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What does Washington want from this war?

February 7, 2003 | Pages 6 and 7

PENTAGON ADVISER Richard Perle doesn't like Saddam Hussein. "[H]e's a thug who has been willing to murder some of the people closest to him, who has used chemical weapons against his own people, who has invaded his neighbors," Perle told PBS's "Frontline" news program.

So why did Perle and his current boss Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld promote U.S. support for Saddam in the 1980s--back when they were wreaking havoc around the globe as employees of the Reagan administration? Rumsfeld even traveled to Baghdad to assure Saddam that he had the support of the U.S. in his war on "his neighbor" Iran--even as word emerged that he "had used chemical weapons against his own people."

Facts like these expose the Bush administration's lies about going to war for "the Iraqi people." This bunch didn't care about Iraqis 20 years ago, and they don't care now. So what does Washington want from its looming war on Iraq?

As NICOLE COLSON and ERIC RUDER explain, there are two main answers--the thirst for oil profits and Washington's drive to expand its power.

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A war for U.S. power

GEORGE W. BUSH'S State of the Union speech tried again to link his administration's war drive against Iraq to the September 11 hijackings. Bush didn't present any evidence, of course.

Every attempt to claim a link between Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq and the al-Qaeda network has fallen flat. But that hasn't stopped the White House from trying--over and over again. In fact, whipping up speculation about the links between the two is designed to cover up how little the looming war has to do with September 11.

The record shows that the hawks in the Bush administration wanted a new war on Iraq long before September 11--and not out of concern for ordinary Iraqis, but as one part of an overall strategy to expand the role of the U.S. as the world's lone superpower.

In 1992, following the last Gulf War, Paul Wolfowitz--then an official in the Bush Sr. administration, and now Donald Rumsfeld's right-hand man in the Defense Department--authored a classified report spelling out the need for the U.S. to "refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor. "[W]e must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role."

When this report was leaked to the media, it created such an uproar that it was withdrawn. But this is now established White House policy.

In September 2000--one year before the September 11 attacks--Wolfowitz and several other people who would play a role in the Bush Jr. administration co-wrote a report for the Project for the New American Century that hit on the same themes. "While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein," it said. In other words, war against Iraq is merely one step in "maintaining global U.S. preeminence…and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests."

Knowing that pre-emptive "regime change" and a massive expansion of U.S. military power around the world would be difficult to justify--both to the U.S. public and the world--Wolfowitz and friends said their policy would depend on "some catastrophic and catalyzing event--like a new Pearl Harbor." So while most people thought September 11 was a terrible tragedy, the war planners in Washington had a different assessment. Here was the opportunity they had been waiting for.

The National Security Document prepared by the administration for Congress last fall has put all these issues in clear terms. Known as the "Bush Doctrine," the document makes it explicit that the White House is ready to use its military muscle to prevent the development of any rivals--not only among so-called "rogue states" like Iraq or North Korea, but among America's main allies. "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States," the document states.

The Bush Doctrine not only tolerates the chaos and instability that inevitably follow wars, but actually invites it. Thus, while mainstream figures such as Brent Scowcroft, the former security adviser to Bush Sr. have expressed anxiety that a unilateral U.S. war on Iraq "would turn the whole region into a cauldron," the Bush gang has a different message. "One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please," says Michael Leeden, of the American Enterprise Institute. "If ever there were a region that richly deserved being cauldronized, it is the Middle East today."

Leeden's message is simple: Bring it on. Bring on the carpet bombing, the killing of women and children, the environmental devastation, the refugee crisis that follows every war, the disease and malnutrition. U.S. war planners are ready for a high dose of death and destruction--as long as the larger goal of remaking the Middle East to suit U.S. interests might be achieved.

"The goal is not just a new regime in Iraq," said Raad Alkadiri, an analyst with Petroleum Finance Company, a Washington-based energy consulting group. "The goal is a new Middle East." But the Bush administration's real war aims have nothing to do with justice. They amount to nothing other than extending and defending Washington's power worldwide. In a word, imperialism.

A war for oil profits

LAST YEAR, liberal critics of the antiwar movement--like ex-1960s radical Todd Gitlin--complained about activists' "unnuanced" slogans, like "No blood for oil." But it's impossible to believe that the Bush administration isn't thinking about the prize that awaits the winner of another desert slaughter in Iraq: control of Iraq's vast oil resources.

Oil isn't the only reason for Bush's war drive against Iraq. But with the five largest oil companies operating in the U.S. raking in more than $40 billion in profits each year, who can doubt that there's big money in gaining control of Iraq after a U.S. war?

Iraq has 10 percent of the world's proven reserves of oil, second only to Saudi Arabia. Traditionally, the U.S. has imported most of its oil from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. But with relations with Saudi Arabia tense since the September 11 attacks and the bosses' oil strike in Venezuela virtually halting its exports to the U.S., Iraq's oil is looking more and more appealing.

Even before September 11, Washington was contemplating a new war on Iraq over the issue of oil. In 1999, Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni--then the head of the Pentagon's Central Command--told Congress, "With over 65 percent of the world's oil reserves located within the Gulf states, [the U.S.] must have free access to the region's resources." In 2001, the administration's national energy report recommended that "the President make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy."

One of the most important motives for Bush's war on Afghanistan was the opportunity to install a U.S.-friendly government, which would then approve the construction of pipelines to carry oil from the Caspian Sea region to the Indian Ocean.

Since the fall of the Taliban, the government of U.S. puppet Hamid Karzai--himself a former consultant for oil giant Unocal--has made a pipeline deal one of its top objectives. In May of last year, Karzai forged an agreement with Pakistan and Turkmenistan to construct a $2 billion pipeline to bring gas from Central Asia to the subcontinent--the same project that the consortium led by Unocal had been forced to withdraw from in 1998.

Now, the Bush administration has let it be known that it doesn't mind killing tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians--but it wants Iraqi oilfields protected at any cost. The administration's recently leaked war plans include bombarding millions of Iraqi civilians in the country's main population centers with as many as 800 cruise missiles in the first 48 hours of a U.S. attack.

But, according to news reports, the utmost care will be given to making sure that Iraq's oilfields come out unscathed. "For the Special Forces on the ground, it's among the top five to seven missions they want to accomplish, to protect as many as the oil wells and fields as they can," one former U.S. official recently told the Boston Globe.

And what will happen to the oilfields after a likely U.S. victory? The administration says that oil revenues will be used to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure and that a "trust fund" will be established for the benefit of the Iraqi people--all, of course, to be administered in the foreseeable future by a U.S. military occupation. But U.S. oil companies are certain to get their hands on it.

Iraq currently exports around 1.5 million barrels a day, but experts say that this could be increased to 6 million barrels within five years after "reinvestment." There's a lot at stake--both in terms of oil industry profits and grasping tighter control over the world's most valuable resource.

"Oil and gas are not the U.S.'s ultimate aim," wrote Asia Times writer Pepe Escobar last year. "It's about control…If the U.S. controls the energy resources of its rivals--Europe, Japan, China and other nations aspiring to be more independent--they win."

Why SUVs are not the cause of this war

IT'S UNDENIABLE that the Bush administration's war on Iraq is partly about control of oil resources. But some people in the antiwar movement have taken this to mean that all Americans are to blame--because they consume too much oil, especially with sport utility vehicles.

In fact, the trend toward more SUVs on the road is driven not by consumers, but the auto industry itself. The auto bosses make more money off selling these vehicles, so they market them relentlessly.

Many people hate SUVs because of the yuppie lifestyle that they've come to represent. But the idea that SUV drivers are to blame for the war on Iraq is wrong. In fact, these kinds of arguments usually descend into heavy-handed moralizing.

"[W]hen we tell the world that we couldn't care less about climate change, that we feel entitled to drive whatever big cars we feel like, that we feel entitled to consume however much oil we like, the message we send is that a war for oil in the gulf is not a war to protect the world's right to economic survival--but our right to indulge," wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Who is this "we" that Friedman is talking about? For most working people, cars aren't a luxury or an indulgence. They're a necessity. In the U.S., 89 percent of people have at least one car, with working people spending nine hours a week behind the wheel--not by choice, but by necessity.

As John Bellamy Foster, coeditor of the socialist journal Monthly Review, put it, "The ways in which cars, roads, public transport systems (often notable by their absence), urban centers, suburbs and malls have been constructed mean that people have virtually no choice but to drive if they are to work and live. Under these circumstances, the car (or minivan), which consumers seem to crave, also becomes a kind of prison, made more tolerable (if only) barely by the introductions of cell phones and other gadgets."

The same is true about SUVs. They may be status symbols for yuppies, but for others, they offer a measure of comfort to make outrageous commutes more bearable. Even if there were fewer SUVs on the road, the machinery of modern industry would still require oil--and the Bush gang would still be going to war to protect it.

Ultimately, the power to transform society doesn't come from what working people do or don't consume, but through organizing in our workplaces and schools--and in the streets.

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