The Treasure, the Strongbox, and the Crowbar  

Posted by Big Gav

TomDispatch interviews Juan Cole on Iraq. He doesn't seem aware of peak oil, but oil is still the subject of discussion.

TD: You wrote in April 2002, considering American dreams of a post-Saddam Iraq, "A democratically elected government and a friendly government are not necessarily going to be the same thing, at least in the long run." This is where we are now and it was obviously very knowable a year before the invasion.

JC: The International Institute at the University of Michigan asked me to write a pro-and-con piece about an Iraq war in January of 2003. Among the reasons I gave for not going to war were: a) if you overthrow the Baath regime and discredit secular Arab nationalism in Iraq, the Sunni Arab community may well gravitate toward more al-Qaeda types of identity; and b) if you invade Iraq and let loose popular politics, the Shiite Iraqis may well hook up with the Ayatollahs in Iran. These things were perfectly foreseeable. I think if you went back to the early 1990s and took a look at Dick Cheney's speeches, he voiced similar analyses.

TD: So what happened between then and March 2003, for Dick Cheney at least?

JC: I think Dick must have found motives for an Iraq war that overrode his earlier concerns. We don't have transparent governance and therefore we're not in a position to know exactly what our Vice President's motives were, but clearly he became convinced that, whatever the validity of his earlier concerns, they were outweighed by other considerations.

TD: And your guess on those considerations?

JC: My guess with regard to Cheney is that his experience in the energy sector and with Halliburton as CEO must have been influential in his thinking. For the corporate energy sector in the United States, Iraq must have been maddening. It was under those United Nations sanctions. It's a country that, with significant investment, might be able to rival Saudi Arabia as a producer of petroleum. Saudi Arabia can produce around 11 million barrels a day, if it really tries. Iraq before the war was producing almost 3 million barrels a day and, if its fields were explored and opened and exploited, it might be up to the Saudi level in twenty years. This could bring a lot of petroleum on the market. There would be opportunities for making money from refining. There might even be an opportunity, if you had a free-market regime in Iraq, for Western petroleum companies to go back to owning oil fields -- something they haven't been able to do since the 1970s in the Middle East when most of these fields were nationalized. All that potential in Iraq was locked up.

The petroleum industry, structurally, is a horrible industry because it depends on constantly making good finds and being able to get favorable contracts for developing them, so that one is constantly scrambling for the next field. To have an obvious source of petroleum and energy in Iraq locked up under sanctions, and this Arab socialist regime with the government controlling everything, it must have just driven people crazy.

And you never knew when the sanctions might slip and Iraq might crank back up its production. If you're in the petroleum industry, what you'd like is have a ten-year timeline for what the future's going to look like. What if Iraq was able to produce 5 million barrels a day? That would have an impact on prices. It would have an impact on the plans you might like to make. But you couldn't predict that. It was completely unknowable.

So Iraq was like a treasure in a strongbox. You knew exactly where it was; you knew what the treasure was; but you couldn't get at it. The obvious thing to do was to take a crowbar and strike off the strongbox lock.

3 comments

What about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, his links to 9/11 and Al-Qaeda, and our noble mission to create democracy in the Middle East? Isn't that why we had to go to war?

Well - I think the WMD was the reason we went to war.
When they turned out not to exist as Mr Blix and a lot of intelligence people had told us, the other theories were then proffered as reasons.

I imagine Al-Qaeda are quite happy Saddam is out the way and the attempt at installing a "democracy" seems to be destined to result in a Shiite theocracy aligned with Iran, so perhaps that plan hasn't worked out so well after all.

And to top it all off, oil production has actually fallen.

Still - I'm sure some people are making money out of the exercise - hopefully they'll be getting impeached one day soon...

In my opinion Iraq is still like a treasure in a strongbox .

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