The invasion of Iraq: who would make the Kings?

Published on

August 11, 2019


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Petroanalysis Team


Perle’s eulogy for the vision of collective security the UN offered is an important illustration of the vision of the future it outlines, a view that is truly staggering in its ambition, and in its casual rejection of the framework of international law.

When looking back historically to the United States’ invasion of Iraq one can appreciate that the fundamental quandary facing America was its dependence on Gulf oil: this fact limited US strategic options, just as its relations had been strained since the attacks of September 11th  2001.

The following text is an extract from the June 2003 Petroanalysis document by Mazhar Al-Shereidah “The Oil Factor in the New World System” which gives a revealing insight into the mind-set of the neo-conservatives at that time…

‘The events that the world has witnessed recently are possibly as dramatic as those that characterized the final days of the Bipolar System at the end of the eighties, some 14 years ago. What is going on right now in the equivalent of the imposition by the US-UK alliance of a New World Order on the rest of the globe. This seems to be what explains the very tough struggle that other world powers are waging in order to avoid that this dramatic outcome becomes a fact of life.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeated the denial of the Bush administration that the purpose of military action in Iraq would be to control the country’s oil resources… that was when the invasion of Iraq was imminent.

Addressing the Hoover Institution in Washington on 25th February 2003, he said: ‘There’s been a lot of speculation in the world and I suppose it’s understandable – suggesting that the interest of the US and the coalition countries that are concerned about Iraq relates to oil. It does not relate to oil. I mean, it just plain doesn’t.”

At this point, it should be noted that since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution US policy has been guided increasingly by the doctrine of containment.

The events of 11th September, however, shattered that doctrine, and replacement for it that is emerging on the right of US politics is of “pre-emptive” action against even potential threats to US interests. That doctrine, with its open-ended logic, is casting its shadow across the region. The Iraqi regime is no worse now than before 11th September. What has changed is the US’ perception of risk.

The US is already drawing up the structure of a successor regime to make sure Iraq’s centre holds. And after Iraq? No wonder Iran’s political establishment is panicking, having seen a US client regime established in Afghanistan.

“The most recent war against the US by Muslim fanatics began nearly a quarter of a century ago when Shiite fanatics took power in Iran,” wrote former CIA director James Woolsey: “Most starkly of all, the American right is scrutinising the US relationship with Saudi Arabia. In the past, criticism of the House of Saud was the preserve of liberals and human rights groups: 11th September has changed all that.  Laurent Murawiec of right-wing think-tank the Rand Corporation is of the opinion that the US does not want a regime change in Riyadh, but it does want to weaken the theocratic hold of the Wahhabi movement”.

Robert Ebel considers that:

“Our key concern is energy supply reliability. We have responded to that concern in a number of ways:

  • Maintaining U.S. defense capability.
  • Encouraging burden-sharing to protect supply.
  • Placing emphasis on tension-reducing measures, including collaborative energy infrastructure projects.
  • Working to protect critical infrastructure.
  • Maintaining and expanding our Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
  • Promoting diversity of supply and transportation routes.

But who will be the kingmaker?

The Bush administration has made broadening the sources of America’s oil supplies a touchstone of its energy and foreign policies, but officials concede that progress has been slow. “I believe that the Administration’s emphasis on increasing and diversifying global energy supplies is having a positive impact on investment decisions – but this impact is difficult to quantify,’ Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said”. (1)

It is true to say that US-Russia relations are very important for the emerging world order, but it is also very true to say that it is certain that no matter how much US-Russian oil relations are growing in importance the reality is that Middle East oil remains King.

As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush was explicit on two related issues:

  • The growing US dependence on imported oil.
  • The commitment to upgrade US support to Israel.

Both questions had a direct negative impact on Middle Eastern OPEC Member Countries.

Once in the White House, George W. Bush practically abandoned all other priorities for any country and restricted his agenda to one that dedicated the nation’s attention to the subject of military superiority and prevalence; a war on terrorism; and a clear message to his people, as the undefeatable “race” that with its values, culture and civilisation has the moral responsibility to guide the rest of human kind to the New World Order, which his father failed to establish or to impose.

The world is very complex, and one must consider that oil, despite its great importance, is at the end of the day, just one of the factors that determine the course of history.

Such a vision was outlined by Richard Perle, the head of the Defence Policy Board and a key intellectual architect of the Bush administration’s policy in the Middle East, and is worth quoting:

“He (Saddam Hussein) will go quickly, but not alone: in a parting irony, he will take the United Nations down with him. Well, not the whole UN. The “good works” part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions”.

Perle’s eulogy for the vision of collective security the UN offered is an important illustration of the vision of the future it outlines, a view that is truly staggering in its ambition, and in its casual rejection of the framework of international law. His alternative is a shifting away from international institutions to one of shifting ad hoc coalitions. As he writes, the chronic failure of the Security Council to enforce its own resolutions is unmistakable: it is simply not up to the task. One is left with coalitions of the willing. Far from disparaging them as a threat to a new world order, we should recognise that they are, by default, the best hope for that order, and the true alternative to the anarchy of the abject failure of the UN.

What then is the next step in the Bush administration’s security agenda? One clue is embodied in the statement from a senior British official to Newsweek: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.” According to the Israeli paper Ha’aretz, in February 2003, Under-secretary of State John Bolton told Israeli officials that after defeating Iraq the United States would “deal with” Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

Michael Ledeen, another key intellectual in the pantheon of neoconservatives shaping the Bush administration policy, described one such agenda, writing in the New York Sun on March 19th, noting that there is no mistaking the messianic vision of manifest destiny that he believes the war in Iraq will provide:

“Once upon a time, it might have been possible to deal with Iraq alone, without having to face the murderous forces of the other terror masters in Tehran, Damascus, and Riyadh, but that time has passed. The Iranian, Syrian, and Saudi tyrants know that if we win a quick victory in Iraq and then establish a free government in Baghdad, their doom is sealed. It would then be only a matter of time before their peoples would demand the same liberation we brought to Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus, they must do everything in their power to tie us down in Iraq, bleed us on the ground, frustrate our designs, and eventually break our will.

It would be a terrible humiliation for America and Britain to fall prey to needless bloodshed because we blinded ourselves to the larger war in which we are now engaged. Iraq is a battle, not a war. We have to win the war, and the only way to do that is to bring down the terror masters, and spread freedom throughout the region.

Rarely has it been possible to see one of history’s potential turning points so clearly and so dramatically as it is today. Rarely has a country been given such a glorious opportunity as we have in our hands. But history is full of missed opportunities and embarrassing defeats.”

In a panel at the American Enterprise Institute on March 21st and in the New York Sun Ledeen argued for the need to look beyond Iraq and go after other regimes in the region, particularly Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia:

“Iraq is not the war. (…) the war is a regional war, and we cannot be successful in Iraq if we only do Iraq alone”.

It is a dream that has grown slowly over the last half-dozen years, from seeds first sown by a small group of neoconservative thinkers labouring in the quiet vineyards of policy think tanks during the Clinton administration.

One of the places the idea was born was the Project for the New American Century, which was a fledgling and unnoticed neoconservative think tank in 1998.

In a letter to Mr. Clinton put together by the group’s director, former intelligence official Gary Schmitt, the group declared:

“The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term this means a willingness to undertake military action. (…) In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.”

Even before the 1998 letter to President Clinton, the idea of using regime change in Baghdad to foster Middle East stability was around.

In a 1996 memo to then newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Richard Perle, a hard-liner from the Reagan administration, proposed replacing Saddam  Hussein with Jordan’s King Hussein as part of an audacious plan to strengthen Israel. Mr. Perle, who headed a study group, was trying to produce a change that would secure Israel’s “streets and borders” by forcing significant change in the Arab world. Mr. Perle later signed the letter to Mr. Clinton.

Through this same period, some Israeli thinkers had begun examining what drove countries to war, and moved toward similar conclusions about basic changes in the Arab world. Uzi Arad director of Israel’s Institute of Policy and Strategy and former adviser to Mr. Netanyahu, followed the research closely.

The result was what he now refers to as the “Theory of Democratic Peace”, where the checks and balances built into democratic systems prevents a single individual from pursuing a militaristic course that leads to war.

Mr. Arad says the research has had a fundamental impact on the way the Bush Administration views the Middle East and its long history of violence. “The evidence was irrefutable: democracies do not attack democracies,” he says.

The statement calling for regime change in Iraq had quietly moved to the centre of U.S. foreign-policy thinking. Of the 18 who signed it, half took important jobs in the new Bush administration, including Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz; two top State Department officials, Richard Armitage and John Bolton; and Elliott Abrams, now the National Security Council’s top Mideast official.

Both the U.S. and Israel are betting the removal of Mr. Hussein from power will pave the way for change. Mr. Ariel Sharon, who said that he hoped and believed that the uprooting of Mr. Hussein “will mark the beginning of a new era, one that is better for our region and for the entire world.”, (2) had already told visiting U.S. congressmen that Iran, Libya and Syria must be stripped of nuclear weapons. Under-secretary of State John Bolton replied to him that it would be necessary to deal not only with Syria and Iran but also with North Korea. Israel’s defence minister already asked American Friends of Israel to press for action against Iran.

John B. Judis, senior editor at TNR says:

“When I asked a State Department official about Iraq and oil, I was advised to interview the Baker Institute’s Amy Jaffe, who was responsible for the section of the CFR/Baker Report that concerned oil policy. According to Jaffe, who has worked with the administration’s National Intelligence Council project on energy geopolitics, ‘A large preponderance of people in State, the NSC [National Security Council], and Defense agree with the contents of the report’.  The study says that the United States must do everything it can to refute the idea that the war was motivated by ‘an American wish to “steal” or at least control Iraqi oil’… “Any efforts to secure Iraq’s oil installations and its future production must be clearly and credibly presented as actions taken to protect the country’s wealth on behalf of all segments of the Iraqi population”. “The Iraqis”, the report says, “have the capability to manage the future direction of their oil industry. A heavy American hand will only convince them, and the rest of the world, that the operation against Iraq was undertaken for imperialist, rather than disarmament, reasons.” The report does not envisage Iraq becoming a capitalist model for the Middle East anytime soon. Iraq could as easily become an urban and industrial renewal project that will depend, in the interim, on aid and advice from its neighbors and the United States.

The neoconservatives inside and outside the administration take a radical, even revolutionary, view of what is possible and desirable in the region. The region has been compared now to Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II and the post-Saddam Middle East to post-World War II Europe.

After World War II, we thought strategically about what were the key industrial areas of Europe that need to be under Western control to effect a strategic domination of Europe.  If you start thinking of the Middle East in the same way, Iraq jumps to the front, because it is that nexus of oil, education, and geography.

The neoconservatives do not worry about offending potential critics in Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Syria because they think of them as enemies who should eventually be swept aside by the installation of a democratic, free-market Iraq on their borders.

“This is the moment where our ideas will be vindicated, or we can walk away. You can’t count on the international community to establish a new democratic or political order. The way it would work is that the reigning power would distribute power and businesses, and which people it chooses to deal with are automatically made into kings. Do we want to be the kingmaker, or do we want to default that over to the UN? I am not sure we want to cede it. I would bet the UN would seek the acquiescence of Iraq’s neighbors – all of which have vested interests. There are three that would be problematic: Riyadh, Tehran, and Damascus. And the UN would work through them”.’ (3)


1- Neela Banerjee. The New York Times. October 23, 2002. “US efforts to diversify yield little progress”.

2- “A Pro-U.S., Democratic Area Is a Goal That Has Israeli, Neo-conservative Roots” by Robert S. Greenberger and Karby Leggett, Staff Reporters of WSJ 21 March 2003.

3- “Oil Over a Barrel”, The New Republic, 20th January 2003 by John B. Judis.

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