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SPGB Socialist Opposition To War - The Bush-Blair Iraq War: Oil, Arms-Deals and Lies

The invasion and occupation of Iraq has served as a spotlight, showing up the false propaganda of capitalist politicians who argued for the war, on such blatantly spurious pretexts.

George W Bush and Tony Blair both asserted, over and over again, that Iraq definitely had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Now, in January 2005, even the US Iraq Survey Group has quietly been closed down, with nothing to show for its efforts.

Blair's statements ranged from the downright positive: "I have no doubt that they will find the clearest possible evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction" (4 June 2003), to a craftily modified version: "I have absolutely no doubt at all that we will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction programmes" ( 8 July 2003), to a pass-the-buck, get-me-out-of-this, version - "I can only tell you I believed the intelligence we had at the time" (25 January 2004).
Rory Bremner, John Bird and John Fortune,
YOU ARE HERE - A DOSSIER, 2004, pp66-67.

It is hardly surprising that now, in 2005, even his colleague, Gordon Brown, is quoted as saying to Blair: "There is nothing that you could say to me now that I could ever believe". So, when "Trust me, I'm Tony!" appeals for working-class votes in the General Election, workers should bear this interesting character-reference in mind. Like "tricky Dicky" Nixon, the question comes to mind: who would buy a used car for this man? But then which of us would trust any capitalist politician?

That pretext for invading Iraq, linking the Iraq regime both to the mythical WMD and the Twin Towers attack (the 9/11 event), as a terrifying threat, was a Big Lie. No opportunity was missed by Bush to press home his claim that Saddam Hussein was behind this horrific event. The fact that Iraq was a secular state, opposed to religious fundamentalism, was disregarded. Since many Americans, it seems, are ignorant of the Middle East, they bought this - hook, line and sinker.

The campaigns of Bush and Blair in the lead up to the war were examples of the technique, previously pioneered (or at least made famous by) the National Socialists in Germeany: this was the so-called Big Lie. Propagandists of the Big Lie held that, as long as you said a thing enough times, and loudly enough - no matter how preposterous it was - people would believe it.

... I don't see that there is much difference between what Bush and Blair did this last time around with Iraq (and what George Bush and Margaret Thatcher did on the first occasions) and what the National Socialists did in the lead up to World War II.

Stephen Pelletiere, IRAQ AND THE INTERNATIONAL OIL SYSTEM - WHY AMERICA WENT TO WAR IN THE GULF,Washington, 2nd ed. 2004, p240

Likewise, Messrs Bremner, Bird and Fortune:

Regime change was obvious but the legality was questionable...There was really only one thing that pressed all the buttons: weapons of mass destruction. If Saddam had them, he would pose a clear and immediate threat... And it was easy to sell to the public. A madman with a big bomb is easy to sell.

They also quoted Herman Goering on this subject:

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger: it works the same in any country ( Nuremberg, 1946).
YOU ARE HERE, pp64-65

Manipulation of public opinion is something the US and British governments, and their mass media, are remarkably effective at doing. Noam Chomsky noted how Saddam Hussein became suddenly demonised in 1990, having been supported throughout the 1980s, with arms sales and financial credits, by the US, British and other 'allied' governments:

By any standards, Saddamn Hussein is a monstrous figure... But his villainy is not the reason for his assumption of the role of the Great Satan in August 1990. It was apparent long before, and did not impede Washington's efforts to lend him aid and support... Hussein became a demon in the usual fashion: when it was finally understood, beyond any doubt, that his independent nationalism threatened US interests.
Chomsky, DETERRING DEMOCRACY, 1992, pp210-1

Stephen Pelletiere, formerly the CIA's senior political analyst on Iraq throughout the Iran-Iraq war, argues that, whatever the rhetoric, the war is actually about control of Middle East oil reserves, and beyond that, future world dominance:

America wants the oil; that, we can take as a given. But it did not go to war because it thought that was the only way it could get it. America, the world's financial power house, always has ways of getting what it wants, outside of actually declaring itself to be at war with anyone. What the United States really wants is to hang on to its role of world hegemon, and it can't do that if it does not control the oil of the Persian Gulf...
... The book concludes that America's occupation of Iraq is a bid to recoup what the oil companies lost when they were forced to disgorge in 1973; that is, control over the world oil industry and beyond that control of the global economy.

Pelletiere, op.cit., p9

Before and especially since the 1973 OPEC 'revolution', the US oil industry had become ever more closely linked with the State Department, and both were involved with the huge - and growing - US military-industrial complex.

[The US] has set itself up as the area's protector, claiming to be disinterestedly keeping the Gulf open to replenish the oil suplies of the Free World. At the same time, however, Americans got themselves involved in a circular trading relationship with the Gulf monarchs, buying oil with dollars and then selling the sheikhs arms, for which the sheikhs would return the cash in the form of petro dollars.

Pelletiere, op. cit., p238

This profitable and powerful trading pattern - with oil-rich Gulf states regularly buying quantities of arms from arms-rich America (and her Little Brother, Britain) - went well, especially for the US arms firms, until soon after the end of the Cold War, when in 1996 the Gulf states reached saturation point with arms buying. World oil prices had fallen, partly due to recessions in the US, Europe, Japan, and South-East Asia. Only if the price of oil was raised, the Gulf monarchs said, could they continue to go on buying, as before, from the US arms manufacturers.

Clearly, to save the bacon of the vast US military-industrial complex, it was essential to raise the price of oil and fast. Hence the need for the US to have a war - against someone: Iraq was only one of several candidates for the privilege (Iran and North Korea were also mentioned). Hence too the implausible pretexts given for attacking Iraq.

Pelletiere argues that :

[The neo-cons] created a climate of opinion in the United States (and to a degree outside of it as well) that made the Iraqis appear to be a menace, who would, with their suppositous weapons of mass destruction bring destruction on the Free World. All lies, to be sure, but effectively disseminated...
But did the neo-cons do this all on their own?...
Behind them... supplying the necessary muscle, is the military/industrial complex. All of the major defense contractors, who, with their hefty donations, subsidize the conservative think tanks, and contribute to candidates to the Congress and for the Presidency - these are the real movers and shakers, so to speak.
... The neo-cons did not lead America into the morass of the Gulf.
America is in the Gulf, militarily, because the military/industrial complex required it, in order to live in the style to which it (the complex, that is) had become accustomed (op. cit., p238).

It is easy enough to point out the lying propaganda and double standards of capitalist politicians. More important for us as Socialists is to expose the real, economic and strategic, interests involved - capitalist interests, not working-class interests, as in all of capitalism's wars.

Given the huge cost of this war (estimated at $4-5bn a month and rising), the possibility that US occupation forces may need to be stationed permanently in Iraq, the fact that the Pentagon's already huge budget of $400bn is already being recalculated, upwards (THE INDEPENDENT, 8 Jan. 2005), plus the possibility of the need to reintroduce the draft, the question is already being raised, even by those who supported the war, as to who can possibly be benefitting from it.

Within Iraq, reconstruction contracts have been granted to approved US businesses, in an uncompetitive and exclusive way. Moreover, Iraqi business assets are being privatised - i.e. taken over by US companies. All of which leaves a stench of corruption, and, worse, war-profiteering. (War-profiteering is a an old tradition in the United States.) That many of the companies favoured with these very special contracts have board members who are closely linked to Bush and the Republican Party is hardly coincidental.

Top of these favoured companies is Halliburton: its former chief executive, Dick Cheney, is Bush's Vice-President, and its customers have included Saddam Hussein, Libya's Colonel.Gaddafi, and Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khomenei. Next on the list is Bechtel: among its senior board members are George Shultz ( ex-Secretary of State), Jack Sheehan (a member of the Defense Policy Board), Caspar Weinberger (former Defense Secretary) - all of them men with political pull. Back in 1983, Bechtel was planning a pipeline from Iraq to Jordan: conveniently Donald Rumsfeld was in Baghdad on a peace (!) mission, so he chatted to Saddam about Bechtel's pipeline, and reported back to Bechtel's Mr Shultz - at that time Secretary of State (see Bremner, Bird and Fortune, op.cit., re"The Oiligarchy", pp. 76-80).

Clearly, with the current increased price of oil, partly due to Iraq being out of the equation, and partly due to huge uncertainty, the other oil-exporting states stand to benefit. They should now be able to resume buying arms from the US, especially as the dollar has depreciated. But the US is a huge importer of oil. This means there is a conflict of interests between the 'military/industrial complex' section of the US capitalist class, on the one hand, and those capitalist industries and companies for whom the price of imported oil is a cost, whether in terms of an essential raw material, or as fuel for energy or for transport. Moreover with the dollar falling, they find it harder to export.
But no matter the costs, in corruption, in loss of lives, in environmental pollution, in loss of legitimacy, whatever: those who run the US governments have, for the last half-century at least, been governed by the 1945 dictum of the State Department. The Middle East, because of its huge quantities of oil, was "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history"(quoted by Chomsky, 1999, in IRAQ UNDER SIEGE - THE DEADLY IMPACT OF SANSTIONS AND WAR, ed. Anthony Arnove, 2000, p53).

Moreover, while in 1945 the US had global dominance as a producer and distributor of oil, and by use of conditions attached to Marshall Aid could direct European states to switch from coal to imported oil, paid for in dollars, thus eliminating sterling as a world currency, this is no longer the situation.

The United States is heavily dependent now on imported oil: "already a little over half its daily consumption of 20 million barrels is imported" (ASPECTS OF INDIA'S ECONOMY, nos 33 and 34, Dec. 2002).

The US Department of Energy and the International Energy Agency both project that global oil demand could grow from the current 77 million barrels a day (mbd) to 120 mbd in 20 years... The agencies assume that most of the energy required to meet this demand must come from OPEC, whose production is expected to jump from 28 mbd in 1998 to 60 mbd in 2020. Virtually all of this increase would come from the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia... 63 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves are in the Middle East, 25 per cent (or 261 billion barrels) in Saudi Arabia alone... no other economy rivals that of the United States for the growth of its oil imports... The United States increase in imports accounts for more than a third of the total increase in oil trade and more than half of the total increase in OPEC's production during the 1990s. This fact, together with the fall in US oil production, means that the US will remain the single most important force in the oil market.

Edward L Morse and James Richard, THE BATTLE FOR ENERGY DOMINANCE,
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, March-April 2002,
quoted in ASPECTS OF INDIA'S ECONOMY, Dec. 2002

Such are some of the economic facts. Hence the "battle for energy dominance". In addition, the US has military forces and bases in well over 100 countries worldwide, especially in recent times in the new oil-producing states of Central Asia - the 'stans'-, and in addition is not averse to using oil as a weapon, just as it has in the past used food aid as a weapon.

Just as a hundred years ago the British used their military forces to stitch up supplies of oil and so guarantee their naval dominance, so nowadays the United States. In 'liberated' Iraq there will be permanent US forces and political advisors, just to make doubly sure that oil supplies are going to go to Uncle Sam, at a suitable price, and that foreign companies will be largely excluded from 'Operation Freedom'.

The tragedy of this is that working class men and women are caught up in a quarrel over which section of the capitalist class is to profit from this black gold, and that the working class are supposed to take sides in such a quarrel. We, Socialists, repeat, yet again, there are no working class interests at stake in such capitalist turf wars. The working class own no oil-fields or pipelines: the only oil we get to see and use is that which we have to pay for, not that which the capitalists profit from.

The solution is Socialism - a world where the oil-fields, like the cornfields, will be owned and democratically controlled in common by the whole community, that is, by all of humanity. But that is only possible when the working class recognises that capitalism is against our interest as a class, and organises itself, democratically, politically, as "a class in and for itself" to put an end to production for profit and the wage-slave system.

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