Largely overlooked were Wilkerson’s frank
admissions about the importance of oil in justifying a long-term U.S.
military intervention in Iraq. “The other thing that no one ever likes
to talk about is SUVs and oil and consumption,” the retired Army colonel
said in a speech on Oct. 19.
While bemoaning the administration’s incompetence
in implementing the war strategy, Wilkerson said the U.S. government now
had no choice but to succeed in Iraq or face the necessity of conquering
the Middle East within the next 10 years to ensure access to the
region’s oil supplies.
“We had a discussion in (the State Department’s
Office of) Policy Planning about actually mounting an operation to take
the oilfields of the Middle East, internationalize them, put them under
some sort of U.N. trusteeship and administer the revenues and the oil
accordingly,” Wilkerson said. “That’s how serious we thought about it.”
The centrality of Iraq’s oil in Wilkerson’s blunt
comments contrasted with three years of assurances from the Bush
administration that the war had almost nothing to do with oil.
When critics have called the Iraq War a case of
“blood for oil,” George W. Bush’s defenders have dismissed them as
“conspiracy theorists.” The Bush defenders insisted the president went
to war out of concern about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and
Saddam Hussein’s links to al-Qaeda, neither of which turned out to be
true. Later, Bush cited humanitarian concerns and the desire to spread
Always left out of the administration’s war
equation – or referenced only obliquely – was the fact that Iraq sits
atop one of the world’s largest known oil reserves at a time when
international competition is intensifying to secure reliable oil
But Wilkerson is not the first senior Bush
administration official to cite the importance of oil in the U.S.
calculus toward Iraq. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill made
similar assertions in 2004.
O’Neill, who was fired in late 2002 after
disagreeing with Bush on tax cuts and Iraq, told author Ron Suskind that
Bush’s first National Security Council meeting just days into his
presidency included a discussion of invading Iraq. O’Neill said even at
that early date, the message from Bush was “find a way to do this.”
Oil and Iraq were soon mixing in the
administration’s thinking about energy and politics.
On Feb. 3, 2001 – only two weeks after Bush took
office – an NSC document instructed NSC officials to cooperate with
Cheney’s Energy Task Force because it was “melding” two previously
unrelated areas of policy: “the review of operational policies towards
rogue states” and “actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil
and gas fields.”
Before this disclosure, which appeared in The New
Yorker three years later, it was believed that Cheney’s secretive task
force was focusing on ways to reduce environmental regulations and fend
off the Kyoto protocol on global warming.
But the NSC document suggested that the Bush
administration from its first days recognized the linkage between
ousting unreliable leaders like Saddam Hussein and securing oil reserves
for future U.S. consumption. In other words, the Cheney task force
appears to have had a military component to “capture” oil fields in
“rogue states.” [For more on the NSC document, see The New Yorker, Feb.
After al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks,
Bush had the political opening he needed to turn his designs on Iraq
into reality. Though there was no credible evidence connecting Hussein
to al-Qaeda and Sept. 11, Bush and Cheney made the linkage anyway.
Active preparations for war with Iraq were soon
underway. Behind the scenes, O’Neill said he watched as the
administration refined its plans for how to divvy up Iraq’s oil reserves
after the invasion.
“Documents were being prepared by the Defense
Intelligence Agency, (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld’s intelligence
arm, mapping Iraq’s oil fields and exploration areas and listing
companies that might be interested in leveraging the precious asset,”
Suskind wrote in The Price of Loyalty.
Beyond giving U.S. firms access to Iraq’s oil, the
Bush administration recognized how the oil could help induce both allies
and rivals to back broader U.S. policies.
“One document, headed ‘Foreign Suitors for Iraqi
Oilfield Contracts,’ lists companies from 30 countries – including
France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom – their specialties,
bidding histories, and in some cases their particular areas of
interest,” Suskind wrote in recounting O’Neill’s observations.
“An attached document maps Iraq with markings for
‘supergiant oilfield,’ ‘other oilfield,’ and ‘earmarked for production
sharing,’ while demarking the largely undeveloped southwest of the
country into nine ‘blocks’ to designate areas for future exploration.
“The desire to ‘dissuade’ countries from engaging
in ‘asymmetrical challenges’ to the United States … matched with plans
for how the world’s second largest oil reserve might be divided among
the world’s contractors made for an irresistible combination, O’Neill
In pronouncements to the American people, however,
Bush and other administration officials denied that oil was a reason for
the Iraq invasion. Instead they stressed the danger posed by Iraq’s
supposed WMD, then the humanitarian interest in removing Hussein, then
encouraging democracy to flourish in the region, and finally preventing
the spread of Islamic extremism.
Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, who was among
the career military officers pulled into the war planning, said she and
her fellow officers were troubled by how the American people were
“Many of us in the Pentagon, conservatives and
liberals alike, felt that this (Iraq) agenda, whatever its flaws or
merits, had never been openly presented to the American people,” she
wrote. “Instead, the public story line was a fear-peddling and confusing
set of messages, designed to take Congress and the country into a war of
executive choice, a war based on false pretenses.” [See Salon.com’s “The
New Pentagon Papers.”]
By contrast, Wilkerson openly acknowledged the oil
factor both in explaining the U.S. invasion and in justifying the need
to remain in Iraq to ensure that any new government is not hostile to
Despite his earlier doubts about the wisdom of
invading, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Powell said
the Middle East’s oil reserves makes withdrawal from Iraq more dangerous
than leaving Vietnam three decades ago.
“We can’t leave Iraq; we simply can’t,” Wilkerson
said in his Oct. 19 speech to the New America Foundation in Washington.
“I’m not evaluating the decision to go to war.
That’s a different matter. But we’re there, we’ve done it, and we cannot
leave. I would submit to you that if we leave precipitously or we leave
in a way that doesn’t leave something there we can trust, if we do that,
we will mobilize the nation, put five million men and women under arms
and go back and take the Middle East within a decade. That’s what we’ll
have to do.”
Wilkerson made clear that what made Iraq such a
strategic concern was the oil.
“We consume 60 percent of the world’s resources,”
he said. “We have an economy and we have a society that is built on the
consumption of those resources. We better get fast at work changing the
foundation – and I don’t see us fast at work on that, by the way,
another failure of this administration, in my mind – or we better be
ready to take those assets (in the Middle East).
“If you want those resources and you want (Middle
Eastern) governments that aren’t inimical to your interests with regard
to those resources, then you better pay attention to the area and you
better not leave it in a mess.”
So, it appears those Iraq “blood-for-oil”
accusations were right all along, at least in identifying one of the
real reasons for invading Iraq. The present danger, however, is that
U.S. policy-makers have no better solution to the quagmire in Iraq than
continuing indefinitely to barter more blood for a continued supply of