No War For Oil - US and British Troops out of the Gulf

By Peter Hadden
Socialist Voice February 2003

THE RIGHT-WING cabal surrounding George Bush in the White House are determined to go to war with or without United Nations backing. Tony Blair is also determined to be in on the act. Take away the political window dressing, the recent statements by both leaders, particularly Bush's warmongering State of the Union Address, make their intentions clear.

More eloquent and less ambiguous is the huge military juggernaut headed for the Gulf. By late February there could be up to 200,000 US troops assembled on the borders of Iraq, backed by around 30,000 from Britain.

The very presence of this huge force points to war as virtually certainty and probably in the short rather than in the long or even medium term. This is a hugely costly exercise being conducted by a US administration that has just cut $300 million of federal heating subsidies from 438,000 poor families and a so called "Labour" government in Britain that cannot come up with a decent pay rise for firefighters. The cost of maintaining 150,000 US troops in the Gulf -less than the numbers that are likely to be sent to war - has been estimated at $1 billion per week.

For George W., the political cost of not using this force once it has been assembled would be much higher. Having militarily eyeballed Saddam Hussein he cannot afford to play the Grand Old Duke of York and march this force away leaving Saddam in power. The loss of prestige would leave him a wounded President, only able to limp through to the next election now just over a year and a half away.

The only possible alternatives to war, that Saddam would take up the offer of exile and flee with his entourage, or that a section of the military would decide to save their own bacon and topple him in a coup, seem very unlikely. The US have for years been trying to encourage a section of the regime to overthrow Saddam, with no success. As other options close, war becomes the only way the objective of "regime change" can be achieved.

Opposition to war

While Bush and his lapdog Blair are prepared to go it alone or with a "coalition of the willing", that is a coalition of those most subservient to the whims of Washington, they would prefer to have the diplomatic cover of United Nations backing. Opinion polls in Britain consistently show that more than 70% of people are opposed to Britain going to war without the UN. This, plus the opposition to Blair in Parliament and even in his own Cabinet, where a majority have expressed reservations about a go it alone strategy, give him very little room to manoeuvre. Should a war fought without the UN go wrong, Blair could find himself removed. In the US, there has also been massive opposition to the war and especially to a war not supported by the UN. Polls carried out by CNN/Time and the Brooking Institute at the end of January show 57% against unilateral action. Even the masters of political insensitivity who make up the Bush administration, people who feel they have a god given right to bludgeon their will upon the world, have been forced to take some note of these figures and of the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the streets of Washington, San Francisco and other cities.

So, as is generally the case, the route to war has had to be through the detour of diplomacy, with Bush and Blair first seeking a UN mandate. Even the hawks in the Bush administration have had to check their impatience to allow the UN exercise of weapons inspection to be played out.

WMD charade

All this is a charade since the real reasons for the war have nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction. Whatever chemical and biological weapons the regime once had were supplied by the West when Saddam was an ally against the fundamentalist regime in Iran.

Iraq's chemical and biological weapons have long since either degraded or been destroyed. Whatever may be left poses little threat. The idea that Saddam would launch a chemical, biological or nuclear attack on the US or its allies when he is well aware that the US is the one country that not only possesses weapons of mass destruction in abundance but would be prepared to respond to such an attack by using them, is absurd.

The sending of the weapons inspectors placed the Iraqi regime in a no win situation. Whatever the Inspectorate reported back to their UN masters would be used by the US as a pretext for war. If any weapons were found, be they smoking, smouldering or just plain rusting, this would be held up by Washington as proof that the Iraqis were lying and that further weapons must exist. If the Inspectorate found nothing, this would be cited as proof that the regime did not co-operate.

Similarly, the Iraqi regime cannot defend itself against the assertion that it has links with Al Qaeda. Never mind that there is no evidence for this claim - quite the reverse since the secular regime in Baghdad is no friend of fundamentalism. When you fight a "preventative" war, not against what an enemy has done but what they "might do", unsubstantiated allegations are all that is needed to provide the wafer of justification that is enough for Bush and Blair.

This pre war propaganda battle is an attempt to swing public opinion behind the war and also to get the UN to provide a cover for what is in reality an American invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile the military juggernaut trundles on and the countdown to war has begun.

This juggernaut moves relentlessly because it is driven by the real reasons for this conflict which have nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction or Al Qaeda links. While there is no fundamental difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties and their Presidential candidates in the US - both represent and uphold the interests of US Imperialism - there can be differences in the way they set about their business. Bush's victory represented a shift, placing the reins of power in the hands of an extreme right wing section of the US establishment.

His administration has close links with the big Texan oil interests, with the armaments industry as well as with sections of finance capital such as those who ran the now bust Enron corportation. Bush himself is a failed Texas oilman: his own company, Arbusto, was on the point of bankruptcy when it was bought out, eventually by the Harken oil firm that kept him on the Board in order to make use of his father's contacts in the industry. Vice President Dick Cheney was the chief executive of the world's largest oil services company, Halliburton. Security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, sat on the Board of Chevron. Commerce Secretary, Don Evans, was the chairman of a Denver oil and gas company, Tom Brown Inc. Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfield, the Dr. Strangelove of the administration, was chief executive of pharmaceutical company, G.D.Searle. And so it goes on...

In terms of foreign policy, these people represent the more unilateralist and interventionist wing of the ruling class. Long before Bush's victory, the various right wing think tanks to which they had links were advocating direct action against so called "rogue states": those countries that they thought might challenge or in some way threaten the interests of US capitalism. They favoured bringing the US's political influence across the globe into line with its overwhelming military hegemony. What is the point having a military force greater that that of the 15 next largest armies combined if you do not use it?

September 11th was a blow to the prestige of Bush and the right wing cabal surrounding him in the White House. His response in Afghanistan was in large part aimed at restoring that prestige and demonstrating to the masses throughout the ex colonial world what the consequences of messing with Uncle Sam would be. Similarly, the coming war against Iraq is also about prestige and about making an example of Saddam Hussein to encourage other regimes to fall into line with US policy.

War for oil

But the more fundamental reason for this war is economic and was in place before September 11th. Essentially, this is a war for oil. Saudi Arabia is presently the world's largest oil producer and sits on by far the largest known reserves, some 261 billion barrels. Next in terms of output is the United States, which produces over seven million barrels a day. Nonetheless, its domestic output falls far short of consumption and the US now has to import over ten million barrels a day.

However, domestic reserves are dwindling as the Texan and Californian oil fields begin to dry up. Known reserves are only 30 billion barrels. In 2001, the US Energy Department issued a report on this question, the Cheney Report, written by the current Vice President. This projected that oil imports would have to rise to 16.7 million barrels per day by 2020. The fact that some three quarters of oil consumed in the US will soon have to be imported means that its ability to guarantee these supplies is now a key strategic concern.

The four main suppliers to the US today are Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Canada and Venezuela. Of these, only Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have known reserves greater than those of the US. The Venezuelan supply has just been disrupted for seven weeks because of the lock out by oil producers trying to bring down the populist Chavez government. There are grave fears within the US administration that the hated Saudi royal family could be overthrown and that another fundamentalist regime, this time with an anti western character, could take its place.

Fadel Gheit, an investment specialist with the New York brokerage firm, Fahnestock & Co. told the Guardian: "Of the 22 million people in Saudi Arabia, half are under the age of 25 and half of them have no jobs. Many want to see the end of the royal ruling family and, whether it takes five months or five years, their days are numbered. If Saudi Arabia fell into the hands of Moslem fundamentalists and the exports were stopped, there is not enough spare oil anywhere else to make up the shortfall."

This is why the Bush regime are tearing up environmental treaties to allow them to open up exploration in Alaska. It is why, expecting that 25% of US imports will come from African countries like Nigeria, Angola and Equatorial Guinea by 2015, they are exploring the possibility of setting up a military base in the Gulf of Guinea off the East African coast. It is also why they are trying to strengthen their interests in the Caspian region.

But above all, it is why Iraq, with the second largest known reserves of oil in the world, some 112.5 billion barrels, is such a glittering prize for US Imperialism. Iraq has long been of key importance to the main capitalist powers because of oil. During the British mandate the oil was divided between US, French and British interests with companies like Shell and BP having an important stake.

The oil industry was nationalised in 1974. Only after Saddam's humiliating defeat in the Gulf War and especially after the introduction of the UN food for oil scheme at the end of 1996 were foreign companies able to come in and sign lucrative exploration deals. Now the Bush administration wants to go all the way, seize the oilfields and hand them over to his backers in US big oil.

In preparation for the aftermath of a military victory, Dick Chaney and officials of the State Department have been holding meetings with representatives of ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhilips and his old company, Halliburton. On the agenda is the taking over of the Iraqi oil fields and a programme of investment which, over five years, it is hoped would quadruple exports from the present 1.5 million barrels per day to at least 6 million. The aim would be to drive a huge pipeline through the OPEC cartel, dramatically lower oil prices and, in this way, boost the ailing world economy.

As one of Bush's economic advisers, Larry Lindsay, put it: "When there is a regime change you could add three to five million barrels (per day) to world supply, The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy."

The character of this war - a war for oil - will not change if it has UN backing or if it is supported by a "Coalition of the willing" that includes key European states like Italy and Spain. It is not just US capitalism that has an interest in Iraqi oil. According to the International Energy Agency's World Economic Outlook for 2001 the total value of the oil contracts signed by Saddam with foreign companies and governments is $1.1 trillion.

Economic interests

Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, two, the US and Britain, have been gung ho for war for some time. The other three have a direct economic stake in the conflict. A consortium of Russian companies, led by the state owned Lukoil, have a 75% stake in the West Qurna oilfield in the south of Iraq which holds up to 20 billion barrels.

French company, TotalFinaElf, has an agreement to develop the Nahr Omar and other fields close to the Iranian border. The China National Petroleum Corporation has reached an agreement to develop the Adhab field. Companies from Spain, India and Canada have also struck oil deals with Saddam.

The concern of these rival powers is that, after the war it will be a case of "to the victor the spoils", and that, if the US does go it alone (apart from its British poodle), they will revoke existing contracts and hand the oil fields over to US companies. These concerns give the US some leverage in their negotiations at the United Nations. The behind the scenes bargaining to achieve agreement for war will have little to do with weapons of mass destruction and a lot to do with whether existing oil contracts will be honoured in a post Saddam Iraq.

In purely military terms this war is a one-sided affair. The US will have aerial supremacy from the outset and will use it to bombard Iraqi positions with cluster bombs, huge daisy cutter bombs and other weapons of battlefield mass destruction. They have threatened to use as many cruise missiles in the first three days of the conflict as they fired in the whole of the last Gulf War. On top of all this there are new weapons, recently developed microwave bombs for example, that Rumsfield and his military top brass are keen to try out.

Easy victory?

This does not necessarily mean that the war will be a push over, a re-run of Afganistan where the rag-bag Taliban militias disintegrated and were routed, or like the last Gulf War which saw 200,000 Iraqis killed against an official toll of only 148 "allied" troops.

Following the victories in the Gulf, Kosovo and Afghanistan, a myth has grown up that wars can be won from the air with only proxy forces directed by "experts" needed on the ground to mop up what is left of the enemy. Those who believe this have forgotten the lessons of Vietnam where the US had control of the skies and used this to carpet bomb the Vietcong and their supply lines with bombs that may not have been as "smart" as the present crop but were not much less destructive. Yet years of bombing did not cow or defeat the Vietcong.

The key factor in Vietnam was the determination of the population to fight for social as well as national liberation. In Afghanistan the hated Taliban regime had very little social base of support among the population. In Iraq it may be the case that the people, the 300,000 strong army included, have little inclination to give their lives to save the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

Certainly among the Kurdish population in the north and among the Shiite Muslims - who rose in rebellion against Saddam after the 1990-91 war - there is likely to be little active support for the regime in Baghdad. The mood of the Sunni population in the centre of the country cannot be so easily determined from the outside.

It may be that hatred of America and an understanding that this is not a war to "liberate" them, but a rapacious drive for oil, may outweigh their dislike of Saddam. If there is a mood to resist, especially among the 90,000 Republican Guard the war may turn into a more protracted and bloody affair than the Pentagon chiefs hope.

In particular, if Baghdad is defended, the US and British troops could end up in a battle, fought at close quarters among the ruins and in the sewers, where the edge of aerial power and smart weapons makes less difference and where victory has to be won by combat troops on the ground. Then, the outcome could be like Grozny, where the Russians were able to take the city by reducing it to rubble but at a terrible cost.

War, by its nature, creates instability. There can be all sorts of unexpected twists, even in events far removed from the immediate battlefield which can affect the course it takes. An invasion of Iraq could re-ignite the smouldering conflict between Israel and Palestine. Saddam could launch an attack on Israel in order to provoke retaliation and allow him to paint the war as a US/Israeli offensive against the Arab world. It is also possible that the newly elected Sharon government might try to use the cover of the war to invade Gaza and try to crush the organised Palestinian resistance that is centred there.

While the exact course and outcome of the war may be uncertain the one thing that is not in doubt is that it will create more instability worldwide. The idea that a post war Iraq will be reconstructed and stabilised by a huge injection of aid is fanciful.

Over $4 billion dollars was promised to rebuild Afghanistan's shattered infrastructure and economy. Only a tiny fraction has been delivered. Afghanistan is a state in name only. The rival warlords who briefly united behind the Northern Alliance now control much of the countryside and some are preparing to take on the government in Kabul.

President Hamid Karzei only remains in power courtesy of 12,000 "peace keeping" troops, especially the 4,000 who patrol Kabul. After the assassination of two Cabinet members and an attempt on his own life, his personal security is now in the hands of a private US security firm.

Meanwhile the Taliban and Al Qaeda have started to regroup and there are regular attacks on the mainly US "peace keepers". There have even been open battles in the mountainous southeast with US planes routinely responding with 500lb and 2,000lb bombs.

Iraq's future

If the relatively small sums needed to rebuild Afganistan could not be delivered, the much greater cost of reconstructing Iraq, especially if there is a protracted war, will not be found. After the 1990-91 conflict, Japan, Germany and other countries paid 80% of the $80 billion cost. This time the costs, which some estimate will be more than $200 billion, are likely to be borne by the US and by Britain.

War will strengthen the secessionist tendencies within Iraq: among the Kurds in the north and the Sunni population in the Basra region and along the border with Iran. Saddam has used brutal military methods to instil a fear of Baghdad and keep the country intact. A crushing defeat for the Iraq army would remove much of this fear and encourage revolt.

A break-up of Iraq would have huge implications for the whole region, especially Turkey with its large Kurdish population. Fearful of regional destabilisation, the US want to preserve the Iraqi state as it is, offering only some measure of autonomy to its minorities. This is why they would have preferred a coup to oust Saddam or a limited war that would have left the core of the army intact.

They will more likely face a situation where the only force capable of holding Iraq together will be the victorious US troops. All the attempts to cobble together a credible post war government from the diverse Iraqi opposition groups have so far failed. The alternative is for the US military to take direct charge; as they did when General MacArthur became ruler of Japan in 1945.

Even if some Iraqi toadies are found to front an administration, they will only provide a fig leaf of cover for what will be US military rule. The US administration is preparing for the long term occupation of Iraq by at least 75,000 troops at an estimated cost of over $16 billion a year.

This will eventually turn into a running sore for Washington. The presence of a US military garrison, and the plunder of the country's oil wealth will lead to open opposition, probably to military attacks, sabotage of oil pipelines etc. How quickly such opposition will develop would depend in part on what happens in the war, but the present situation in Afghanistan gives a glimpse of what the reality of a post war Iraq would be like.

The instability caused by this war will extend far beyond the Iraqi borders, and far beyond the immediate region. The Arab world will be shaken and the fate of many of its rulers, who in practice have bowed in submission to US pressure, will hang in the balance.

Living standards have fallen drastically across the Arab world. The World Economic Forum estimates that, because of population growth, the region needs a 5% annual growth rate just to prevent unemployment rising. Over the last decade the average growth has been less than 1% and per capita income has fallen below the 1980 level.

Islamic fundamentalism

Anger at poverty, at the war, at the double standards of the western world over Israel and at the corrupt and undemocratic client regimes at home could, in the first instance, express itself in a growth of fundamentalism. In Saudi Arabia, where a survey last year found that 95% of 25-41 year olds support Bin Laden, the war might accelerate the collapse of the ruling royal family. The coming to power of an extreme anti western fundamentalist regime in the country with the largest output and largest reserves of oil could trigger another "war against terror" to bring it down.

An invasion of Iraq could strengthen the fundamentalist opposition in Afghanistan. Across the border in Pakistan, the Islamic opposition, who were runners up in the last rigged election, could emerge as the first party, threatening the possibility of an Algerian style civil war.

For the Bush administration, even an outright victory in Iraq will still leave unfinished business in the form of the others who dare stand in the way of outright US military and political hegemony. There is the problem of North Korea, with its abundant weapons of mass destruction and with a million strong army stationed just a few miles from Seoul and from the 37,000 US troops already garrisoned in South Korea. The build up to war in Iraq and the difficulties of intervening in a conflict complicated by China's ambition to emerge as a regional superpower forced Bush to put his dispute with Pyongyang on the back burner.

For the people of the western world, especially those countries that back Bush in this war, this instability and upheaval is likely to be felt closer to home in the form of further terror attacks. It is not just the masses in the ex colonial world, but ordinary people in the west, who will pay the price.

Working class people may also have to pay an economic price. They already do so in that billions that could be spent on houses, hospitals, schools and other services that would improve people's lives are being wasted on weapons of mass destruction. But there could be a greater cost.

World economy

The world economy is teetering on the brink of a major crisis. The very factors that led to a prolongation of the boom of the 1990s are now threatening to aggravate the economic hangover. Above all, the world economy has been kept afloat by the willingness of consumers in the US to go into debt and act as "buyers of last resort" for world capitalism.

They borrowed against the perceived wealth of shares - but a three-year fall, which has seen US shares drop to half their peak value, has brought this to an end. More recently people continued to borrow against rising house values but this also appears to have reached its limits.

Economists fear that the US and European economies could now fall into a deflationary trap similar to that which has snared the Japanese economy for more than a decade. Some argue that a short war, which ends with the flooding of cheap Iraqi oil onto the world market driving down oil prices, will provide a lifeline for world capitalism.

This is likely to prove overly optimistic. The real uncertainty felt by the financiers and capitalists as the countdown to war proceeds has been shown by the jitters in the stock markets and investment decisions being put off. On the most optimistic scenario of a short war and the opening of the Iraqi oil taps, oil prices could fall for a period. But given the overall problems of world capitalism this would most likely result in a short term boost to the profits of the oil barons and of big energy consuming companies rather than offer a way out of the underlying crisis of the system.

The more likely immediate effect of the war will be to drive oil prices up, perhaps even dramatically. If the war is prolonged, or if the Iraqi oil wells are sabotaged and go up in thick black smoke before elite US troops can seize them, the rise in prices could be longer lasting and could be the final trigger plunging Europe and the US into recession.

Falling living standards, political upheaval and war - these are not some temporary aberration; rather they are the expression of the true face of capitalism in crisis. The revolt that will develop against this war needs to look beyond the plumes of smoke that will rise over Iraq to uncover the real causes of this devastation and begin to provide an alternative.

What is needed is a movement that not only opposes war for profit but also challenges the system that breeds such conflicts. It is understandable that the anger of the peoples of the ex colonial world should be directed against the West. But the idea of a war directed against all the people of the advanced countries represents a dead end for the masses of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Terror attacks such as the atrocity committed on September 11 are completely counterproductive.

The victims of such attacks are overwhelmingly working class people who are not responsible for the crimes committed by their rulers. Far from weakening capitalism and imperialism they provide an excuse for military intervention, as September 11 gave Bush the pretext to attack Afghanistan and in part also to invade Iraq.

Similarly the ideas of Islamic fundamentalism offer no way out from the poverty and misery caused by Imperialist exploitation. Fundamentalism in power in Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia has meant only ongoing poverty and brutal repression.

Although the living conditions of the oppressed masses in the ex colonial world and the working class in the advanced countries may be different, both have a common interest in getting rid of this rotten capitalist system.

What is needed is a world struggle, uniting the working class across national boundaries in the fight for a socialist system in which oil, water and the other resources of the world would be publicly owned, democratically managed and shared between all the peoples of the planet.

The task of getting rid of tyrants such as Saddam Hussein, as well as all the pro western dictators in power across the ex colonial world, is down to the people of those countries. The working class movement in the West should give every practical assistance in this. Similarly, the task of getting rid of George Bush is a job for the US working class. They too should be given every help and assistance from workers around the world.

Tens of millions across the globe will take to the streets against this war. It is possible to see in this the outlines of a new movement of the working class and the oppressed that could not only stop the warmongers but could put an end to the system that breeds them.




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