Monday, December 14, 2009

Blood for oil? Hardly

Some of the leftwing anti-American opponents of the war to overthrow the Saddam Hussein dictatorship said it was "blood for oil". The fact the Hussein regime had ignored UN Security Council resolutions on weapons of mass destruction (and had used them previously), didn't matter. The fact that the opportunity existed to overthrow a brutal aggressive autocracy didn't matter. It was seen as neo-imperialism, and simply sacrificing lives for US oil companies to pillage natural resources.

Reuters reports this week show this to be the absolute nonsense it always has been. US firms have gained few contracts in recently signed deals to service Iraqi oil fields, with firms from many other countries gaining much of the action.

Christopher Hitchens in Slate describes the result as such:

"Three features of the outcome were worthy of note. The auction was to award service contracts rather than the production-sharing agreements that the major corporations prefer. The price was set at between $1.15 and $1.90 per barrel, as opposed to the $4 that the bidders originally proposed. And American corporations were generally not the winners in an auction where consortia identified with Malaysia, Russia, and even Angola did best."

Thus, the vulgar and hysterical part of the "war for oil" interpretation has been discredited: Iraq retains its autonomy, the share awarded to outsiders in development is far from exorbitant, and there is no real correlation between U.S. interests and the outcome.

There was always an argument that spilling blood of one's military largely for the sake of negating a threat to others should be done carefully. The case for attacking Iraq was made on various grounds. The link to Al Qaeda was spurious, although the willingness of the Hussein regime to support terrorism was clear. The suspicion on weapons of mass destruction had a real basis, given the regime's clear willingness to use chemical weapons in the past, and its previous pursuit of nuclear technology, but it proved to be a mirage that even the regime may not have understood.

So what did the war on the Hussein regime achieve? Liberty.

The war removed a malignant regime, that did yes get some Western (and much Soviet) support in the 1980s because it offered a counterweight to Islamist Iran, but most in the so-called peace movement wont let that go, even though it was three Presidents ago. The deaths in the war would easily have been rivalled by the murders undertaken by the Hussein criminal gang.

However, the mostly Islamist insurgency has murdered thousands. Some in the so-called peace movement regarded them to be "freedom fighters", ignoring that whenever the insurgency controlled parts of Iraq, it applied the same approach to freedom as Mamoud Ahmadinejad or Osama Bin Laden.

Now Iraq is far more stable, the surge, opposed by the current US President, has worked enough that the UK has withdrawn, and Iraq is becoming a fairly liberal democratic open state between Islamist Iran, tired authoritarian Syria and the ruthless autocratic Saudi Arabia. It does have almost as much oil as Saudi Arabia, and looks to be taking advantage of it with a government that undoubtedly will be more transparent, liberal and democratic than any other Arab states.

There are still those who believe this shouldn't have happened, that the Saddam Hussein regime stay in place (to say you opposed the war but also oppose the Hussein regime means you either support the outcome of the war or you're lying about it). Certainly the war was conducted appallingly after the Hussein regime was toppled, with enormous incompetence, but the outcome is looking positive, at last.

We'll never know what would have happened had the war not happened, Hussein would undoubtedly have sabre rattled some more, would have killed and tortured a few thousand more Iraqis, and continued to pillage Iraq for the gain of his vile family. Would he have backed more terrorism in Israel? Probably. Would he have sought alliances with Russia? With China? Would he have found a comfortable arrangement with Iran?

I'm grateful we can't ever find out.
What we can know is that


Paul Walker said...

Blood for oil? Think about it this way, its just the theory of the firm writ large. Invasion amounts to a form of vertical integration, a very hostile takeover. That is, one "firm", the US, wants to vertically integrate with another "firm", Iraq, who is a supplier of an input for US production, oil. The question is does integration make sense? In a world of incomplete contracts we know integration makes economic sense when there is a possibility of a hold-up problem due to the relationship specific nature of investments. Given that oil is an more or less homogeneous good and there are a number of different supplies it is not clear what relationship specific investments have to be made and thus its not clear what the danger of hold-up is. Or to put it another way, our two firms should merge if they have highly complementary assets and not merge if they have independent asserts. Given there are a number of other supplies of oil its not obvious that oil from Iraq is highly complementary to US assets. If you think of this as a "make" - invade Iraq - or "buy" - purchase on the open market - decision, its not clear why a "make" decision is optimal.

scrubone said...

People also forget the sanctions that were in place before the war - those killed hundreds of thousands. Saddam could have avoided those deaths but he chose not to.

But the news that the USA isn't getting contracts isn't new - the BBC reported years back that most of the first 5 oil contracts after the invasion went elsewhere.

Mo said...

the Iraq war was misguided from the first place and things aren't looking any more positive. It's only been after toppling Hussein and US bringing the sacred cow
of democracy to Iraq that the Shia majority has been gaining power and there's significant
risk of becoming more like Iran.

Anonymous said...

Paul Walker, I almost gagged on my toast when I read your reply. Trust a Libertarian to see the death and destruction of a war as no more than a company take over. Perhaps that's how Bush and Blair saw it too. Ian

Paul Walker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Walker said...

Ian. The whole point of the argument is that the invasion does not make sense economically. So given that Bush and Blair did invade they could not have seen it in these terms.

Anonymous said...

Paul, point taken. I do not believe for one moment that the Iraq "situation" could not have been resolved by good common sense diplomacy. However Bush and Blair were determined to invade whatever Hans Blix said. Ian

ZenTiger said...

Maybe Bush and Blair seriously believed (without requiring hard evidence) that Saddam was determined to use terrorism to a new level.

Had he ever built a nuclear reactor? Yes.

Had he ever trained thousands of mercenary fighters and sent them off to Bosnia? Yes.

Had he ever invaded a neighboring country? Yes.

Had he ignored the sanctions, to the point it was beginning to hurt his own citizens? Yes.

Had he used WMD on Kurds, killing probably hundreds of thousands? Yes.

Was he skimming money off the UN programs (oil for food, the AWB etc). Yes.

Was he paying out hard dollars to the families of suicide bombers to encourage attacks against Israel? Yes.

Was he cosying up to Russia and France for weapons deals as pressure mounted to drop the sanctions? Yes.

(A Time Magazine report came out saying that 500,000Iraqi children died because of the sanctions. That person won a major award, the facts later discredited but the damage was done: time to end the sanctions and sit by hopelessly whilst Saddam laughed at the impotency of the West in following an anti-West perspective that only ever recognises the failings of Western powers, and barely acknowledges our enemies are capable of far worse.)

I suspect after 9/11 the idea that some-one like Saddam would manufacture a nuclear bomb, hand it over to a terrorist group who would put the bomb in the back of a van and drive it into downtown Tel Aviv, London, Los Angeles, NYC or Washington DC, was very very real. Evidence sketchy but results and outcomes (9/11) very clear.

Solution: Remove Saddam and give Iraq a chance at freedom, and destabilise the middle east for some time. Not a bad idea, just near impossible to control the outcome.

libertyscott said...

The case for Iraq was a moral one, it was modest on self defence (but not for defence of US allies), and modest on economic grounds.

The Hussein family crime syndicate that ran Iraq had no right to sovereignty, so the idea that the war was "illegal" is fanciful. Only in the world of moral equivalence that the UN is based on do murderous dictatorships deserve any such respect.

The question was whether it was worthwhile. Saddam posed a prima facie threat to his neighbours, was increasingly interested in allying himself with other anti-Western forces and had long been a murderous tyrant to Iraqi citizens.

Removing Saddam was the right thing to do, what was wrong is that the US had no "what next" plan, and the vacuum was filled by the Islamist insurgency which HAS been responsible for mass murder on a wide scale.

There is an argument for not invading, purely on the basis that the blood spilt by the allies and in civilian casualties isn't worth the net benefit of removing Hussein.

In the long run Bush and Blair will be vindicated, in the meantime the usual anti-Western, anti-capitalist fifth columnists will continue to rally against the system that sustains them.