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Blood For Oil Control

By Paul Street

17 April, 2007
Empire and Inequality Report, No. 16


The ongoing national political debate over the majority Democratic Congress’s vote FOR the supplemental funding of the illegal United States (U.S.) occupation of Iraq reminds me of Noam Chomsky’s analysis of the uses of the word “socialism” in relation to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. As Chomsky explained in his 1992 book What Uncle Sam Really Wants (Berkeley, CA: Odonian, 1992), the Soviet Union from its inception was an authoritarian regime that moved quickly to dismantle incipient socialist institutions of popular control and workers’ self-management. In crushing popular and democratic forces, the Russian Revolution and decisively violated essential principles of socialism, including democratic control of production by the working class.

Nonetheless, it became useful for elites on both side of the Cold War to refer to the Soviet Union as the epitome and center of “socialism.” “The Bolsheviks called their system socialist,” Chomsky notes, “so as to exploit the moral prestige of socialism.” ‘ The leading propagandists of the capitalist, business-dominated West “adopted the same usage for the opposite reason: to defame the feared libertarian ideals [of democratic socialism with workers- control and popular governance] by associating them with the Bolshevik dungeon, to undermine the popular belief that there might really be progress toward a more just society with democratic control over its basic institutions and concern for human needs and rights” (Noam Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants [Berkeley, CA: Odonian, 1992], pp. 91-92).

Just as both sides of the Cold War possessed their own very different interests in incorrectly calling the Soviet Union “socialist,” both sides in the current U.S. war-funding and timetable debate have an interest in falsely describing the Congressional votes as “antiwar.”

George W. Bush and his allies are eager to paint the Democrats out as recklessly indifferent to American “national security” and the needs of “our troops.” The right naturally wants to blame the failures of Washington’s incompetent oil invasion on “liberal” and even “left wing” Democrats who are “giving aid and comfort to the enemies of freedom.” The Republicans want to rev up their proto-fascist messianic militarist base by using the “peacenik” votes to advance their disturbing dichotomy between noble “generals” and “heroic soldiers” on the ground and evil “politicians in Washington.”

For their part, the Democrats wish to exploit the moral prestige of antiwar sentiment. Sixty percent of U.S. citizens oppose the increase of U.S. troop levels in Iraq. The occupation is now opposed by two-thirds of Americans. Nearly three fourths (72 percent) of Americans polled last year said that all U.S. in Iraq should come home by the end of 2006. Democrats rode this antiwar sentiment into Congressional majority power last November.

For these and other reasons, it is hardly surprising that Congressional Democrats and leading Democratic presidential candidates are trying to identify themselves with antiwar opinion and claiming to be involved in efforts to end the occupation.


But just as the Soviet Union wasn’t really “socialist,” the congressional war-funding and “timetable” votes aren’t really anti-war or, much less, anti-imperial. The Democratic Congress has not exercised its power to end the war. It has not passed an antiwar bill.

In the March 23rd House vote, all but eight of the Democrats (Dennis Kucinich, John Lewis, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Diane Watson, Lynn Woolsey, Mike McNulty and Mike Michaud) basically gave Bush the money he needs to continue and expand the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and possibly to initiate an assault on Iran.

If the Congressional bill was enacted tomorrow, without a Bush veto, it would fund Bush’s audacious, democracy-defying Surge (escalation) to the supplemental tune of $124 billion – considerably more than the White House actually requested.

The distant troop withdrawal proposed by the House bill is hitched to the same Iraqi government “benchmarks” that Bush announced in his nationally televised escalation speech of January 10, 2007.

The benchmarks for “withdrawal” include the passage by the Iraqi parliament of an imperialist, neoliberal petroleum law. Hidden beneath largely diversionary language about “revenue-sharing” across Iraq’s regions, this law will try to help subject Iraq’s stupendous oil reserves to domination by Western capital and the American Empire.

The “withdrawal” envisioned by Congress would only remove combat troops and only on the eve of the 2008 elections. In the names of “diplomatic protection,” “counter-terrorism,” and the “training and advising of Iraqi Security Forces” (translation: OIL protection), it would leave U.S bases and forces in Iraq for an indefinite period. However much they claim to oppose permanent military bases in Iraq, leading Democrats within and beyond Congress imagine an American military presence in Iraq for decades to come.

The recent legislation, waiting for Bush’s veto on the false grounds that it undermines the assault on Iraq, contains no enforcement mechanism to compel the White House to actually withdraw troops at any point.

The troops supposedly to be moved out of Iraq under Congress’ legislation would not actually “come home.” Congress’ “antiwar” plan re-deploys troops from Iraq to other parts of southwest Asia, reflecting the belief that U.S. forces have been over-focused on Iraq in a way that is dysfunctional for the broader and (Democrats think) noble project of U.S. dominance in the oil-rich Middle East.

The Congressional legislation even removes any stipulation requiring Bush and Cheney to receive Congressional approval before undertaking a major assault on Iran. “With the U.S. openly threatening Iran and with war preparations at an advanced stage, and given the Bush regime’s track record of launching pre-emptive wars based on lies,” Larry Everest notes, “this amounts to giving Bush a bright green light to attack Iran” (Larry Everest, “No Good Choices in the Halls of Power: Congress Votes $100 billion to continue the War,” ZNet, March 30, 2007, available online at
print_ article.cfm?itemID =12456§ionID=72). Antiwar and anti-imperial sentiments have not seized the day in Congress

Alexander Cockburn puts the “antiwar vote” things in useful perspective in a recent column titled “This Was an Antiwar Vote?”:

“When it comes to the actual war, which has led to the bloody disintegration of Iraqi society, the deaths of up to 5,000 Iraqis a month, the death and mutilation of US soldiers every day, nothing at all has happened since the Democrats rode to victory in November courtesy of popular revulsion in America against the war. Bush's reaction to this censure at the polls was to appoint a new commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, to oversee the troop surge in Baghdad and Anbar province. The Democrats voted unanimously to approve Petraeus and now they have Okayed the money for the surge. Bush hinted that he would like to widen the war to Iran. Nancy Pelosi, chastened by catcalls at the annual AIPAC convention, swiftly abandoned all talk of compelling Bush to seek congressional authorization to make war on Iran.”(Cockburn, “This Was an Antiwar Vote?” The Nation, April 16, 2007).

Saddest of all, perhaps, 90 percent of the House’s 71 Progressive Caucus voted for the supplemental authorization bill.

This was a truly depressing “progressive” performance, one that speaks volumes about the absence of anything that deserves to be considered a relevant “Left” inside the narrow-spectrum U.S. political system.

All the Democratic congresspersons who voted to fund Bush’s criminal War last March should be sent the special Certificates of Iraq War Ownership that peace activists have designed for them (see php?id=953).


There’s little to be surprised about in this pathetic expression of U.S. “representative democracy.” The Democratic Party is a conservative, corporate dominated and broadly imperialist coalition of mostly elite interests that includes a sizeable contingent of pro-war “Blue Dog” Democrats and numerous dedicated Third Way “New Democrats” like Barack Obama and the noted militarist Hillary Clinton. With their eyes firmly fixed on the supreme electoral prize of 2008, its “realist,” “pragmatic,” and power-obsessed leaders have a vested interest in Bush and the Republicans being saddled with the bloody Iraq fiasco until the next quadrennial election extravaganza. The Democrats are walking a fine line between their need to seem responsive to majority antiwar opinion and their fear of seeming to support Bush’s efforts to blame them for “losing Iraq.” They are not convinced that the antiwar movement is sufficiently organized and powerful to make them pay any significant price for prolonging and even expanding the war.

Deeply committed to the doctrinal notion that the U.S is an inherently noble, benevolent and democratic force in the world, top Democrats insist on combining their calls for (partial and qualified) “withdrawal” with preposterous and offensive claims that the U.S. has done everything it can “for the Iraqis.” As leading “Blue Dog” (right-wing) Democratic Rep. John Tanner (D-TN) told the Public Broadcasting System a few weeks ago:

“We…need to send a message to the Iraqis. Look, this has been four-plus years now, four years and three days. We have lost over 3,000 people. We have lost over 25,000 wounded. The Iraqis have had Saddam Hussein taken out. They have had two elections. They have had a government now for over a year. And we see no progress on them….it's time for them to step up. I am past the point of asking young military families in this country to continue to die and the American taxpayers to spend $2.5 billion a week in Iraq to help people who are seemingly unwilling or unable to get along. And, while they're shooting at each other, both sides are shooting at us.”

“I don't -- I think it's time for us not to be the policemen on the beat in the city of Baghdad. We're not talking about leaving the area. We're not going to leave the area. But I think that a timeline and a message to the Iraqis: Look, it's time for you people to get along. We're not going to stay here open-endedly, shedding our blood and our taxpayer money forever.”

“But, until the Iraqis understand that, every time something goes wrong, the Americans are going to be there to fight, die, and -- and, as I said, we're spending $200,000 a minute in Iraq. I'm not willing to keep on asking our taxpayers, and particularly these young military families, to do this forever.”

“And, at some point, if the Iraqis are unwilling or unable to do something -- we're not talking about leaving. We're not talking about in any way impacting the commanders' options. In fact, this timeline is way beyond what the president himself said the surge would do, whether it would work or not” (PBS Nightly News, March 22 2007, available online at politics/jan-june07/wardebate_03-22.html).

This by now standard Democratic Party rhetoric advances an interesting take on the U.S. assault on Mesopotamia four years after world history’s most powerful military state invaded that country, sacked its civil society, and essentially disbanded its state. The U.S. has deliberately provoked and fueled the very internal Iraqi factional and religious strife that leading Democrats cite as an example of Iraqis’ hopeless division.


It’s worth noting that Tanner felt compelled to say that “we’re not going to leave the area” three (3) times. Gee, what’s that about? The answer is technically “taboo,” but it’s quite simple. Top Democrats are just as committed as the Republicans to preventing what would amount to a geopolitical, world-systemic catastrophe for the American Empire: the loss of U.S. control over Middle Eastern oil. The notion of the people and/or states of that region doing whatever they wish with the remarkable, economically and geopolitically super-strategic oil that sits under the nominally sovereign soils – possibly even forming production and sales agreements with the Asian Security Grid (thereby accelerating the United States’ devolution to the status of a second-rate world power) – is anathema to the good Men and Women of Empire atop both wings of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Party.

The not very “left” wing of the nation’s dominant political duopoly is just as dedicated as its more explicitly business-dominated counterpart to keeping the U.S. military boot on the Middle Eastern oil spigot. “Responsible” foreign policy thinkers and makers in both parties wish to maintain the U.S. “veto power” (George Kennan) and “critical leverage” (Zbigniew Brzezinski) that the control of the Middle Eastern oil “prize” gives Washington over increasingly more advanced competitors in the world capitalist system (Noam Chomsky and Glbert Achcar, Perilous Power: the Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy [Paradigm, 2000), p. 54).

Iraq’s oil wealth, by the way, is significantly greater than often assumed. Its proven reserves of 115 barrels make it the third largest oil state in the world (behind Saudi Arabia and Canada). But recent reports suggest that it may possess an additional 200 million barrels, making it home to one fourth of the world’s petroleum. Thanks to three decades of largely U.S-imposed chaos (war, sanctions, civic collapse, government dissolution and the like), moreover, Iraq’s spectacular oil reserves are remarkably “underdeveloped.” They are exceptionally “virginal” – close to the surface, and thus accessible for rapid and cheap extraction some day (A.K. Gupta, “Oil, Neoliberalism and Sectarianism in Iraq,” Z Magazine, April 2007)


Which brings us back to the occupation government’s draft oil law. Next May, the Iraq National Assembly is likely to finalize petroleum legislation worked up by the Iraq cabinet in “consultation” with the White House, the world’s leading petroleum corporations (the “majors”) and the U.S.-based neoliberal consulting firm BearingPoint – the proud recipient of a $240 million federal grant to help create “a competitive private sector” in Iraq (Gupta, “Oil, Neoliberalism and Sectarianism in Iraq”)

The details of the complex draft legislation are a bit murky, but the final bill will certainly mandate “Production Sharing Agreements” (PSAs) that could (some day) confer astonishing profits on giant Western oil corporations at the expense of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government. Currently used in relation to just 12 percent of the world’s oil reserves, PSAs leave ultimate oil ownership with the governments under whose soil petroleum sits. But they abolish the state’s monopoly over oil production, something that is more than sufficient to satisfy the profit lust of Western capital. Consistent with Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller’s famous managerial-capitalist maxim “own nothing, control everything,” PSAs reserve the oil industry’s leading profit centers – exploration and production – for private, generally multinational firms on terms that are highly favorable to those companies (see Antonia Juhasz, “Spoils of War: Oil, the U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Area and the Bush Agenda,” In These Times, January 2007).

Under draft oil law provisions leaked and disseminated over the last year, the “majors” and a number of other giant global firms will be permitted to recoup 60 percent or more of their Iraqi oil revenues during the initial “cost recovery” phase of militarily imposed Mesopotamian oil privatization. Profit rates will then fall to 20 percent, still double the PSA norm, with a special provision permitting transnational firms to “transfer any net profits from petroleum operations to outside Iraq.” Another part of the draft legislation requires any dispute between external oil corporations and the Iraq government to be resolved through international arbitration – something that will certainly favor Western (chiefly Anglo and U.S.) capital over “sovereign” Iraq (Gupta, “Oil, Neoliberalism and Sectarianism in Iraq”).

The draft law provides no guarantees for Iraqi state participation, requiring the Iraqi state oil company to compete against global firms for the right to explore and produce new oil fields in occupied Iraq. Depending on how relevant authorities interpret the draft law’s call for “the speedy and efficient development of the fields discovered but partially or entirely not yet developed,” the proportion of the Iraqi oil prize that could be open to neoliberal “privatization lite” ranges from two-thirds to one hundred percent. Not surprisingly, the official U.S. position is that none of Iraq’s oil fields are fully developed, something that will permit the big transnationals to move into any and all of the nation’s oil field (Gupta, “Oil, Neoliberalism and Sectarianism in Iraq”).

The draft petroleum law provisions we know about are consistent with the well-known lust of the majors and their White House allies to get their hands on the greatest raw material prize of the 21st century. As the New York–based Global Policy Forum noted last year:

“According to oil industry experts, new exploration will probably raise Iraq’s reserves to 200+ billion barrels of high-grade crude, extraordinarily cheap to produce. The four giant firms located in the US and the UK have been keen to get back into Iraq, from which they were excluded with the nationalization of 1972. During the final years of the Saddam era, they envied companies from France, Russia, China, and elsewhere, who had obtained major contracts. But UN sanctions (kept in place by the US and the UK) kept those contracts inoperable. Since the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, everything has changed. In the new setting, with Washington running the show, ‘friendly’ companies expect to gain most of the lucrative oil deals that will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars in profits in the coming decades. The new Iraqi constitution of 2005, greatly influenced by US advisors, contains language that guarantees a major role for foreign companies. Negotiators hope soon to complete deals on Production Sharing Agreements that will give the companies control over dozens of fields, including the fabled super-giant Majnoon. However, despite pressure from the US government and foreign oil companies, the current Iraqi government has not passed a national oil law” (Global Policy Forum, “Oil and Iraq,”


The majors have yet to arrive on a large-scale in Iraq for a simple and obvious reason: the failure of the occupation to quell the “insurgency” and create the stable environment that large-scale capitalist investment requires. The occupation’s resistance has effectively sabotaged the industry’s recovery and it is not clear when and if Western capital will be able to really cash in on Operation Iraqi Liberation (O.I.L.).

Still, the crippling of Iraqi oil production does not mean complete mission failure for Washington. The Empire’s chief interest in Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil, it is critical to remember, is imperial control, not access (Chomsky and Achcar, Perilous Power, pp. 53-59) or immediate profits for Big Oil. Exxon-Mobil et al. may be standing scared on the margins, but nobody else is getting their hands on Iraq’s remarkably virgin oil either.

A devastated, strife-torn, fractured and U.S.-occupied Iraq is an Iraq that also can’t make supremely threatening (for Washington) oil deals with competing global states and regions. The savage civil violence inside the occupied state permits the U.S. government to more easily tell its angry and bewildered citizenry that a U.S military presence is required to “guarantee stability” and even (however Orwellian the claim) to “protect Iraq” against “outside interference.”


Ultimately, of course, U.S. forces are in Iraq to protect Iraq oil from the Iraqis themselves and from the possibility that the Iraqis might act to accelerate U.S. global decline by aligning their energy resources with the development of competing states and sectors in the world system. Along with numerous other anomalies for Washington’s claim to want to advance freedom and justice in the Middle East or anywhere else – Washington’s close alliance with the arch-reactionary oil-rich state of Saudi Arabia and the administration’s sponsorship of an attempted coup against the popularly elected government of oil-rich Venezuela are two excellent examples – the Empire’s assertion that it is promoting democracy in Iraq is coldly contradicted by the curious fact that Iraq’s draft oil law has received input from the majors, the White House, the International Monetary Fund and BearingPoint, but NOT the Iraqi public. For what it’s worth (next to nothing in the bipartisan halls of U.S. imperial power), Iraqi public opinion is against the neoliberal privatization of their nation’s petroleum wealth. As the Global Policy Forum notes, “most Iraqis favor continued control by a national company and the powerful [Iraqi] oil workers union opposes de-nationalization. Iraq's political future is very much in flux,” GPF concludes, “but oil remains the central feature of the political landscape” (GPF, “Oil and Iraq”).

According to a 2006 poll, 76 percent of Iraqis think the real reason for the invasion was a U.S. desire “to control Iraqi oil.” This accurate judgment is simply unthinkable – beyond the pale of acceptable reflection - inside respectable Washington. Last fall a senior analyst at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies told Alternet’s Joshua Holland that “the entire topic is taboo in polite D.C. circles.” The analyst said that “nobody in Washington wants to talk about it. They don’t want to sound like freaks talking about blood for oil” (Joshua Holland, “Bush’s Petro-Cartel Almost Has Iraq’s Oil,” Alternet, October 16-17, 2006, available online at Bush’s_ OilCartel_IraqOil.html).

Nobody who wishes to be a member in good standing of the U.S, political class can afford to “sound like” three fourths of the “liberated” nation’s people, less than 1 percent of who think the U.S. invaded to “export democracy.”

As Chomsky likes to say, Orwell would be impressed.


None of which is to deny that the Empire places some value on Iraqi lives and concerns. According a recent New York Times report, the U.S. Army sometimes makes small cash payments to the surviving relatives of innocent Iraqi civilians it has senselessly slaughtered as “collateral damage” in its inherently noble, freedom-loving assault on Mesopotamia. In one 2005 incident related by the Times, “an American solider in a dangerous Sunni Arab area south of Baghdad killed a boy after mistaking his book bag for a bomb satchel. The Army,” the Times reports, “paid the boy’s uncle $500.”

There was also “the case of the fisherman in Tikrit.” According the Times reporter Paul von Zielbauer, the fisherman “and his companion desperately tried to appear unthreatening to an American helicopter overhead. ‘They held up the fish in the air and shouted “Fish! Fish!” to show they meant no harm,’ said the Army report attached to the claim filed by the fisherman’s family.” It didn’t work. By von Zielbaurer’s account, “the Army refused to compensate for the killing, ruling that it was ‘combat activity,’ but approved $3,500 for his boat, net and cellphone, which drifted upriver and were stolen” (Paul von Zielbauer, “Files on U.S. Reparations Give Hint of War’s Toll [Empire’s Assault P.S.] on Civilians,” New York Times. 12 April 2007, pp. A1, A8).

Five hundred dollars for the butchering of an Iraqi boy. Thirty-five hundred dollars for the death of a fisherman – well, for his boat, net and cell-phone.

These are tiny prices to pay in pursuit of the great Iraqi oil prize. Just ask BearingPoint.

Meanwhile we continue to incredulously wonder “Why Do They Hate Us?”

Yes, after we’ve “sacrificed” so much “blood and money,” as top Democrats like to say, so much “for them.

Veteran radical historian, journalist, and speaker Paul Street (paulstreet99@ is a political commentator located in Iowa City, IA. Street is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004), Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005), and Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, and Policy in Chicago (Chicago, 2005) and The Empire and Inequality Report. Street’s next book Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (New York, 2007) will be released next June


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