What was the principal motive for the U.S. invasion of Iraq? Few informed observers now believe that it was to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Months before the war in December 2002 we wrote in these pages: “Iraq today probably does not possess functional chemical and biological war capabilities since these were effectively destroyed during the UN inspection process in 1991–1998.” In early October 2004 Charles Duelfer, the CIA’s top weapons inspector, officially confirmed in a 918-page report delivered to two Congressional committees that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction at the time of the U.S. invasion. All such “capabilities,” his report indicated, had been destroyed or had simply “decayed” as a result of the 1991 Gulf War and the subsequent UN weapons inspection process. Of course even if it had been shown that Iraq had such weapons prior to the war this would not have justified the U.S. invasion, since numerous countries in the Middle East and elsewhere have weapons of mass destruction with the United States as the world leader in the possession (and use) of such weapons.
With the original rationale for the war in tatters, the powers that be have had no choice but to fall back more and more on the default justification: as is the case with all actions by the United States throughout its history, the real purpose of the invasion was to promote democracy. To the utter astonishment of the entire world outside of the United States and possibly Britain, this fantastic claim (fantastic both as an interpretation of Washington’s motives and in its assumption that democracy can be imposed by force) is now proffered with a straight face by one authority after another and assiduously promoted by the corporate media. At the same time all suggestions that the United States might have had more crass imperialistic motives for the invasion, such as control of Iraqi oil, are systematically avoided by both the government and the major media.
Yet, however smooth the propaganda machine in a capitalist society, it is always rife with contradictions since the business class itself is unable to maintain a common front. Apart from the usual rivalries within business that lead to quite different stances creating ideological fissures, the goal of making money requires good information and at times an almost brutal frankness that frequently goes against the main ideological requirements of the system. This is particularly the case for those connected to major investment-banking houses whose job is to provide information and advice on investment opportunities, pricing structures, etc. to their largely corporate clientele. Here the ability to strip away the veil of ideology is often considered a virtue. An example of such blunt telling-it-how-it-is can be seen in recent statements by Fadel Gheit, a leading oil analyst for the prestigious Wall Street firm Oppenheimer and Co. Linda McQuaig tells us in an article in the September 20, 2004, Toronto Star (based on her new book, It’s the Crude, Dude) that Gheit simply smiles at the notion that oil was not a major factor in the invasion of Iraq, and quotes him as saying: “Think of Iraq as virgin territory. . . .This is bigger than anything that Exxon is involved in currently…It is the superstar of the future. That’s why Iraq becomes the most sought-after real estate on the face of the earth.” In addition to its own oil, Iraq is strategically located so that the occupying power is well placed to dominate the other oil countries of the Middle East. Gheit explains: “Think of Iraq as a military base with a very large oil reserve underneath…You can’t ask for better than that.” And it is not just direct control of the Middle East that is at issue, since other regions such as Europe, Japan and China would be vulnerable to any power that has military, economic and political ascendance over the Middle East and its oil.
It is not difficult to demonstrate that this is the primary lens through which Iraq is viewed by those in the Bush administration. None other than Dick Cheney delivered a talk to the London Petroleum Institute in 1999 when he was still CEO of Halliburton. Focusing on the additional 50 million barrels of oil a day that the world was projected to need by 2010, he asked rhetorically, “Where is it going to come from?” His answer was that “the Middle East with two-thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost is still where the prize ultimately lies.”
U.S. corporate interests and the U.S. government have never been shy about explaining—at least within business circles—their postwar economic goals for Iraq, which were to start with a “Mass Privatization Program.” Robert Ebel,former vice president of a Dutch-based oil exploration company, now connected to the influential Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, makes it clear that U.S. corporations are prepared to invest tens of billions of dollars in Iraq and are insisting that Iraqi oil be privatized. “We’re looking for places to invest around the world. You know, along comes Iraq, and I think a lot of oil companies would be disappointed if Iraq were to say ‘we’re going to do it ourselves.’” (These statements and other supporting information can be found in McQuaig’s book.)
If the war had gone as planned the United States would have seized what control it wanted and few questions would have been asked. As it is, the Iraqis have launched a ferocious guerrilla war, and the United States is now in the odd position of pretending it is promoting democracy and free elections in a country where practically the only place where the government is in control and elections can be held is the very ground on which the U.S. military is standing. Hence, the claim that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has something to do with the promotion of democracy is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain even at the heart of the U.S. empire and with the help of the most sophisticated propaganda machine that the world has ever seen. It is becoming more and more obvious as the antiwar movement originally claimed (though often mocked by establishment experts for being too simplistic) that all the blood shed in the war has been about oil, money, and power. . . and nothing else. It is capitalism and imperialism not security and democracy that the United States is seeking to promote in Iraq.
Given all of this, the responsibility of those of us on the left is clear: to get this message out in the clearest and strongest way possible with the object of stopping the new imperialist engine in its tracks.
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