It wouldn't be the first oil war, nor the first time we've seen miscalculations on extractable oil reserves. The fact of the matter is, nobody knows what's down under the ground, all we can do is poke a hole down there and see what comes up.
Jerome's comment seems to imply that the illegal invasion of Iraq was about something other than oil (though he doesn't say that - wildly inflated oil reserve estimates would've served just as well). Absent causus belli, and as we've seen there was none, then why the invasion?
I've never come to a satisfactory conclusion about this. At the time the war was still being ramped up, I never thought BushCo would actually go in, and I was shocked when he did. I thought it was all saber rattling, the attempt to coerce a recalcitrant, brutal regime (neither so recalcitrant nor so brutal as made out - read riverbend's Baghdad Burning blog. Intolerance and brutality came into her life after the invasion.) At the time, I foresaw that we (the US) could only look forward to years of bloodshed, based on Israel's experience - who has been under attack for 60 years, and neither force nor overtures have attenuated the violence. Look at Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem today.
I listed my reasons why this was a total disaster of a policy in a very old blog entry (long since deleted) years ago: Iraq has access to everything needed to conduct sustained guerilla warfare, the kind that took root in Northern Ireland for decades: a large and motivated population to draw from and access to plenty of funding to ensure that these people had everything they needed (guns, explosives, and knowledge).
I couldn't understand then (and still don't) why we were willingly walking right into this mess. Even with a realist's interpretation of US foreign policy, calculating power relationships and acting only in is perceived as the best interests of the United States, could only come to the conclusion that invading Iraq was a loser proposition.
Some have said that Bush went in to avenge his father, that he felt some need to finally bring down Hussein. Well Americans would have told him, "deal with it. Nobody's going to send our kids to war because you're unhappy about your dad."
Wolfowitz' dictum that "the road to peace in the Middle East runs through Baghdad" makes no sense either (though I admit, it's early days yet). In 2003, Israel welcomed the destruction of the largest standing army in the region. It was thought that Israel could then safely draw down her forces on the eastern border. (I remember a report written by an IDF officer, which I've been unable to relocate, making just this point. He was either a captain or a major and I remember being surprised that this kind of analysis being done by so junior an officer.) Regardless, as we've seen, after eight years, the violence in Israel and the occupied territories of Palestine has never ceased. The only thing that the invasion of Iraq does accomplish is that Israel cannot be invaded by Syria with a sizeable American force in its rear.
Iraq-Syria-Israel. This is likely the essence of Wolfowitz' plan, yet it seems farfetched because Israel has never been willing to relinquish its hold on the Golan Heights, and even if we could pressure Syria into an accord with Israel, it would be political suicide (and maybe real suicide - remember Anwar Sadat) for Syria to relinquish its claims on Golan. (Essentially Clinton's strategy was to bring Syria into the fold and that this would "soften" Palestinian opposition.)
Then there's the oil. Bush's and Cheney's backgrounds both point towards the oil motive. Iraq has significant reserves (h/t to Jerome, these reserves may be, and probably are, less significant than believed) and the war could be portayed, as it was after the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, as a vital step in ensuring America's energy security. And you can bet your bottom dollar that them gool ol' boys in Houston were gonna just drool at the thought of all those millions coming from unfettered access and control (yeehaw!) of Iraqi oil fields. . . . Why would we weaken the Saudi position in the world energy market though? According to Robert Baer, and ex-CIA operative, Saudi Arabia's position in the world isn't due to the reserves she sits atop, but to her excess production capacity. All the Saudis need do to affect world energy prices is to adjust the oil production spigot a tiny bit, and voila! Any move to improve Iraq's position in the oil markets would inevitably weaken the Saudi position. Perhaps, though, the Saudis want to be relieved of some of the pressure being in a controlling position creates, however I've no way to evaluate this proposition.
But would America go to war for oil? Nope. Regardless of what our actions have been, and anyone could rightly point out that the US has been a major transgressor in sending its troops over our borders, the average American really dislikes having her sons and daughters put at mortal risk overseas. That is political suicide in the US. I tender the evidence of Obama's improbable election to support this notion. Americans don't conduct wars. Wars are for dictators and totalitarian regimes. Americans go on crusades. "Making the world safer." "Helping the oppressed Iraqis throw off the yoke of Hussein's tyranny." Even, "preventing economic dislocation and the misery that would cause by ensuring the free flow of energy out of the Gulf." There was never, ever, any escaping the need to rebuild after the conquest. American self-esteem would not allow that, and Paul Bremer's last few weeks in Baghdad drawing up (on his own, without consulting Washington - who never included plans for reconstruction after its invasion) a draft Iraqi constitution is the expression of this need to rationalize to ourselves our bloody actions.
Oil as a motive seems the best bet. Wolfowitz never spelled out how we get from Baghdad to a resolution of violence in the I/P conflict. I don't believe he ever had a plan, and you could say that just because I don't see one, doesn't mean that one doesn't exist, but there are too many players with too many outlets and plenty of resources to toss the spanner in the works of his, to me, mythical plan. I hope it is noted here that I haven't mentioned WMD, and that's all I'm going to say about it, you can draw your own conclusions.
Bush's motives hardly matter here. What is known is that while he was being flown around the country in Air Force One, and even as the White House staff was evacuating the building on September 11, certain staffers were being called back by Dick Cheney to begin planning the invasion of Iraq. Not Afghanistan.
[editor's note, by papicek] A tiny edit in the last paragraph. "on September 11" was added.
Update [2009-4-28 9:20:21 by papicek]: Some much needed perspective:
Well, I've learned nothing new in the threads (frankly, I'm surprised as I almost always do here),
I can't say I learned nothing new here any longer. There's this in the comments:
Best laid plans go astray. Imagine the slipshod ones, heavily conditioned by ideology. As das monde notes above the oil resources of the Middle East have been a matter of contention since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.
Thanks for sharing, this is news to me.
I recall one episode that illustrates a certain conceptual blindness, an ethical denial that such a major event as a war could be driven by sheer greed. In December 2001 several secret meetings were held in Rome between Americans, Iranians and Italians. The meeting was arranged by Ledeen and Ghorbanifar. According to the testimony of the then chief of the Italian secret services SISMI, Nicoḷ Pollari, throughout the meeting the only thing that was discussed were the oil reserves of Iraq with maps of Iraq resources all over the place. The Iranians who ran the Iraqi Shi'ite organizations presumably were striking a backdoor deal with the Americans.
Ledeen heatedly denied the scoop and declared he would sue the two authors of the story, Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D'Avanzo. He asserted that the meetings were held to save American lives in Afghanistan, that Pollari could not have made similar declarations. He also asserted (correctly) that the two reporters had got the hotels' names wrong. (The meetings were actually held in a well known hotel just off Piazza Navona.)
I personally tend to see Ledeen from an Italian perspective as epitomized in the words of his long time collaborator, Francesco Pazienza. Pazienza depicted him as single-mindedly obsessed with making money.
In the end there were backdoor operations with envoys sent to Teheran to negotiate Teheran's stance. Once again, as with Reagan and Khomeini, the Iranians outwitted Cheney's backdoor boys. Rafsanjani was not elected president as many would have wished.
In 2002 the neocon crowd organized with Chalabi a big shebang in London where all the purported opposition leaders got together to arrange the future government. A good word was put in for the last king's heir. Plenty of hand shaking. Everything under control. Woolsey happy as a lark. The INC would make things smooth. There would be plenty of big bucks for everyone- and there were. Things didn't quite go as planned- or did they? The bottom line is that a clique of backdoor boys paying lip service to a shoddy ideology made fortunes.
and I'm left where I began, my mind running around in circles over the question of what was on these guys minds when they targeted Iraq. What they thought we would get out of Cheney's War. Of course, the Pentagon and the national security apparatus reacted in a predictable way to 9/11. Halliburton, Blackwater, Hunt Oil and others who jumped on the bandwagon along the way each had their own reasons for doing so. All are beside the point, unless they point to the fulfillment of something sketched out previously.
Starting a war that ultimately runs contrary to your national interests is nothing new. Ask Hitler. Or Saddam Hussein. I can't help thinking that the seeds of the war were nurtured long before 9/11. Another in a long line of oil wars? Certainly. Absent the oil, I'm convinced, there would have never been a conflict.
The comment by JakeS is perhaps as near to the truth as I see it (at the moment):
But the only one of these dimwits who has anything resembling real experience at the sharp end of the stick is Colin Powell...
Perhaps the key players in this sick drama fell victim to the same fallacy that bedevils almost all American relations with the world: that what happens in the world they know - Washington - is more important than than what goes on in the rest of the world.
Perhaps the simple truth of the matter is that there was no goal. That the leading players involved in fabricating this war were simply unhinged (a little more than they usually are) by 9/11, so existing plans and resources were marshalled and ordered and sent to fight an unjust, criminal war. For the average American, this is the case: that American power and prestige in the world needed to be asserted. By now, the irony of that statement is lost on only a very, very few.
To be perfectly honest, the Iraq war went, incredibly, much better than I thought it would in the very early days of 2003. I knew then it was going to be a total mess, in much the same way as Israel's situation, but it could have been so much worse. All of the Muslim world could have rallied around Hussein and prevented a single drop of oil from passing Hormuz. That didn't happen, and the misery resulting from the economic dislocation of this was somehow, unbelievably, avoided. There have been kidnappings, assasinations and attacks on Americans around the world (embassy staff are killed by orders of magnitude more than field and general grade officers - and are very security conscious), but by and large, all our embassies are still intact.
I'm also certain, though, that we haven't seen the end. Muslims still hold an immense grudge against the West (mainly the United States). Tensions between Russia and the West (mainly the United States) run just beneath the surface of our somewhat amicable relations. China becomes more assertive, as when she announces support for measures like the proposal for a new international reserve currency to replace the US dollar - spurred on by problems emanating mainly from the United States.
Interesting times indeed.
One other thing: I just want to thank everyone who took the time to comment, and gave this admittedly weak diary more attention than it deserved.