COOK: War for Oil?

Mar 162003
Authors: Oliver Cook

Amidst the fears and anxiety surrounding the potential war with Iraq, the question has arisen as to what role oil is playing in bringing this conflict to pass.

A lot of people throw the accusation around that the war is all about oil, benefiting a few wealthy Americans and Europeans who are using their influence in the United States government to tap into the lucrative oil industry.

As nice as it would be to believe that there is a conspiracy made up of the super wealthy, international relations and security issues are usually a little more complex than that. The fact is the war in Iraq cannot pay for itself, much less act as a profit making adventure, due to the enormous costs of running the war and the rebuilding of Iraq.

If the war is not going to be fought over oil, or the control of oil as Bush promised it would not be, then is there some other way that oil is involved in the decision to invade Iraq? Definitely.

One theory proposed is that following a successful United States invasion of Iraq, there will be weeping changes to Iraq’s political and economic system, modeling it after the United States and other democratic, capitalist states.

This will involve the deregulation and privatization of its oil industry, causing a drop in the sale price, effectively undercutting the artificially controlled oil prices set by OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries). By selling Iraqi oil cheaper than any other nation in the region, OPEC’s stranglehold on global oil prices is effectively shattered, delivering a geopolitical deathblow to one of the West’s most stubborn adversaries.

Even though Iraqi oil will not be directly controlled by the United States, free market reforms for Iraqi oil will help United States interests abroad. The same is true for United States interests in Central Asia where the long anticipated Afghanistan pipeline project is proceeding after years of delay. This pipeline will run oil from the Caspian sea region (Turkmenistan in particular) through Afghanistan and into Pakistan. From there it can be shipped everywhere in the world, again lowering oil prices and undercutting any leverage that “monocrop” oil producing states might have over the United States.

In addition to rendering United States adversaries harmless, this indirect control over Mideast and Central Asian oil exportation potentially serves a second purpose: Box in Iran. As Iran has been labeled, for one reason or another, part of the “Axis of Evil”, it stands to reason the United States should try to surround it with countries that are more favorable to United States rather than Iranian foreign policy.

Isolation and the loss of power from oil reforms (Oil makes up around 85 percent of Iran’s exports) will serve to either a.) Speed up the process of democratization, which has been occurring for some time, or b.) Eliminate Iran as a meaningful regional competitor.

With the oil economy under control, the pacification of the Middle East becomes much easier than as it stands currently. For the first time in decades the United States will have leverage over this region, forcing its compliance in the “War on Terror”, economic and humanitarian reform issues, and may even lead to a democratic domino effect as illegitimate dictators are swept away by a tide of reform.

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