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The War for Oil

For decades, through Democratic and Republican presidential administrations, America has pursued a set of straightforward energy policy objectives: keep world oil prices as stable as possible; reduce domestic consumption of oil as painlessly as possible; reduce dependence on foreign imports whenever possible; and diversify the sources of imported oil. Despite appearances, none of these objectives has changed under the Bush administration.

Many observers believe that Bush has set a new course because the invasion of Iraq seems to fly in the face of these objectives. A big increase in Iraq's oil production would probably increase US dependence on oil relative to other energy sources, as world oil prices will probably fall in response to the additional supplies. This, in turn, would mean an increase in US dependence on imported oil, especially from the Middle East.

The irony, however, is that the US exercised greater control over the Iraqi oil sector under the UN's pre-war "Oil-for-Food Program" (in which the UN, not Saddam Hussein, determined the level of Iraqi oil sales abroad) than it will in any future democratic Iraq. If the Bush administration was seeking stable, secure, diverse and cheap oil supplies, it could have simply lifted the embargos on Libya, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan and let the oil gush.

But America's interest in Iraqi oil was not driven either by economics or energy policy. The Bush administration recognized that, above all, Iraqi oil is a critical geopolitical asset. Whoever controls Iraqi oil controls Iraq.