might not necessarily be honored by a post-Hussein Iraqi government. The extermination of Baghdad’s totalitarian despot could thereby mean less revenue and less influence for energy companies in all three nations.

Anti-war protesters may contend that the Bush administration is only pushing for regime change out of narrow economic self-interest. But if they are upset with countries whose foreign policy in Iraq is being determined by petroleum investments, the protesters should direct their ire toward Europe and Asia. Hussein has used lucrative oil contracts with Russian, French and Chinese businesses as effective diplomatic weapons in his attempt to stave off a U.S.-led invasion.

Thankfully for both America and the world, President Bush is not a petro-hungry imperialist, but rather a strong leader with the courage and moral clarity to eschew those who seek oil money through appeasement. Despite continued opposition from what New York Times columnist William Safire has aptly dubbed the “Paris-Moscow-Beijing axis of greed,” the United States will soon be forced to topple a lethally-armed megalomaniac and liberate the Iraqi people.

Duncan M. Currie ’04, a Crimson editor, is a history concentrator in Leverett House.