Blogs > HNN > Syriana and Iraq

Nov 28, 2005 1:27 am

Syriana and Iraq

Mr. LeVine is professor of modern Middle Eastern history, culture, and Islamic studies at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the forthcoming books: Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil; and Overthrowing Geography: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and the Struggle for Palestine, 1880-1948. He is also a contributor, with Viggo Mortensen and Pilar Perez, to Twilight of Empire: Responses to Occupation. Click here to access his homepage.

Critics have been hailing "Syriana," George Clooney's latest film to take on the policies of the Bush Administration, as a cinematic tour de force that has "compelling real-world relevance" and is "unsettlingly close to the truth." But what is the truth "Syriana" supposedly approaches? Put briefly, the plot describes the ramification of a bungled CIA-authorized assassination of a Middle Eastern leader who decided to sign a major oil deal with China instead of an American oil company with close ties to the US Government.
Given the increasing numbers of Americans who believe that the Bush administration deliberately misled the country to justify the Iraqi invasion, many film-goers will no doubt walk accept the film's argument that Big Oil shapes American policies to its interests, even when they violate our core ideals. But is the movie really a case of art imitating life, or does "Syriana" veer towards the kind of hyperbole and exaggeration that marred Oliver Stone's "JFK?"

The evidence would seem to speak for itself. It includes:

- Newly discovered documents, reported in the Washington Post, that reveal that as early as February 2001 senior executives of at least four of the country's biggest oil companies, ExxonMobil, Conoco, Shell and BP America, met with Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force.

- Documents from these meetings obtained by the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch--including a map of Iraq and an accompanying list of "Iraq oil foreign suitors"--reveal Iraq, with perhaps the world's second largest oil deposits, to have been a major topic of discussion. Indeed, the map erased all features of the country save the location of its main oil deposits. The list of suitors revealed that dozens of foreign companies were either in discussions over or in direct negotiations for rights to some of the best remaining oilfields on earth.

- The meetings occurred at a moment when scientists and industry leaders began worrying that the "age of peak oil production" is approaching faster than previously assumed. Once it arrives, it will no longer be possible to extract enough oil from the earth to replace what we consume, thereby setting off a potentially explosive competition for the world's remaining supplies.

- In such a scenario, insuring American access to, and where possible leverage or even control over, the world's major oil deposits would be a natural concern for an Administration umbilically tied to Big Oil, particularly in the context of escalating competition with an aggressive, energy-hungry China.

- A 2002 report by Deutsche Bank explained the major US companies would lose if Saddam made a deal with the UN, whereas the Europeans, Russians and Chinese would come out ahead. But in a post-Saddam Iraq, the report argued, the US oil majors--specifically, according to the report, ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco--could manage the country's resources. No wonder the executives of those companies denied meeting with Cheney's staff only weeks after George W. Bush's inauguration.

- At the very moment the first Energy Task Force meetings with industry officials were held, in February 2001, the National Security Council issued a directive for staff to cooperate with the Energy Task Force in the "melding" of new "operational policies towards rogue states" with "actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields." No place on earth was more amenable to such melding than Iraq.

- Two and a half yeas after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration continues to resist calls for a major troop withdrawal, despite the fact that most intelligence reports, and Iraq politicians, confirm our presence to be the main motivation for the insurgency.

With American losses and expenditures mounting daily, the threat of WMD disproved, the promise of peace and democracy seeming increasingly pollyanish, the Bush Administration is running out of good reasons for the US to maintain a long-term presence in Iraq. Two that come to mind, however, are oil and military bases--subjects, needless to say, that remain largely unbroachable in polite discourse in Washington or Baghdad.

But it's hard to think of anything else that would constitute the "core interests" both the Bush Administration and leading democrats (most recently Senator Joseph Biden) argue will be threatened by an American withdrawal from Iraq any time soon.

It took roughly fifty years for the CIA to admit that it organized the overthrow of Iranian President Mossadeqh when he dared to nationalize his country's oil industry. Our government also helped organize coups that put the Baath Party in power in Iraq twice, in 1963 and 1968. There's no doubt who was behind the toppling of Saddam. The question that remains, however, is: What was the real reason we invaded Iraq? On that score,"Syriana" hits closer to home than most politicians on either side of the aisle would care to admit.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

To entertain any doubt that oil was behind the American conquest of Iraq, the owner of the worlds second largest proven oil reserves ( some sources believe it is the (first) largest), is to entertain the WMD myth!
Paramount as it was, still is, in the pre invasion and post invasion policy making of the USA it sill is the second most important factor in reaching that ill fated decision.
An elementary cost/benefit appraisal of the whole enterprise will show that net net gainer was Israel which, through the efforts of AIPAC and its built in affiliates in the Bush administration, Wolfowitz, Perle, Abrahms, Feith etc etc managed to manoeuvre the USA into achieving a long sought Israeli strategic goal: the destruction of Iraq, at absolutely no cost to it.
Oil exoloration rights could have been agreed on between the USA and its allies with the Iraqi government...invasion was not the sole option, alternatives existed.
For the destruction of Iraq only one option existed: war!
The USA went to war, wittingly or unwittingly, to achieve Israeli objectives and is now paying for it through the nose.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

A rudimentary cost/benefit analysis of the whole miserable enterprise will show the following:
-BY NOT INVADING IRAQ:The USA , at worst,could have obtained Iraqi oil at the then (future) prevalent world market price, propably on the "high" side, a development to which American oil companies are certainly not adverse, without going to war.
-The USA has already paid a high price in both blood and treasure .This human and material cost is bound to increase before it decreases.
-The USA has paid an incalculable price in regional and international good will; international wariness of American neoimperialism has not only revived the image of the "ugly American", semi dormant since the end of the Viet Nam enterprise, but led to open discord with the USA's only land neigbours Canada and Mexico.
-The USA has provided the Iranian mullas regime with an invaluable staging point for further influence in the Arab Gulf and non Gulf states Arab states.
-American hegemony over Iraq, at an unquatifiable cost, and an uncertain future flow of benefits to the USA via the oil companies and others.
-Enhanced regional and international appreciation and wariness of Israel's neoimperialism serving role and confirmation of its neocolonialist designs.
-Potential, propably inevitable and long overdue, US public awareness of Israel's undue and unacceptable influence in the USA policy formation process.
-Regional military supremacy through the destruction of Israel's potentially most vigorous challenger:Iraq.
-Increased and deepened Arab-Moslem/American enmity which always translates into more US financial, political and military aid .

The facts speak for themselves and no further elaboration is needed.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr Clarke
you ask:
"3. Why should G.W. Bush give a hoot about Israel ? He doesn't even give a hoot about America."
I urge you to note two major factors in the Bush administration:
1- The number and positions of self declared Zionists : Wolfowitz, Perle, Abrahms, Feith etc, to name only a few, and the positions they held in the run up to the ill fated decision to invade Iraq.
2-The emergence and the growing political political influence of the Jewish/Zionist/(Christian)-Evangelist
alliance which found a receptive mind? and soul in the born again reformed President Bush.
If anything I would give greater weight to (2) over (1).

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

You are arguing in circles to try to prove your core assumption.

Of course, G.W. Bush has had Jewish advisors. So did every predecessor of his from FDR to Nixon to Clinton. That does not explain why this particular president, in clear contrast to his Daddy, should want to go along, lock, stock and barrel, with what you call the "undue and unacceptable influence" of Israel, and what I would call the incredibly amoral and spineless stupidity of the U.S. Congress.

Other than stupidity and ignorance (which tend to be correlated with "Christian Evangelism"), I can see no real reason why those so-called Christians should care helping Israelis to settle and occupy their (the Jews') "promised land" (e.g the West Bank). Especially since Christian Palestinians are among the victims of these settlements. How many of the self-purported American Christians, who blindly (like the biblical sheep gone astry) follow G.W. Bush's illogical follies, could even find the Mideast on a map of the world ?

Nor is it clear how Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank benefit from an occupation of Iraq that has nothing to do with settlement. Christians are leaving Iraq, not trying build fortified kibbutzes there.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

1. There is much more oil in Iraq than in Venezuela. Not that that is any real explanation THIS TIME, for why we invaded the first pace rather than the second.

2. History matters. That I think is at least one common point of agreement here, and you are in a very miniscule minority if you disagree.

3. An honest historical examination has to recognize this Iraq mess as one of the all-time greatest disasters of American foreign policy. Even taking into account that things might, in a best case scenario, now gradually improve for the U.S., it will still takes decades to restore the credibility and authority which the Bush administration's colossally corrupt incompetence has lost us.

4. There can be NO "solution" to this "horrible problem" unless the guilty power-and-glory-hungry fools who foisted it on the American public are held accountable and properly punished. No matter how much the spineless Democrats would rather talk about prescription drugs and abortion "rights" and God knows what other diversions from the great catastrophes of the day.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Fragmentary circumstantial evidence does not add up to even a plausible conspiracy theory. Of course, oil is important historically. It was the basis of Saddam's power, of U.S. interest in the Persian Gulf, of the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and of the multilateral response which liberated Kuwait in 1991.

That does not mean that every little dirty trick floating through Karl Rove's scheming brain and having to do with foreign affairs must perforce revolve around oil. It is hard to see how major oil companies could care who owns the oil in Iraq as long as it is sold to them at something approximating market prices. Is there any evidence of those companies now obtaining oil from Iraq at some significant discount to the global benchmark prices whereas before they were paying extra (due, perhaps, to the oil-for-food mess ?). It is along such lines that motives for an oil company conspiracy theory would need to run, and I doubt whether Professor LeVine or anyone else has made or could make such a case.

Meanwhile, there is much better circumstantial evidence for a simpler and more direct likelihood. Bush had no good issue to run on in 2004. In the hands of Rove, 9-11 gave him one: the bogus but (to gullible, fearful and ignorant voters) convincing "war on terrorism". Within hours of 9-11, the White House propagandists were busy trying to link it to Saddam (who had been misbehaving big time for many years and was overdue to be overthrown). That regime change "product" was "launched" after Labor Day in 2002, Democrats in Congress fell over themselves like a pile of soggy noodles to support it, and then chose one of their biggest wet noodles, John Not-Fitzgerald Kerry, as their "alternative" for the White House in 2004.

I have little doubt that Cheney is guilty of a multitude of corrupt immoral and probably illegal dealings, some of them involving other oil executives. It is a mark of intellectual laziness, however, to posit these misdeeds and/or crimes as the main reason for the Iraq invasion.
No one forced G.W. Bush to follow Cheney's folly in 2002-30. He could have done the sensible thing, the statesman-like thing, the American thing (not killing in cold blood), and not rushed into a half-assed blunder-ridden effort at the very kind of unhumble and dubious nation-building he disowned as a candidate in 2000.

Bush could have done the right thing and overruled Cheney. And then probably lost the 2004 election. But he wanted to win too badly to pay much heed to his country's long term future.

It would be wise for Americans to devote more attention to how oil is produced and consumed globally, and to where the remaining and non-renewable deposits of it are located. That does not mean that we need to neglect much more fundamental human factors in history: greed for power and fame, stubbornness, hubris, fear, and dereliction of duty. And how, in the modern age, all of these can repackaged, prettified, and sold to apathetic, decadent, and foolish voters.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

No Democrats or democrats in the U.S. "started" World Wars I or II. They were started by European autocrats, bureaucrats, military bunglers, diplomatic bunglers, fascists, communists, and demogogues. America came to save the day, and earned a tremendously powerful and positive international reputation which the cowardly deliquents in the current administration have been busy squandering.

The bogus "war" in Iraq, by which is usually meant the botched attempt at nation building there, was "started" by the Hypocrite-in-Chief who promised voters before being "selected" president in 2000 that he was not going to "do nation-building". Using as an excuse a terrorist attack by a wholly unrelated bunch of non-warrior non-lawful combatants, in a Big Lie which is being repeated here in (fortunately) a very silly fashion.

The "war" against the "warrior"
Timothy McVeigh, his relatives, friends and neighbor has not yet started, however. There is still time for you to enlist, Mr. T. I think the military will probably want at least a 6th grade education, however :) !

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

When I spoke above (#71885) about the "Big Lie" of Saddam's involvement with 9/11 "being being repeated here", I meant not on this particular page (yet), but on the other more active comment page this week:

For example: under the comments nrs
71797 and 71817.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

1. How does the fact the Americans are willing to fight and die in a country, without trying to permanently seize the land and water, benefit the hawkish elements in Israel ?

2. Why did Sharon change his tune shortly after the invasion of Iraq (never compromise at all until every act of violence by Palestinian ceases indefinitely, and similar unfulfillable fantasies) ?

3. Why should G.W. Bush give a hoot about Israel ? He doesn't even give a hoot about America.

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Mr. Thomas,

Correction... US involvement in Vietnam and subsequent war was started by a Republican administration under President Eisenhower.

In April 1954 the Geneva Conference on Korea and Indochina was held. The US was rebuffed by Great Britain on a proposal to jointly aid France in the Indochina War.

June 17, 1954 Pierre Mendes-France succeeds the ousted Joseph Laniel as French Prime Minister and reaches a cease fire and agreement for cessation of hostilities in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in July which the US rejects.

The US backs Bao Dai/ Ngo Dinh Diem government. On October 9, 1954 General J. Lawton Collins, special envoy to President Eisenhower delivers $100M aid package to the Diem government.

On July 8, 1959 Major Dale Buis and Sergeant Chester Ornand are killed at Bienhoa to become the first official American combat deaths of the Vietnam War.

November 8, 1960 Democrat John F. Kennedy is elected president.

sj8er cool - 12/31/2005

toyama... you knew me a long long time ago. But like then, I agree with you a 1000%. Trust me the guys we are fighting are fucking evil to the core and would kill you if they had a chance. Oh wait thats what they always do when they have a chance. So stop letting these homegrown, ivy league educated arabs tell you otherwise because the dirt money that has sponsored their education and their lives is exactly the money which will one day dig up our graves. So keeping them at bay form the outside and weeding these bastards from the inside is as essential as protecting your kids from a pervert.

Lorraine Paul - 12/27/2005

Nobody has as yet mentioned that there was evidence suggesting that Saddam was prepared to base the cost of Iraqi oil in Euro dollars rather than US dollars.

I'm not an economist but wouldn't this have had a disastrous effect on the US economy?

Perhaps stating that it was 'the oil, stupid', may be obscuring a host of other reasons. Also, the war may be costing the US tax-payer billions, however, those billions are going into the coffers of major US and other companies. At a time when we need our troops here, they are in Iraq guarding Japanese engineers. The job these engineers are doing could probably be done equally as well by Iraqi engineers. But why shouldn't the Japanese get their share of the pie of 'reconstruction'?

Lorraine Paul - 12/27/2005

Even in Australia some of us are aware that the evangelists have some half-baked idea that Armageddon is upon us. However, for that to happen all Jews must return to the Holy Land. If Israel falls then this cannot happen. Therefore, their insane idea will fall apart. Frightening still is that the man with his finger on the button is a born-again!

It is all stated in the Bible under the Apocalypse. A bit hard to fathom on the first read but persevere!

Don't mock me, I'm only relaying the message!

Frederick Thomas - 12/2/2005

Mr. Clark::

"...has to recognize this Iraq mess as one of the all-time greatest disasters of American foreign policy."

How about WW I, WW II, Korea, or Vietnam? Oops. Those were started by Dems, in two cases illegally, through proven documented fraud, and had on average 110 hundred times more US casualties each. Guess they can't be called "disasters," though. "Disasters" are only caused by Reps, right.

Tomes Jonathan Toyama - 12/1/2005

Perhaps a bit devoid of greater intellectual inquiry, but if we really were out for oil, solely, or as a "core reason" would not Venezuela be a much more compelling target? I mean we have enough Spanish speakers, their drugs have killed more Americans than any terrorist, and it's a much easier deployment with numerous friendly nations surronding it :-). Sorry, I am being overly cynical and a bit pretentious, but I was just trying to help debunk the "oil" only myth.

I will admit oil was definitely a factor, but again I don't see anyone giving up their SUVs or amassing car pools. I agree much more along the lines of the neoconservative strategy approach as the pretenses for the war, right or wrong. Also, as much as people hate to admit it, I would much rather have a debate on a proper way to gain "complete victory"; the casus belli posts and arguments are drying up and are not constructing any viable alternatives besides "We were wrong, so lets just drop it and ask for forgiveness". Not gonna work. It's better that we acknowledge we're are in a debacle and as Americans try to find ways to work our way out of it. I understand so many people believe that the blame game is necessary in order to hold people accountable, lets not forget the Congress as well when we point fingers, Democrats and Republicans. So, Lets develop a solution, to a horrible problem. And stop talking about what led to the problem.
Good day, gentlemen.

Ricardo Luis Rodriguez - 11/30/2005

Mr Levine is a very learned man with a theory that the US is at war with Iraq because it reaaaally wants the Iraqi oil fields.
I understand why he believes this. Many Russian and French diplomats (who had secretely signed exclusive "post lifting of sanctions" oil distribution deals with Saddam) ceaselessly pointed it out to the rest of the world.
It is a great line of reasoning as it explains why we own Kuwaiti oil fields now. NOT.

Frederick Thomas - 11/30/2005

Mr/s M:

Thank you for ennumerating the obvious regarding foreign policy deliberations, and for reminding us that national policy made in the national interest is the norm for all nations and all administrations, and always has been.

Your contributions may save some unnecessary panic attacks in Mr. LeVine's conspiracy factory, but may also leave him nothing to write about.

j.a. m. - 11/29/2005

Stone had more to go on than you've given us. If your "evidence would seem to speak for itself", may I respectfully suggest it's whispering. In fact it mostly belabors the obvious. Let's review this parade of horribles:

• In developing its position on energy policy, the administration consulted key players responsible for supplying energy to the American people and economy. Duh.

• They talked about where oil can be found, and the fact that a lot of it was in the hands of a genocidal lunatic and international outlaw whom the family of nations had been struggling to contain for a decade—all of which you yourself acknowledge "is not surprising".

• You point to a growing concern about future oil supplies as a prime reason the administration was working on energy policy in the first place. Duh.

• You note that the president is concerned that we have enough oil now and in the future to sustain modern life and keep the U.S. and world economies humming. Call me nuts, but I think that's what most of us call "doing his job."

(While China's escalating energy demands represent a multi-faceted challenge, some level of mutual accommodation is inevitable because for the foreseeable future our economic fates are tied.)

• You point out that Russia, China and Old Europe were cozy with Saddam. Duh.

• You say the administration decided that energy policy and national security policy should be coordinated. Duh.

• Contrary to your assertion, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said the other day a pullout would worsen violence: "Now, any premature withdrawal will send the wrong message to the terrorists, to the opposition ... that this coalition is fracturing and running, that their policies and strategies of undermining this process is winning." The recent reconciliation conference under the auspices of the Arab League called for withdrawal "according to a timetable" but subject to a "program to rebuild the armed forces ... control the borders and the security situation".

You don't give a time range for your claim of "increasing numbers of Americans who believe that the Bush administration deliberately misled the country", but since early this year the number has leapt a whopping three points—within the margin of error (50% to 53%, according to the CNN/USA TODAY poll).