Next month, Iraq is going in for round two to sell its oil field development contracts at a meeting in Istanbul. Round one wasn’t successful–the government only managed to find a developer for one of its eight fields. (The Ramallah oilfield, which will be developed into the world’s second largest by BP, in a joint venture with China’s CNPC company.) American companies didn’t get any contracts, either. As the informative Al-Jazeera English story above points out, “the foreign companies have been put off” by the terms of the Iraqi government.
For years, we’ve heard that the Iraq War was all about oil. (No blood for oil, as the saying went.) Anti-war folks believed it, Iraqis believed it: that the Americans were coming to grab the petroleum. In a broad sense, this was true–the only reason we care about the Middle East, in general, is for our “strategic interest.” “Strategic interest” really means “oil.” But blaming the war on oil has never been a fully satisfying explanation, at least not for me. Like blaming the war on the “neocons,” it’s a comforting, causal line of thinking that allows us to ignore our country’s habitual and massively expensive militaristic behavior from Post-WWII to 9-11 and beyond, a subject that’s generally ignored in mainstream political debate.
We also don’t like the fact that history is just as likely to be written by the forces of jackassery and incompetence as it is by intelligence and foresight. That sentiment has no place in polite discourse. So it’s more comforting to believe that there was some kind of coherent, even nefarious, plan for war (a cabal in the White House to steal oil!) rather than to see it as a result our nation’s fundamental structural problems, supported by the spastic cowardice of political leaders, the media, and the American public at large.
Let’s say it is all about oil. Here are couple of thoughts to chew on.
1) American oil companies are better off dealing with a dictatorship than a democracy when it comes to getting oil. (See: Arabia, Saudi.) Stablity is the mantra of big oil, not elections.
2)The American invasion and occupation of Iraq doesn’t seem to be helping U.S. companies get much of an inside track. Note that it’s China and BP that seem to have the lead so far in the bidding.
3) So if this was a war about oil for American companies, it looks like it’s another area where we really messed up. ‘Cause we ain’t really getting any.
4) If we spent a trillion dollars to get at the oil, doesn’t it suck for us that our rival China is already moving in without having to spend a dime?
5) Will it ever be politically possible for the Iraqi government to cut favorable deals with the big American oil companies? Isn’t it always going to be politically easier for the Iraqis to make deals with the Chinese, the Europeans, the Russians, the Iranians etc?