WASHINGTON -- No oil for blood. The bumper sticker popular among left-leaning
opponents of the conflict — no war for oil — has been turned on its
head. There is no oil to be had for the shedding of American blood. Not for years
Remember the bold promises?
“Iraq has oil,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Fortune
magazine in 2002, discussing the potential cost of an Iraq invasion and how
it would be met. “They have financial resources.”
Paul Wolfowitz, formerly Rumsfeld’s deputy, was bolder: “The oil
revenues of that country could bring in between $50 (billion) and $100 billion
over the course of the next two or three years,” he told Congress as the
war began. “We are dealing with a country that can really finance its
own reconstruction.” For his economic acumen, Wolfowitz was rewarded with
the presidency of the World Bank.
Iraq exported 1.6 million barrels per day in July, according to the oil ministry,
at least 500,000 barrels a day less than in the waning months of Saddam Hussein’s
regime. Hours-long lines at gas stations are a constant of daily life, and the
country must import gasoline.
How did an administration overflowing with oilmen get it all so wrong?
The story line is tiresome. It parallels the warnings about weapons of mass
destruction. It tracks with the delusional prediction about being greeted as
liberators, and the fantasy about how only a few “dead-enders” continued
to fight after our troops took Baghdad.
The president’s men saw what they wished to see — the 115 billion
barrels of oil reserves beneath the desert. They were blind to what was really
there: An oil industry decimated by more than a decade of economic sanctions,
with technological decay and even geological deterioration of the fields already
gnawing at it.
The rash predictions about Iraqi oil paying for the American conquest of Iraq
were always suspicious, part of the marketing campaign that sold the war. “The
statement in and of itself always struck me as part of the spin that this was
going to be a clean, simple, fairly cost-free operation,” a veteran adviser
to Western officials in Baghdad told me in an interview.
Just as its weapons inspectors, once allowed back into Iraq, correctly surmised
that there were no weapons of mass destruction, so too did oil industry inspectors
for the United Nations accurately assess the dire condition of Iraq’s
In 1998, a U.N. report found it in a lamentable state. The conclusion was confirmed
in 2000 and again in 2001. “Basically being held together with chewing
gum,” is how the Western expert described it to me. “At the time,
this was dismissed by the United States as just another example of how the U.N.
had been taken in by the Iraqis.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration concedes the point. The report for
the United Nations “now appears to have been largely accurate,”
the agency says in its latest analysis of Iraq’s oil situation.
Now Iraq’s oil industry contends with sabotage and violence. No major
oil company is likely to put its employees, or its money, at risk. They work
for profit, not public relations. The Kurds, if they succeed in forming an autonomous
state in the north, are likely to lay claim to Kirkuk, a city responsible for
as much as a quarter of oil production.
There has never been credibility to the crude argument that this war was about
crude. If it had been, wouldn’t the oilmen who waged it have conducted
it differently? The fields would have been secured, not left as targets. The
careerists who ran the industry under the old regime would not have been banished.
We are told now that by Aug. 15, another bright marker toward Iraq’s golden
future will be reached. The writing of a constitution is to be finished. It
is a deadline the Bush administration is determined to have the Iraqis meet.
For Iraqi political progress is a prerequisite for the president’s underlying
political goal: An American troop withdrawal to begin before the 2006 congressional
But if Iraq cannot produce and sell its oil, it cannot rebuild its roads or
hospitals. It cannot feed itself. It is a candidate not for becoming a fabulously
wealthy Middle East player, but for becoming a failed state.