Now that the tenth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom has arrived, the American left has taken another opportunity to revive the trope that going to war in that nation “was all about oil.” The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald is one such revivalist. In a column on Monday he’s magnanimous enough to concede that saying the war in Iraq was fought strictly for oil is an “oversimplification.” Yet just as quickly, he can’t contain himself. “But the fact that oil is a major factor in every Western military action in the Middle East is so self-evident that it’s astonishing that it’s even considered debatable, let alone some fringe and edgy idea,” he contends. The war for oil mantra may be self-evident to Greenwald and his fellow travelers, but the facts say otherwise.
If oil were a major factor for prosecuting war in Iraq, it stands to reason the United States would be getting substantial amounts of it. It may come as a shock to Greenwald as well as a number of other Americans, but with regard to importing oil, the overwhelming percentage of our imported oil does not come from the Middle East. Canada and Latin America provide the United States with 34.7 percent of our imported oil. Africa provides another 10.3 percent. The entire Persian Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia at 8.1 percent, provides us with a total of 12.9 percent of our imported oil.
As recently as December 2012, Iraq provided the United States with approximately 14.3 million barrels of oil out of a total of about 298 million barrels imported, or 4.8 percent of our total imports. And as this chart indicates, we were importing the highest amount of oil from Iraq before we went to war to oust Saddam Hussein.
Furthermore, the United States fully supported the United Nations’ oil embargo against Iraq, imposed when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, despite the reality that we were far more dependent on imported oil then than we are now. We continued to support it even when it was revealed that the eventual softening of those sanctions, known as the oil for food program, revealed that Russia, France and a number of other nations were collaborating with Saddam Hussein to violate sanctions in return for billions of dollars of ill-gotten gains. Of the 52 countries named in a report compiled by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker detailing the scandal, only 28 even wanted the evidence, and the United States led the way in prosecuting those implicated.
In 2010, the UN Security Council lifted most of the remaining sanctions. The Security Council said it “recognizes that the situation now existing in Iraq is significantly different from that which existed at the time of the adoption of resolution 661” in 1990. In other words, they recognized that Butcher of Baghdad and his brutal dictatorship had been tossed on the ash heap of history, and a relatively stable government had taken its place. The Council also voted to return control of Iraq’s oil and natural gas revenue to the government by June 30 of that year. “Iraq is on the cusp of something remarkable–a stable, self-reliant nation,” said Vice President Joe Biden, who chaired the meeting.
It is precisely that self-reliant nation–not an oil-rich client state of America–that Iraq is becoming.
If America went to war in Iraq mostly for oil, it would stand to reason that we would maintain a stranglehold on both their supply and production. Ten years after the war began, China has emerged as one of the main beneficiaries of a relatively stable Iraqi government and a country that, after two decades, is poised to become the world’s third largest oil exporter. Trade between Iraq and China has doubled almost 34 times, soaring from $517 million in 2002, to $17.5 billion by the end of last year. If current trends continue, it will replace the U.S. as Iraq’s largest trading partner.
Furthermore, the first postwar oil license awarded by the Iraqi government in 2008 was to the state-run China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC), in the form of a $3.5 billion development contract for Iraqi oil field Al-Ahdab. In December 2009, in the second round of bids to develop Iraq’s vast untapped oil reserves (following a June auction allowing foreign companies the chance to increase production at existing fields), China and Russia emerged with the lion’s share of the contracts. At the time, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani envisioned a bright future. “Our principal objective is to increase our oil production from 2.4 million barrels per day to more than four million in the next five years,” he said.