[OPE-L:8639] "The Thirty-Year Itch"

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Thu Mar 20 2003 - 10:49:28 EST

Another perspective -- this time from _Mother Jones_ .
In solidarity, Jerry

> The Thirty-Year Itch
> Three decades ago, in the throes of the energy crisis, Washington's hawks
conceived of a strategy for US control of the Persian Gulf's oil. Now, with
the same strategists firmly in control of the White House, the Bush
administration is playing out their script for global dominance.
> by Robert Dreyfuss
> March 1, 2003
>      If you were to spin the globe and look for real estate critical to
building an American empire, your first stop would have to be the Persian
Gulf. The desert sands of this region hold two of every three barrels of oil
in the world -- Iraq's reserves alone are equal, by some estimates, to those
of Russia, the United States, China, and Mexico combined. For the past 30
years, the Gulf has been in the crosshairs of an influential group of
Washington foreign-policy strategists, who believe that in order to ensure
its global dominance, the United States must seize control of the region and
its oil. Born during the energy crisis of the 1970s and refined since then
by a generation of policymakers, this approach is finding its boldest
expression yet in the Bush administration -- which, with its plan to invade
Iraq and install a regime beholden to Washington, has moved closer than any
of its predecessors to transforming the Gulf into an American protectorate.
>      In the geopolitical vision driving current U.S. policy toward Iraq,
the key to national security is global hegemony -- dominance over any and
all potential rivals. To that end, the United States must not only be able
to project its military forces anywhere, at any time. It must also control
key resources, chief among them oil -- and especially Gulf oil. To the hawks
who now set the tone at the White House and the Pentagon, the region is
crucial not simply for its share of the U.S. oil supply (other sources have
become more important over the years), but because it would allow the United
States to maintain a lock on the world's energy lifeline and potentially
deny access to its global competitors. The administration "believes you have
to control resources in order to have access to them," says Chas Freeman,
who served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President
Bush. "They are taken with the idea that the end of the Cold War left the
United States able t!
> o impose its will globally -- and that those who have the ability to shape
events with power have the duty to do so. It's ideology."
>      Iraq, in this view, is a strategic prize of unparalleled importance.
Unlike the oil beneath Alaska's frozen tundra, locked away in the steppes of
central Asia, or buried under stormy seas, Iraq's crude is readily
accessible and, at less than $1.50 a barrel, some of the cheapest in the
world to produce. Already, over the past several months, Western companies
have been meeting with Iraqi exiles to try to stake a claim to that bonanza.
>      But while the companies hope to cash in on an American-controlled
Iraq, the push to remove Saddam Hussein hasn't been driven by oil
executives, many of whom are worried about the consequences of war. Nor are
Vice President Cheney and President Bush, both former oilmen, looking at the
Gulf simply for the profits that can be earned there. The administration is
thinking bigger, much bigger, than that.
>      "Controlling Iraq is about oil as power, rather than oil as fuel,"
says Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at
Hampshire College and author of Resource Wars. "Control over the Persian
Gulf translates into control over Europe, Japan, and China. It's having our
hand on the spigot."
>      Ever since the oil shocks of the 1970s, the United States has
steadily been accumulating military muscle in the Gulf by building bases,
selling weaponry, and forging military partnerships. Now, it is poised to
consolidate its might in a place that will be a fulcrum of the world's
balance of power for decades to come. At a stroke, by taking control of
Iraq, the Bush administration can solidify a long-running strategic design.
"It's the Kissinger plan," says James Akins, a former U.S. diplomat. "I
thought it had been killed, but it's back."
>      Akins learned a hard lesson about the politics of oil when he served
as a U.S. envoy in Kuwait and Iraq, and ultimately as ambassador to Saudi
Arabia during the oil crisis of 1973 and '74. At his home in Washington,
D.C., shelves filled with Middle Eastern pottery and other memorabilia cover
the walls, souvenirs of his years in the Foreign Service. Nearly three
decades later, he still gets worked up while recalling his first encounter
with the idea that the United States should be prepared to occupy Arab
oil-producing countries.
>      In 1975, while Akins was ambassador in Saudi Arabia, an article
headlined "Seizing Arab Oil" appeared in Harper's. The author, who used the
pseudonym Miles Ignotus, was identified as "a Washington-based professor and
defense consultant with intimate links to high-level U.S. policymakers." The
article outlined, as Akins puts it, "how we could solve all our economic and
political problems by taking over the Arab oil fields [and] bringing in
Texans and Oklahomans to operate them." Simultaneously, a rash of similar
stories appeared in other magazines and newspapers. "I knew that it had to
have been the result of a deep background briefing," Akins says. "You don't
have eight people coming up with the same screwy idea at the same time,
>      "Then I made a fatal mistake," Akins continues. "I said on television
that anyone who would propose that is either a madman, a criminal, or an
agent of the Soviet Union." Soon afterward, he says, he learned that the
background briefing had been conducted by his boss, then-Secretary of State
Henry Kissinger. Akins was fired later that year.
>      Kissinger has never acknowledged having planted the seeds for the
article. But in an interview with Business Week that same year, he delivered
a thinly veiled threat to the Saudis, musing about bringing oil prices down
through "massive political warfare against countries like Saudi Arabia and
Iran to make them risk their political stability and maybe their security if
they did not cooperate."
>      In the 1970s, America's military presence in the Gulf was virtually
nil, so the idea of seizing control of its oil was a pipe dream. Still,
starting with the Miles Ignotus article, and a parallel one by conservative
strategist and Johns Hopkins University professor Robert W. Tucker in
Commentary, the idea began to gain favor among a feisty group of hardline,
pro-Israeli thinkers, especially the hawkish circle aligned with Democratic
senators Henry Jackson of Washington and Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New
>      Eventually, this amalgam of strategists came to be known as
"neoconservatives," and they played important roles in President Reagan's
Defense Department and at think tanks and academic policy centers in the
1980s. Led by Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon's influential Defense
Policy Board, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, they now
occupy several dozen key posts in the White House, the Pentagon, and the
State Department. At the top, they are closest to Vice President Cheney and
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who have been closely aligned since both
men served in the White House under President Ford in the mid-1970s. They
also clustered around Cheney when he served as secretary of defense during
the Gulf War in 1991.
>      Throughout those years, and especially after the Gulf War, U.S.
forces have steadily encroached on the Gulf and the surrounding region, from
the Horn of Africa to Central Asia. In preparing for an invasion and
occupation of Iraq, the administration has been building on the steps taken
by military and policy planners over the past quarter century.
>      Step one: The Rapid Deployment Force
> In 1973 and '74, and again in 1979, political upheavals in the Middle East
led to huge spikes in oil prices, which rose fifteenfold over the decade and
focused new attention on the Persian Gulf. In January 1980, President Carter
effectively declared the Gulf a zone of U.S. influence, especially against
encroachment from the Soviet Union. "Let our position be absolutely clear,"
he said, announcing what came to be known as the Carter Doctrine. "An
attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will
be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of
America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary,
including military force." To back up this doctrine, Carter created the
Rapid Deployment Force, an "over-the-horizon" military unit capable of
rushing several thousand U.S. troops to the Gulf in a crisis.
>      Step two: The Central Command
> In the 1980s, under President Reagan, the United States began pressing
countries in the Gulf for access to bases and support facilities. The Rapid
Deployment Force was transformed into the Central Command, a new U.S.
military command authority with responsibility for the Gulf and the
surrounding region from eastern Africa to Afghanistan. Reagan tried to
organize a "strategic consensus" of anti-Soviet allies, including Turkey,
Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The United States sold billions of dollars' worth
of arms to the Saudis in the early '80s, from AWACS surveillance aircraft to
F-15 fighters. And in 1987, at the height of the war between Iraq and Iran,
the U.S. Navy created the Joint Task Force-Middle East to protect oil
tankers plying the waters of the Gulf, thus expanding a U.S. naval presence
of just three or four warships into a flotilla of 40-plus aircraft carriers,
battleships, and cruisers.
>      Step three: The Gulf War
> Until 1991, the United States was unable to persuade the Arab Gulf states
to allow a permanent American presence on their soil. Meanwhile, Saudi
Arabia, while maintaining its close relationship with the United States,
began to diversify its commercial and military ties; by the time U.S.
Ambassador Chas Freeman arrived there in the late 80s, the United States
had fallen to fourth place among arms suppliers to the kingdom. "The United
States was being supplanted even in commercial terms by the British, the
French, even the Chinese," Freeman notes.
>      All that changed with the Gulf War. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf
states no longer opposed a direct U.S. military presence, and American
troops, construction squads, arms salesmen, and military assistance teams
rushed in. "The Gulf War put Saudi Arabia back on the map and revived a
relationship that had been severely attrited," says Freeman.
>      In the decade after the war, the United States sold more than $43
billion worth of weapons, equipment, and military construction projects to
Saudi Arabia, and $16 billion more to Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United
Arab Emirates, according to data compiled by the Federation of American
Scientists. Before Operation Desert Storm, the U.S. military enjoyed the
right to stockpile, or "pre-position," military supplies only in the
comparatively remote Gulf state of Oman on the Indian Ocean. After the war,
nearly every country in the region began conducting joint military
exercises, hosting U.S. naval units and Air Force squadrons, and granting
the United States pre-positioning rights. "Our military presence in the
Middle East has increased dramatically," then-Defense Secretary William
Cohen boasted in 1995.
>      Another boost to the U.S. presence was the unilateral imposition, in
1991, of no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq, enforced mostly by U.S.
aircraft from bases in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. "There was a massive
buildup, especially around Incirlik in Turkey, to police the northern no-fly
zone, and around [the Saudi capital of] Riyadh, to police the southern
no-fly zone," says Colin Robinson of the Center for Defense Information, a
Washington think tank. A billion-dollar, high-tech command center was built
by Saudi Arabia near Riyadh, and over the past two years the United States
has secretly been completing another one in Qatar. The Saudi facilities
"were built with capacities far beyond the ability of Saudi Arabia to use
them," Robinson says. "And that's exactly what Qatar is doing now."
>      Step four: Afghanistan
> The war in Afghanistan -- and the open-ended war on terrorism, which has
led to U.S strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere -- further boosted
America's strength in the region. The administration has won large increases
in the defense budget -- which now stands at about $400 billion, up from
just over $300 billion in 2000 -- and a huge chunk of that budget, perhaps
as much as $60 billion, is slated to support U.S. forces in and around the
Persian Gulf. Military facilities on the perimeter of the Gulf, from
Djibouti in the Horn of Africa to the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian
Ocean, have been expanded, and a web of bases and training missions has
extended the U.S. presence deep into central Asia. From Afghanistan to the
landlocked former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, U.S. forces
have established themselves in an area that had long been in Russia's sphere
of influence. Oil-rich in its own right, and strategically vital, central
Asia is now the eastern l!
> ink in a nearly continuous chain of U.S. bases, facilities, and allies
stretching from the Mediterranean and the Red Sea far into the Asian
>      Step five: Iraq
> Removing Saddam Hussein could be the final piece of the puzzle, cementing
an American imperial presence. It is "highly possible" that the United
States will maintain military bases in Iraq, Robert Kagan, a leading
neoconservative strategist, recently told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"We will probably need a major concentration of forces in the Middle East
over a long period of time," he said. "When we have economic problems, it's
been caused by disruptions in our oil supply. If we have a force in Iraq,
there will be no disruption in oil supplies."
>      Kagan, along with William Kristol of the Weekly Standard, is a
founder of the think tank Project for the New American Century, an assembly
of foreign-policy hawks whose supporters include the Pentagon's Perle, New
Republic publisher Martin Peretz, and former Central Intelligence Agency
director James Woolsey. Among the group's affiliates in the Bush
administration are Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz; I. Lewis Libby, the vice
president's chief of staff; Elliott Abrams, the Middle East director at the
National Security Council; and Zalmay Khalilzad, the White House liaison to
the Iraqi opposition groups. Kagan's group, tied to a web of similar
neoconservative, pro-Israeli organizations, represents the constellation of
thinkers whose ideological affinity was forged in the Nixon and Ford
>      To Akins, who has just returned from Saudi Arabia, it's a team that
looks all too familiar, seeking to implement the plan first outlined back in
1975. "It'll be easier once we have Iraq," he says. "Kuwait, we already
have. Qatar and Bahrain, too. So it's only Saudi Arabia we're talking about,
and the United Arab Emirates falls into place."
>      LAST SUMMER, Perle provided a brief glimpse into his circle's
thinking when he invited rand Corporation strategist Laurent Murawiec to
make a presentation to his Defense Policy Board, a committee of former
senior officials and generals that advises the Pentagon on big-picture
policy ideas. Murawiec's closed-door briefing provoked a storm of criticism
when it was leaked to the media; he described Saudi Arabia as the "kernel of
evil," suggested that the Saudi royal family should be replaced or
overthrown, and raised the idea of a U.S. occupation of Saudi oil fields. He
ultimately lost his job when rand decided he was too controversial.
>      Murawiec is part of a Washington school of thought that views
virtually all of the nations in the Gulf as unstable "failed states" and
maintains that only the United States has the power to forcibly reorganize
and rebuild them. In this view, the arms systems and bases that were put in
place to defend the region also provide a ready-made infrastructure for
taking over countries and their oil fields in the event of a crisis.
>      The Defense Department likely has contingency plans to occupy Saudi
Arabia, says Robert E. Ebel, director of the energy program at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank
whose advisers include Kissinger; former Defense Secretary and CIA director
James Schlesinger; and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's national security
adviser. "If something happens in Saudi Arabia," Ebel says, "if the ruling
family is ousted, if they decide to shut off the oil supply, we have to go
>      Two years ago, Ebel, a former mid-level CIA official, oversaw a CSIS
task force that included several members of Congress as well as
representatives from industry including ExxonMobil, Arco, BP, Shell, Texaco,
and the American Petroleum Institute. Its report, "The Geopolitics of Energy
Into the 21st Century," concluded that the world will find itself dependent
for many years on unstable oil-producing nations, around which conflicts and
wars are bound to swirl. "Oil is high-profile stuff," Ebel says. "Oil fuels
military power, national treasuries, and international politics. It is no
longer a commodity to be bought and sold within the confines of traditional
energy supply and demand balances. Rather, it has been transformed into a
determinant of well-being, of national security, and of international
>      As vital as the Persian Gulf is now, its strategic importance is
likely to grow exponentially in the next 20 years. Nearly one out of every
three barrels of oil reserves in the world lie under just two countries:
Saudi Arabia (with 259 billion barrels of proven reserves) and Iraq (112
billion). Those figures may understate Iraq's largely unexplored reserves,
which according to U.S. government estimates may hold as many as 432 billion
>      With supplies in many other regions, especially the United States and
the North Sea, nearly exhausted, oil from Saudi Arabia and Iraq is becoming
ever more critical -- a fact duly noted in the administration's National
Energy Policy, released in 2001 by a White House task force. By 2020, the
Gulf will supply between 54 percent and 67 percent of the world's crude, the
document said, making the region "vital to U.S. interests." According to G.
Daniel Butler, an oil-markets analyst at the U.S. Energy Information
Administration (EIA), Saudi Arabia's production capacity will rise from its
current 9.4 million barrels a day to 22.1 million over the next 17 years.
Iraq, which in 2002 produced a mere 2 million barrels a day, "could easily
be a double-digit producer by 2020," says Butler.
>      U.S. strategists aren't worried primarily about America's own oil
supplies; for decades, the United States has worked to diversify its sources
of oil, with Venezuela, Nigeria, Mexico, and other countries growing in
importance. But for Western Europe and Japan, as well as the developing
industrial powers of eastern Asia, the Gulf is all-important. Whoever
controls it will maintain crucial global leverage for decades to come.
>      Today, notes the EIA's Butler, two-thirds of Gulf oil goes to Western
industrial nations. By 2015, according to a study by the CIA's National
Intelligence Council, three-quarters of the Gulf's oil will go to Asia,
chiefly to China. China's growing dependence on the Gulf could cause it to
develop closer military and political ties with countries such as Iran and
Iraq, according to the report produced by Ebel's CSIS task force. "They have
different political interests in the Gulf than we do," Ebel says. "Is it to
our advantage to have another competitor for oil in the Persian Gulf?"
>      David Long, who served as a U.S. diplomat in Saudi Arabia and as
chief of the Near East division in the State Department's Bureau of
Intelligence and Research during the Reagan administration, likens the Bush
administration's approach to the philosophy of Admiral Mahan, the
19th-century military strategist who advocated the use of naval power to
create a global American empire. "They want to be the world's enforcer," he
says. "It's a worldview, a geopolitical position. They say, 'We need
hegemony in the region.'"
>      UNTIL THE 1970s, the face of American power in the Gulf was the U.S.
oil industry, led by Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, Texaco, and Gulf, all of whom
competed fiercely with Britain's BP and Anglo-Dutch Shell. But in the early
'70s, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf states nationalized their oil
industries, setting up state-run companies to run wells, pipelines, and
production facilities. Not only did that enhance the power of opec, enabling
that organization to force a series of sharp price increases, but it alarmed
U.S. policymakers.
>      Today, a growing number of Washington strategists are advocating a
direct U.S. challenge to state-owned petroleum industries in oil-producing
countries, especially the Persian Gulf. Think tanks such as the American
Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and CSIS are conducting
discussions about privatizing Iraq's oil industry. Some of them have put
forward detailed plans outlining how Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other nations
could be forced to open up their oil and gas industries to foreign
investment. The Bush administration itself has been careful not to say much
about what might happen to Iraq's oil. But State Department officials have
had preliminary talks about the oil industry with Iraqi exiles, and there
have been reports that the U.S. military wants to use at least part of the
country's oil revenue to pay for the cost of military occupation.
>      "One of the major problems with the Persian Gulf is that the means of
production are in the hands of the state," Rob Sobhani, an oil-industry
consultant, told an American Enterprise Institute conference last fall in
Washington. Already, he noted, several U.S. oil companies are studying the
possibility of privatization in the Gulf. Dismantling government-owned oil
companies, Sobhani argued, could also force political changes in the region.
"The beginning of liberal democracy can be achieved if you take the means of
production out of the hands of the state," he said, acknowledging that Arabs
would resist that idea. "It's going to take a lot of selling, a lot of
marketing," he concluded.
>      Just which companies would get to claim Iraq's oil has been a subject
of much debate. After a war, the contracts that Iraq's state-owned oil
company has signed with European, Russian, and Chinese oil firms might well
be abrogated, leaving the field to U.S. oil companies. "What they have in
mind is denationalization, and then parceling Iraqi oil out to American oil
companies," says Akins. "The American oil companies are going to be the main
beneficiaries of this war."
>      The would-be rulers of a post-Saddam Iraq have been thinking along
the same lines. "American oil companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil,"
says Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress, a group of
aristocrats and wealthy Iraqis who fled the country when its repressive
monarchy was overthrown in 1958. During a visit to Washington last fall,
Chalabi held meetings with at least three major U.S. oil companies, trying
to enlist their support. Similar meetings between Iraqi exiles and U.S.
companies have also been taking place in Europe.
>      "Iraqi exiles have approached us, saying, 'You can have our oil if we
can get back in there,'" says R. Gerald Bailey, who headed Exxon's Middle
East operations until 1997. "All the major American companies have met with
them in Paris, London, Brussels, all over. They're all jockeying for
position. You can't ignore it, but you've got to do it on the QT. And you
can't wait till it gets too far along."
>      But the companies are also anxious about the consequences of war,
according to many experts, oil-company executives, and former State
Department officials. "The oil companies are caught in the middle," says
Bailey. Executives fear that war could create havoc in the region, turning
Arab states against the United States and Western oil companies. On the
other hand, should a U.S. invasion of Iraq be successful, they want to be
there when the oil is divvied up. Says David Long, the former U.S. diplomat,
"It's greed versus fear."
>      Ibrahim Oweiss, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University who
coined the term "petrodollar" and has also been a consultant to Occidental
and BP, has been closely watching the cautious maneuvering by the companies.
"I know that the oil companies are scared about the outcome of this," he
says. "They are not at all sure this is in the best interests of the oil
>      Anne Joyce, an editor at the Washington-based Middle East Policy
Council who has spoken privately to top Exxon officials, says it's clear
that most oil-industry executives "are afraid" of what a war in the Persian
Gulf could mean in the long term -- especially if tensions in the region
spiral out of control. "They see it as much too risky, and they are risk
averse," she says. "They think it has 'fiasco' written all over it."
> @2003 The Foundation for National Progress
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>      http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2003/10/ma_273_01.html
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