This Looming War Isn't About Chemical Warheads
or Human Rights: It's About Oil
I was sitting on the floor of an old concrete house in the suburbs of Amman this week, stuffing into my mouth vast heaps of lamb and boiled rice soaked in melted butter. The elderly, bearded, robed men from Maan – the most Islamist and disobedient city in Jordan – sat around me, plunging their hands into the meat and soaked rice, urging me to eat more and more of the great pile until I felt constrained to point out that we Brits had eaten so much of the Middle East these past 100 years that we were no longer hungry. There was a muttering of prayers until an old man replied. "The Americans eat us now," he said.
Through the open door, where rain splashed on the paving stones, a sharp east wind howled in from the east, from the Jordanian and Iraqi deserts. Every man in the room believed President Bush wanted Iraqi oil. Indeed, every Arab I've met in the past six months believes that this – and this alone – explains his enthusiasm for invading Iraq. Many Israelis think the same. So do I. Once an American regime is installed in Baghdad, our oil companies will have access to 112 billion barrels of oil. With unproven reserves, we might actually end up controlling almost a quarter of the world's total reserves. And this forthcoming war isn't about oil?
The US Department of Energy announced at the beginning of this month that by 2025, US oil imports will account for perhaps 70 per cent of total US domestic demand. (It was 55 per cent two years ago.) As Michael Renner of the Worldwatch Institute put it bleakly this week, "US oil deposits are increasingly depleted, and many other non-Opec fields are beginning to run dry. The bulk of future supplies will have to come from the Gulf region." No wonder the whole Bush energy policy is based on the increasing consumption of oil. Some 70 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves are in the Middle East. And this forthcoming war isn't about oil?
Take a look at the statistics on the ratio of reserve to oil production – the number of years that reserves of oil will last at current production rates – compiled by Jeremy Rifkin in Hydrogen Economy. In the US, where more than 60 per cent of the recoverable oil has already been produced, the ratio is just 10 years, as it is in Norway. In Canada, it is 8:1. In Iran, it is 53:1, in Saudi Arabia 55:1, in the United Arab Emirates 75:1. In Kuwait, it's 116:1. But in Iraq, it's 526:1. And this forthcoming war isn't about oil?
Even if Donald Rumsfeld's hearty handshake with Saddam Hussein in 1983 – just after the Great Father Figure had started using gas against his opponents – didn't show how little the present master of the Pentagon cares about human rights or crimes against humanity, along comes Joost Hilterman's analysis of what was really going on in the Pentagon back in the late 1980s.
Hilterman, who is preparing a devastating book on the US and Iraq, has dug through piles of declassified US government documents – only to discover that after Saddam gassed 6,800 Kurdish Iraqis at Halabja (that's well over twice the total of the World Trade Centre dead of 11 September 2001) the Pentagon set out to defend Saddam by partially blaming Iran for the atrocity.
A newly declassified State Department document proves that the idea was dreamed up by the Pentagon – who had all along backed Saddam – and states that US diplomats received instructions to push the line of Iran's culpability, but not to discuss details. No details, of course, because the story was a lie. This, remember, followed five years after US National Security Decision Directive 114 – concluded in 1983, the same year as Rumsfeld's friendly visit to Baghdad – gave formal sanction to billions of dollars in loan guarantees and other credits to Baghdad. And this forthcoming war is about human rights?
Back in 1997, in the years of the Clinton administration, Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and a bunch of other right-wing men – most involved in the oil business – created the Project for the New American Century, a lobby group demanding "regime change" in Iraq. In a 1998 letter to President Clinton, they called for the removal of Saddam from power. In a letter to Newt Gingrich, who was then Speaker of the House, they wrote that "we should establish and maintain a strong US military presence in the region, and be prepared to use that force to protect our vital interests [sic] in the Gulf – and, if necessary, to help remove Saddam from power".
The signatories of one or both letters included Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, now Rumsfeld's Pentagon deputy, John Bolton, now under-secretary of state for arms control, and Richard Armitage, Colin Powell's under-secretary at the State Department – who called last year for America to take up its "blood debt" with the Lebanese Hizbollah. They also included Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defence, currently chairman of the defence science board, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the former Unocal Corporation oil industry consultant who became US special envoy to Afghanistan – where Unocal tried to cut a deal with the Taliban for a gas pipeline across Afghan territory – and who now, miracle of miracles, has been appointed a special Bush official for – you guessed it – Iraq.
The signatories also included our old friend Elliott Abrams, one of the most pro-Sharon of pro-Israeli US officials, who was convicted for his part in the Iran-Contra scandal. Abrams it was who compared Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon – held "personally responsible" by an Israeli commission for the slaughter of 1,700 Palestinian civilians in the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacre – to (wait for it) Winston Churchill. So this forthcoming war – the whole shooting match, along with that concern for "vital interests" (ie oil) in the Gulf – was concocted five years ago, by men like Cheney and Khalilzad who were oil men to their manicured fingertips.
In fact, I'm getting heartily sick of hearing the Second World War being dug up yet again to justify another killing field. It's not long ago that Bush was happy to be portrayed as Churchill standing up to the appeasement of the no-war-in Iraq brigade. In fact, Bush's whole strategy with the odious and Stalinist-style Korea regime – the "excellent" talks which US diplomats insist they are having with the Dear Leader's Korea which very definitely does have weapons of mass destruction – reeks of the worst kind of Chamberlain-like appeasement. Even though Saddam and Bush deserve each other, Saddam is not Hitler. And Bush is certainly no Churchill. But now we are told that the UN inspectors have found what might be the vital evidence to go to war: 11 empty chemical warheads that just may be 20 years old.
The world went to war 88 years ago because an archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo. The world went to war 63 years ago because a Nazi dictator invaded Poland. But for 11 empty warheads? Give me oil any day. Even the old men sitting around the feast of mutton and rice would agree with that.
Robert Fisk is an award winning foreign correspondent for The Independent (UK), where this article first appeared. He is the author of Pity Thy Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon (The Nation Books, 2002 edition)