Tom Ferguson: Oil-Soaked Politics – Secret U.K. Docs on Iraq

By Thomas Ferguson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is the author of many books and articles, including Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems. Cross posted from New Deal 2.0

This just in: big oil companies and government ministers had discussions one year before invasion.

Revolution in the Middle East, nuclear meltdown in Japan, war in Libya, the U.S. budget crisis, the looming problems of the Eurozone — some days it’s all just too much. But today there’s something no one can afford to ignore: The Independent, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, broke a story that no one, no matter how jaded, can afford to ignore. In a nutshell, the story buries forever all claims that the US, the UK, and other governments did not have oil on their minds as they prepared to invade Iraq.

The story reports on a forthcoming book that draws on more than a thousand secret government documents. The excerpts the paper prints detailing meetings between the UK government and British oil companies in the run up to the war are devastating. They demonstrate that all the denials in London and Washington that policymakers were not concerned about oil as they invaded were as false as the famous cover story about weapons of mass destruction.

The passages quoted in The Independent show that all the governments were negotiating over rights to oil long before the invasion and that they were working closely with their companies. But it is impossible from a single newspaper article to assess the full extent of oil’s role in precipitating the invasion of Iraq. The book, obviously, will need a careful review; presumably the author realizes that he will need to make the materials he drew upon available on some website. But enough has already been revealed to make a compelling case for a Congressional committee to demand that all the relevant U.S. government documents now be revealed. Ever since a court ordered the release of some government documents in response to a suit Judicial Watch filed under the Freedom of Information Act, we have known that Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force was reviewing documents on Iraqi oil – well before the attack on 9/11. See here, for example.

It’s time the rest of the story came out — not because it is history, but because it is not. The U.S. is still in Iraq. Major decisions about the continuing presence of U.S. troops there loom just ahead. The major U.S. media have done little or nothing to investigate the story, though journalists working the U.K., notably Greg Palast, produced excellent reports on the subject. The endless chain of books about the Green Zone and corruption has not really gotten to the heart of the matter. As the U.S. deliberates about its next steps in Iraq, it is time somebody does.

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  1. readerOfTeaLeaves

    After nearly ten years of watching what appear to be resource wars branded and marketed as the ‘War on Terror’, it’s about time someone started coming up with the documents.

    1. nonclassical

      People could have paid attention to Greg Palast all along-Greg met with a Mr. Carroll (in London), CEO of Shell Oil, prior to Iraq invasion-was told in interview Carroll turned down Bushit plan to sell Shell off Iraqi oil-J.Paul Bremer.

      Carroll stated Shell didn’t want to purchase oilwells on perpetual fire, AND Shell had made more $$$$ than ever, with

      this, several weeks prior to invasion, frozen out of corporate media.

      1. john

        The great thing about “freedom of the press” in the US is that the story is always there, whether Palast, McClatchy, Furgeson, Black, Bloomburg or The Rolling Stone. It is just that the “serious” information flow gatekeepers at Pravda (thank you LS) and the the People’s Daily (NYT) will drown these stories in oceans of melted velveeta to throw all but the sturdiest swimmers off the scent.

  2. Blurtman

    So what happens when those soldiers with missing limbs, half a skull, severe burns and other debillitating injuries realize that they were not defending our freedom, but defending the oil companies’ rights to plunder? And if you kill people for their natural resources, even if you were just following orders, are you a war criminal?

    1. Francois T

      Most worrisome for some “elites” are not the wounded, but their comrades who came back physically healthy with all the skills to kill that a modern Army can teach.

      A few of them are bound to become consumed with an extreme desire of retribution for such lies and deceit that destroyed so many lives.

      Those who plotted this war for oil better pray their names do not come up publicly.

      Sweet dreams…REMFs!

  3. Francois T

    Yet another occasion to be treated to the “Look Forward Not Backward” bullshit?

    If torture and war crimes was not enough for prosecutions, don’t count on a Congressional Commission of Inquiry. There are too many jackals and asshats like Peter J Wallinson around DC that need to be removed from the premisses first.

    1. nonclassical

      war crimes have no “statute of limitations” as Pinochet found, as will will Obama, for protecting exposed by Wikileaks.

      General Janet Karpinski is on docket in Germany, prime witness (oversaw Iraqi prisons including Abu-Ghraib) AGAINST Bushitters…

  4. kingbadger

    “Presidential hopeful Donald Trump said if he were the President of the United States, he would take at least $1.5 trillion worth of oil from Iraq.”

    None of this is shocking to anyone who knows how the world works, but what is interesting to me is how Chinese and Russian oil companies were happy to pick up contracts for Iraq oil (I think PetroChina got the first contract along with buddy BP in the middle of 2009). China and Russia can be “against” these pre-ordained invasions and look sensible in the face of the carnage, while still getting contracts.

    Gung-ho Sarkozy will definitely be up for an attack on Iran, so all it needs is for the Chinese and Russians to “look the other way,” perhaps doing secret deals with USA/Britain to guarantee contracts to Chinese and Russian oil companies in Iran in exchange for Chinese/Russian passive acceptance of an invasion.

    Rather than have a Cold War for control of the world’s energy supplies/profits, the Five Permanent Members of the UNSC maybe prefer to help each other out and share things equally.

  5. Tao Jonesing

    I wish the essay originally had been posted somewhere other than New Deal 2.0. While there is a lot of good work being posted up at that site, the sponsorship makes it suspect. I view New Deal 2.0 as just another neoliberal front organization. Even if Mr. Ferguson truly believes in what he says, the longer he associates with neoliberal institutions, the more likely he will be co-opted.

    I didn’t need any documents to confirm that the Iraq invasion was a total sham (and shame), so I’m not going to waste any emotion over that issue now. There are a lot of really important things happening right now that we should not be distracted from. By all means, let’s throw people in jail for what they did in lying us into the Iraq war, but I refuse to tear my attention and efforts away from dealing with the tragedy that is still unfolding domestically.

    1. Foppe

      While I can accept your choice of priorities, have you read The Shock Doctrine? Because apart from showing how the way in which the “rebuilding” of Iraq has proceeded is only the latest instantiation of how the Neoliberals are trying to destroy all social institutions that would prevent them from extracting all wealth everywhere, Klein also shows what role Neoliberal thinking played in the “rebuilding” (if you can call it that) of NOLA after Katrina.
      Because it seems to me that “austerity” is just another form of “shock” (and sadly, austerity is deemed politically acceptable/viable in the West) which can serve as a cover for further reforms; that is, as an excuse for further privatization, public-private partnerships, gentrification of the nicer parts of Benton Harbor, etc. (I’m sure they will be less ruthless about it in the US than in Iraq/New Orleans, but mostly the same things will probably be tried in the US.) Focusing on what’s happening at home is fine, but consider that the enemy you face at home has already done a lot of things all over the world, so that reading about their exploits there might give you a better idea of what to expect.

      1. Rex

        “I’m sure they will be less ruthless about it in the US than in Iraq/New Orleans”

        You do know that New Orleans is part of the US.

        So far it seems that they own almost all the mind control machines and have most of the politicians, election processes and judges under control. All signs are pointing toward a neo-country around our serf-like futures.

        1. Foppe

          I know NOLA is part of the US yes. However, the reason why they got away with their behavior there is, I suspect, in no small part due to the fact that there is a strong perception that the way things worked there “wasn’t efficient” or whatever, so that it was fairly easy to cast the way in which the reconstruction/reallocation of land in favor of property developers etc. as an improvement over the old situation. Because people obviously have no right not to ‘optimally utilize’ the land they own — for instance by choosing to live close to the French quarter on property that would be more profitable if it was developed by some hotel owner. (So basically for the same reason that was given for genociding the American Indian population: they weren’t exploiting their natural resources destructively enough.) But the only criticisms I’ve seen of how the post-Katrina rebuilding effort was handled was that it was a “fiasco of government incompetence”, with little to no attention paid to the fact that the people doing the rebuilding weren’t government agencies at all, nor to the fact that quite a bit of property changed hands, and that this was helped by strategically not rebuilding homes in areas that could be made more profitable by RE developers.

          1. ambrit

            Dear Foppe;
            As someone who lived through the “Katrina Experience” on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, I can indeed attest to the “syndromes of servitude” at work there, even today.
            By manipulating the building codes and home insurance requirements and availability, the Gulf Coast of Mississippi is indeed in the midst of an agressive gentrification programme. Also of interest are continuous suspicions and rumours concerning the eventual destination of funds “spent” for the clean up of the Coast right after the hurricane. Given the overt culture of “Paternalism” in place in so much of the Deep South today, is it any wonder that thoughtful people worry about the export of this mind set to the rest of the country when Haley Barbour engineered the imposition of Bush 43 in 2000?
            By the way, all you Carpetbaggers remember to fly your Battle Standard this Confederate Memorial Day! It’s a State Holiday down here!

      2. nonclassical

        Now that you’ve read Klein’s important work, read William Blum’s true history of CIA “Killing Hope” to see how all this was perpetrated in 70’s and 80’s South and Central America-including assassinations of democratically elected
        leaders..(and of course resource extraction based upon)-B.P.
        was originally ANGLO-PERSIAN OIL CO.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      The Roosevelt Institute is most decidedly NOT neoliberal, although the few remaining non-fauxgressive organizations are under all sorts of pressure to move to the right.

      1. Tao Jonesing

        I popped over to New Deal 2.0 and took a look. I stand corrected. Based on the “brain trusters,” it is not a neoliberal front.

  6. Graveltongue

    This article should confirm beyond any doubt that we are sending our young men and women into a war that is there purely and simply to protect the future of the large oil companies. The next coffin they bring back should have a BP flag draped over it because that is why they died, trying to protect oil company interests. Not some noble cause, not to protect our ‘freedoms’. This is a resource war with only a small elite group collecting the spoils and no amount of grand standing or propaganda should detract from the simple and horrific truth of what our government is prepared to do to its citizens. Be afraid, be very afraid.

      1. Graveltongue

        Yeah I know, it’s been happening since the first biped hurled a spear in anger. Many conflicts are instigated with resource acquisition as their primary thrust but most are fought by private parties using state sponsored hardware and software for control of the monetary supply/creation apparatus. My point was made with the media in mind and the propaganda machine that they continue to fuel. Maybe young men and women would not be fooled into joining up if they knew for what or who they were really fighting for.

        1. CS

          Rules of capitalism:

          Secure resources

          Guarantee markets

          Do it with someone else’s money

          Do it with someone else’s blood

    1. Joe Rebholz

      No. Do not be afraid. Fear is one of the ways they (gov, politicians, corps, media) control us. If you are affraid, especially in the form of constant fear or constant anxiety, your thinking is degraded. This is how fear mongering works. Don’t ever forget that most remarkable and truly beautiful meme: “What if the smoking gun came in the form of a mushroom cloud?!”

      In fact, “Be afraid, be very afraid” is probably one of their messages. It doesn’t help to repeat it. Rather it would be better to try to suggest some remedy.

      1. Joe Rebholz

        An effective response to anxiety is to think through whatever is making you afraid or anxious and decide what to do about it — the scary thing — if it should actually occur.

        1. Graveltongue

          Point taken Joe. Fear can cripple but it can also keep you alive. History has shown us what heinous acts various institutions are prepared to perpetrate on the great unwashed to continue their work. The more of us who find the will to pull back the curtain on The Great Oz, the more threatened and corned the beast becomes and we all know where that leads.

  7. Glenn Condell

    I remember being howled down on blogs in late 02 for even suggesting that oil might be playing a teensy part in the war ‘deliberations’ – more like adumbrations of what had already been decided – as much by progs on my side of the fence as the usual wingnut gallery on the other. They’d all been cowed by the sheer ubiquity of the imperial bullshit, from the whole gamut of politics (you know, from A to B) and the bureaucracy, and the entire mainstream media.

    Silver tongued bullies like Christopher Hitchens poured scorn on people who tried to think things thru for themselves, averring in that ruggedly individual way of his (along with thousands of like-minded blowhards like Mark Steyn, Glenn Reynolds, etc) that because oil as a tradeable commodity and could be brought to market and bought with cash, that the idea of invasion to control it was a tin-hatted absurdity (I imagine him making that Mini-Me gesture with his pinky as he tries that one on for size)

    The invasion has cost what, 3 trillion? Estimates of the remaining reserves in Iraq range up to 30 trillion and beyond. Even I can do that math.

    Of course, it wasn’t just oil. It was necessary but not sufficient, in the same way that other factors like the rampant greed of the MI/intel/nat sec/contractor community and the neocon Zio-dream of Eretz Israel were insufficient on their own to justify invasion, but crucially necessary components when combined. The point is that every major stakeholder constituency (except for Iraqis, naturally) saw a huge, once in a generation opportunity and stampeded their way into it with these dollar signs (or stars of David, or whatever) in their eyes, clouding their better judgement, always assuming such a thing existed.

    The MI and associated complexes saw a trough emblazoned with the word ‘bonanza’ (remember at this stage the ‘War on Terror’ baby hadn’t yet been weaned and panic at reduced MI wastage as a result of the End of History was widespread among the brass and the spooks), the Ziocons wet dreamed about the chance to try Oded Yinon’s defence strategy from the early 80’s (basically, turn Iraq into dependent statelets, a la Gaza), and Big Oil saw the dwindling trickle from non-MENA fields returning to a robust stream with the Iraqi addendum.

    Hovering over this though is the brutal reality of peak oil and what it means for the survival (let alone prosperity) of the industrial economies. If some of us could see it coming miles out you can bet that the various and almost numberless agencies the US govt has to identify all potential threats, real or imagined, worked it out as well.

    My own reaction if I was the US would have been to broadcast the issue and involve everyone affected in at the very least discussion and consultation about how to tackle the problem. But secrets and lies are the US state religion, permeating every level for so long now that even if the truth were the best option it wouldn’t get a look in.

    The truth is that, as Dick Cheney made clear, ‘the American way of life is non-negotiable’ and if this means that to head off the threat of an oil drought a trumped up war needs to be work-shopped and executed, so be it. It wouldn’t be the first time.

    One other related consideration for those playing this long game at Defence, NSA, CFR, Rand, etc, is that the US military is by some margin the largest non-national daily consumer of oil, and if push really comes to shove that military might one day be required to ring the last geysers in the ME so that the last precious drops will be consumed by those who imagine they deserve it by right of their obvious pre-eminance rather than amything so quotidian as living on top of the stuff for hundreds of years.

    I’m not hopeful this will be any more of a wake-up call than the Downing St memos, or indeed Abu Ghraib itself. They are brazen now, knowing they can get away with anything, murder included, because they have done and are still doing so and not even that craven, jug-eared moral cipher occupying the White House will stand in their way.

    ‘So what happens when those soldiers with missing limbs, half a skull, severe burns and other debillitating injuries realize that they were not defending our freedom, but defending the oil companies’ rights to plunder?

    Well, some of them, thousands of them actually, march on the White House, only to be ignored by the MSM, which only likes the front end of wars and from just one side, the rest is just too yucky, it seems:

    “Presidential hopeful Donald Trump said if he were the President of the United States, he would take at least $1.5 trillion worth of oil from Iraq.”

    Donald Trump seems like he just wandered off the set of a cartoon, or perhaps a reality TV show.

    Alan Dershowitz made famous what he called the ‘shoe on the other foot test’ (which he then pointedly refused to apply to the I/P situation, but that’s OT) – if this might is right, ‘let’s just go in and take what we want simply because we can’ meme is acceptable, then I suppose that one day in the perhaps not too distant future when the shoe is on the other foot and it is a weakened US that provides the target, we won’t hear any objections form the Donald Trumps, will we?

    Re Killing Hope and Shock Doctrine, add Confessions of an Economic Hitman to the list, and the Chalmers Johnson trilogy to round it out. It’s all out there, the evidence, hiding in plain view.

  8. aet

    Oil was at ten dollars a barrel before the invasion of Iraq.
    war in the Middle east is all about keeping the price of oil much much higher than it other wise would be.]]]

    Like a tax, almost, benefiting those who control oil: no one else. The price of oil is entirely divorced fromn its cost of production.

    President Bush was all about the price of oil…he increased it by over 1000 per cent. Well done.

  9. Max424

    “Libyan oil, for Libyans!”

    The CIA has landed ( Loafers are on the Ground!) and is roaming the shifting sands of North Africa, making sure that nonsense doesn’t get any play.

    You know those umbrellas they’re carrying, the one’s they tell you are to shade their balding palates from the hot desert sun? Well my Libyan nationalist friends, beware, those innocuous looking umbrellas are really poison-tipped lethal weapons.

    Libyan Oil, for Libyans. LOL.

  10. Pete

    “follow the money”. Nobody wants to go to Sudan or Congo, no matter how terrible their conditions are. Nobody wants to go to North Korea, even they have a nuclear weapon. we should stop pretending we give shit about all the human right and democracy. The rest of the world see us clearly here.

  11. John

    And China got oil contracts in Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

    Payoff for what they lost in the financial meltdown?

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