Let's Come Clean on the Real Reason We’re in Iraq
January 30, 2007
A veteran of the U.S. Army who served as a Sergeant with the 18th Military Intelligence Battalion during the first Persian Gulf War discusses his views on the current war in Iraq.
It’s been said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. With that in mind, I think we should all pay close attention to the fact that so far 2007 is starting to look a lot like 2003. The Bush administration is once again in overdrive attempting to sell the idea of committing even more financial and human resources to a war in Iraq with no clear military objectives or defined timeline for withdrawal. Furthermore, the administration has refused to establish our reasons for involvement in Iraq with any degree of certainty and continues to discredit the intelligence and trust of the American people by dogmatically insisting that real progress is being made despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.
While the President has steadfastly claimed that we would ensure revenues from Iraqi oil production are shared by all Iraqi citizens, details of proposed legislation drafted with strong Bush administration involvement have been leaked which include a requirement that U.S. and British oil companies garner up to 75% of the profits from Iraqi oil production. More information on this highly under-reported story can be found in a recent article published by the UK newspaper, The Independent.
At one time I believed that oil was NOT the primary motivator for both of the recent wars in Iraq. News of the hydrocarbon law now working its way through the Iraqi government and other realizations have formed the culmination of an ongoing foreign policy education that began for me when I joined the U.S. Army in the summer of 1989.
To this day I remain proud of my years of service and the numerous and immensely valuable experiences I gained during those years. This was a time of my life that continues to shape the person I am today. It was a great time to wear the uniform – respect for our military was near an all-time high. The communist governments of the former Soviet-bloc were dissolving, and westerners celebrated images of new-found freedoms being embraced by millions in Eastern Europe. Simultaneously, I felt we were witnessing a social and political leap forward in the knowledge that the Cold War had been won – without firing a single shot across the infamous Fulda Gap. Shortly thereafter, the world watched as our military forces responded to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait with resolve, professionalism, and unparalleled military expertise.
The performance of our uniformed services throughout our involvement in the Iraq conflicts has been exemplary. I continue to believe that it is in our national interest to maintain what has become the most powerful military force in the history of the world. However, it took the failures of political leadership that have led to the fiasco of our current state of affairs in Iraq for me to fully comprehend the extent of our misguided foreign policy over the past several decades. Through a failed U.S. energy policy, and a related strategic foreign policy, a procession of Presidential administrations and congressional leaders has forced the United States into the trap we’re in today. Our military forces have been over-committed, over-stretched and de-moralized. Their ongoing presence in Iraq has only made that country more unstable and fueled the creation of stronger anti-western, anti-democratic movements both in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Early in 2003 I supported the President’s arguments for a full-scale invasion of Iraq – based upon what I thought I knew at the time. What I thought I knew was that our intelligence community had credible reports of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, and that the “Powell doctrine” had proven its effectiveness during the first Persian Gulf War 12 years prior. I believed at the time that we should not wait for another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil if we had identified a credible threat – and furthermore that if we were going to involve ourselves militarily we had better go in with overwhelming force, get the job done, and get out. The testimony of Secretary of State Colin Powell before the United Nations was probably the single most important event that solidified my support for the war at the time. Secretary Powell was and is someone who fully understands what it takes to plan, execute and win a major military offensive. Powell’s extensive military experience and track record for leadership assured me that he would not regard the men and women of our armed forces as pawns on a chessboard by casually committing them to a major conflict unnecessarily, or without clear strategic objectives and milestones for a successful conclusion.
In 1991 and again in 2003 I dismissed the argument that our invasions of Iraq were motivated by oil on the basis that our military had not and would not expropriate Iraq’s oil production capabilities. How can it be an oil war when we leave these resources in the hands of Iraqi people? The answer, I later learned, was staring me in the face. As any savvy business leader will tell you, follow the money. It isn’t in the best interest of the Bush administration to occupy Iraq, militarily seize control of Iraqi oil fields and restart production for profits that flow directly to the federal government. Doing so would exclude the most influential and powerful benefactor of that administration – the petroleum industry. It’s much more advantageous from a business perspective, and a political perspective to pave the way for private industry to enter the scene shortly after military operations have stabilized, invest in and begin reaping the profits from local oil production. While I’m certain this process has taken much longer than the administration would have preferred, the Iraqi hydrocarbon law is obviously intended to do just that. Create substantially more revenues for your special interest constituents, and see more dollars returned in the form of campaign and other political contributions – call it return on policy investment.
Our strategic commitment to the Middle East makes much more sense when considered against the backdrop of a supply-side driven U.S. energy policy. Our current involvement in the region was initially linked to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and to the claimed presence of WMDs. After both of these arguments were proven false, the purpose of the invasion was later promoted as “liberating the Iraqi people” – hardly an argument that would have stood up to public scrutiny in early 2003. However, it’s worth noting that within Iraq’s boundaries lie 112 billion barrels of known oil reserves, most of which are said to be fully mapped and can be relatively inexpensively extracted.
Waging this war has proven enormously costly; conservative estimates place the cost at more than $1.2 trillion. This figure simply obliterates early administration claims of an expected price tag in the $5 billion range, and doesn’t even attempt to place a value on the now more than 3,000 American lives lost to date. The President’s proposed troop surge will only add more to the total cost in economic terms and in American lives. That seems to me a ridiculously high price to pay for the privilege of filling up at $2 per gallon – and for the rescued pride of a President out of touch with public sentiment both in the U.S. and abroad.
It’s high time that we set a deadline for withdrawing our military forces from this quagmire and focus our precious economic and human resources where they can have the greatest impact. We can do so only through policy initiatives that ultimately reduce our dependence on foreign oil, instead of squandering our military strength and readiness on conflicts of dubious national security interest driven by a failed strategy to ensure its abundant supply.
Sr. Marketing Manager
Major San Diego-based Telecommunications Technology Company
U.S. Army, 1989-1994
Sergeant, 18th Military Intelligence Battalion (1991-1994)
David Latham from CA
2/1/2007 12:52:49 AM
Dear Paul Bain,
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I have heard nothing of this on the major networks. Lately a lot of veterans have been speaking out against the war and the reasons are becoming more and more clear. This war is a resource grab by the Bush Administration and the administrations lies to the contrary are becoming too obvious to be overlooked.
Oil for Iraqis. Yea right.
Jeff Griswold from CA
2/1/2007 11:03:21 AM
There are an estimated 20 million living US Veterans. I, being one of these, take umbrage that the opinions of a handful of veterans who are against the war represent that 20 million member body. And furthermore, even if they did, so what? More than 50% of American's believe that aliens have visited earth, I guess it must be true. I suppoort Paul's ability to share his point of view, but please don't attribute it to veterans as a whole.
Chris Wolfe from CA
2/1/2007 11:18:24 AM
I appreciate hearing how Paul evolved his thought process over the last five years. For all the stated reasons we are in Iraq (i.e. despot leaders, bad regime, support of terrorism), we should have been in Cambodia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and most recently Darfur to name a few. The only reason we are in Iraq is to keep a military presence in an area that is critical to our country’s much needed oil supplies. For all the talk of the area falling into chaos if we should leave, one only needs to remember South Vietnam. They are still communist but yet we are signing trade agreements with our old enemy. Seems ideology yields to economic benefit or perhaps economic benefit is our nation’s true ideology.
Ron Bengtson from ID
2/1/2007 12:21:33 PM
I am a Vietnam veteran. I don't see a similarity with Vietnam because Vietnam did not have natural resources that we depend upon. When we pulled out of Vietnam it left them poor. If we pull out of the Middle East, we will continue financing the Jihad movement... unless the USA and Europe and Japan, etc. find alternatives to oil for transportation fuels.
I also want to say that I don't think the motivation for attacking Iraq was a conspiracy. Dick Cheney was open about his views. He sincerely believes we need have oil to continue our way of life... he believes oil and energy are one and the same. The Cheney/Bush administration has refused to see the potential of alternatives to oil.
Many people who once shared the Cheney/Bush worldview are changing their thinking, like you have.
Paul Bain from CA
2/1/2007 2:52:06 PM
Thanks for all of these comments. Addressing them roughly in order I'd first like to say that it is not my intent to generalize or project my own opinions onto my fellow veterans and I respect that not all of them will share my perspectives. I offer these views up solely as my own and felt them worth sharing for a couple of key reasons:
1) While Vice President Cheney has in the past been open about his views on US energy and by extension oil policy, he and everyone else in the Bush administration have consistently refused to acknowledge that oil had anything to do with our invasion of Iraq. This continues even after their initial justifications for the war were openly proven to be false. I find this to be an unconscionable example of political hubris and Cheney is the worst offender - see his recent interview with Wolf Blitzer for more evidence.
2) I also wanted to promote the idea that it's not inconsistent to advocate a powerful military while at the same time opposing the war in Iraq. I much prefer a world where the US (as opposed to the nations that Chris mentions above) has the ability to project force anywhere on the planet. However, with that power comes a great deal of responsibilty to Americans both in and out of uniform. We have to address the root cause here and stop painting ourselves into a foreign policy corner that is exacting too high a price in terms of American lives and dollars while only increasing our dependence on foreign oil producers and financing groups who actually pose a genuine threat to our national security.
Ron Bengtson from ID
2/2/2007 3:12:53 PM
I get what you are saying. I think you have a good take on the issue; and I know Chris gets it. But how do we help America to get it?
The real problem, in my opinion, is public apathy.
People hear talk about Bush/Cheney leading us into a war for oil, and then they become outraged and jump on the conspiracy band-wagon, believing oil is the only reason we are in the Middle East. Too often the reaction turns into a “Hate Bush/Cheney” movement, rather than a pro-energy independence movement.
The American people have zero tolerance for lines at the gas station, and won’t allow an increase of gasoline tax. American apathy and indulgence has allowed oil dependence to grow. So I think we should blame ourselves, the American people, for the U.S. Military being in the Middle East.
Vice President Cheney believes U.S. Military power and economic strength need oil... he sincerely believes that. I don’t think it is a conspiracy. He does not believe alternatives to oil are realistic. And the American public will not allow drilling for the estimated 100 billion or so barrels of oil off the USA coasts. Cheney knows his political enemies will say greed is his only motivate. So, he does what all politicians do, he substitutes a noble picture for his motives.
I am saying this, not to defend Cheney or Bush, but because apathy too easily turns into political scapegoating. And, I am not suggesting you are doing that. I am warning that it too often is the case. Scapegoating then becomes the focus and energy independence gets pushed to the back burner once again.
You advocate a powerful military and I agree with you on that, but how we are going to provide fuel for the Military? I don’t think corn or soybeans alone will do it. Take a look at this link: Pentagon Plans Major Alternative Fuel Buys
And, this 22 page .PDF document titled: OSD Clean Fuels Initiative (downloads 1Mb file)
Thanks Chris for hosting this discussion.
Paul Bain from CA
2/6/2007 12:05:44 PM
Thanks for your comments Ron. I think you’re absolutely on the right line of questioning here. How do we build awareness of this significant political and economic issue, and then get a majority of Americans to take action?
I tend to believe that we have to take steps that attempt to reflect the total economic costs of our energy consumption habits to make the general population take notice, both at the pump and elsewhere. This is one reason that I think the $1 per gallon “war tax” that Chris has proposed would do a lot toward linking our strategic interests in the Middle East with our national energy policy in the minds of American consumers.
Additionally, I think setting honest and realistic alternatives on the table would go a long way. For example, the President could have used his recent State of the Union address to declare that our society has a choice to make. We could continue our current consumption habits and begin aggressively pursuing our domestic energy sources in order to free our national economy from the political instability of the Middle East. This would mean a lot more oil platforms lining American coasts, more oil shale mining operations in several western states, more exploration of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and continued proliferation of greenhouse gases. Or we can turn our focus to energy efficiency and conservation while taking consistent and measured steps toward replacing fossil fuels as our primary energy source within a reasonable timeframe. Once we can get the real issues and alternatives out in the open, I have confidence that the vast majority of Americans will make the right choices.
Thanks as well for including the links on the U.S. military’s research of alternative fuels. I’ve also become aware research efforts underway inside the Defense Department to explore the development of electric, hybrid and fuel cell technology for tactical vehicles. Interestingly, solving the current challenges around fuel cell technology in particular would provide advantages to the military on several fronts, including eliminating their dependence on foreign fuel sources, and fielding vehicles that are considerably stealthier on the battlefield due to lower noise, exhaust and heat emissions. While fuel cell technology or the alternative fuels discussed in the articles you referenced do not appear to be economically viable in the near-term, I’m hopeful that these R&D; efforts will act as a catalyst for their eventual adaptation to industry and consumer applications.
Thanks again for your comments.
J. Chernut from CO
2/8/2007 11:28:11 AM
Does anybody realize that Iraq supplies only 5% of the United States crude oil? The US supplies 40% of our own oil. The leading countries from from which we import are from Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia Nigeria and Venezuela.
Chris Wolfe from CA
2/8/2007 2:25:39 PM
We all realize that Iraq is a limited oil supplier today and it has been documented on previous editorials and in the UC Berkeley study posted on this site. Having a military presence in the Middle East is a way of guaranteeing current and future supplies as well as showing other nations in the area the lengths we will go to ensure these supplies. The battle being waged today between ourselves and the developing world (e.g. China and India) is about future supplies and Iraq is near the top in untapped reserves.