Behind the Drive to War
By Ismael Hossein-zadeh
A most widely-cited factor behind the Bush administration’s drive to war is said to be oil. “No Blood for Oil” has been a rallying cry for most of the opponents of the war. Yet, such claims cannot be supported by facts. Major oil companies have come (in recent years and decades) to prefer peace, stability, and predictability in global markets to war and instability. It is true that big oil, like the arms industry, has handsomely benefited form the heightened tempo of war and militarism. There is no hard evidence, however, that major oil interests encouraged or embraced the Bush administrations drive to war and militarism. On the contrary, evidence shows that for the last quarter century or so oil interests have not favored war and turbulence in the Middle East, including the current invasion of Iraq. Major oil companies, along with many other non-military transnational corporations, have lobbied both the Clinton and Bush administrations in support of changing the aggressive, militaristic U.S. policy toward countries like Iran, Iraq and Libya in favor of establishing normal, non-confrontational business and diplomatic relations.
The claim that attributes the Bush administration’s drive to war to the influence of major oil companies tends to rest more on precedent and perception than reality. Part of the perception is due to the exaggerated notion that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney were “oil men” before coming to the White House. But the fact is that George W.Bush was never more than an unsuccessful petty oil prospector and Dick Cheney headed a company, the notorious Halliburton, that sold (and still sells) services to oil companies and the Pentagon. The larger part of the perception, however, stems from the fact that oil companies do benefit from oil price hikes that result from war and political turbulence in the Middle East. Such benefits are, however, largely incidental. Surely, American oil companies would welcome the spoils of the war (in the form of oil price hikes) in Iraq or anywhere else in the world. From the largely incidental oil price hikes that follow war and political convulsion, some observers automatically conclude that, therefore, big oil must have been behind the war. But there is no evidence that, at least in the case of the current invasion of Iraq, oil companies pushed for or supported the war.
On the contrary, there is strong evidence that, in fact, oil companies did not welcome the war because they prefer stability and predictability to periodic oil spikes that follow war and political convulsion: “Looking back over the last 20 years, there is plenty of evidence showing the industry’s push for stability and cooperation with Middle Eastern countries and leaders, and the U.S. government’s drive for hegemony works against the oil industry.” As Thierry Desmarest, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of France’s giant oil company, TotalFinaElf, put it, “A few months of cash generation is not a big deal. Stable, not volatile, prices and a $25 price (per barrel) would be convenient for everyone.”
It is true that for a long time, from the beginning of Middle Eastern oil exploration and discovery in the early twentieth century until the mid-1970s, colonial and/or imperial powers controlled oil either directly or through control of oil producing countries—at times, even by military force. But that pattern of imperialist exploitation of global markets and resources has changed now. Most of the current theories of imperialism and hegemony that continue invoking that old pattern of big oil behavior tend to suffer from an ahistorical perspective. Today, even physically occupying and controlling another country’s oil fields will not necessarily be beneficial to oil interests. Not only will military adventures place the operations of current energy projects at jeopardy, but they will also make the future plans precarious and unpredictable. Big oil interests, of course, know this; and that’s why they did not countenance the war on Iraq: “The big oil companies were not enthusiastic about the Iraqi war,” says Fareed Mohamedi of PFC Energy, an energy consultancy firm based in Washington D.C. that advises petroleum firms. “Corporations like Exxon-Mobil and Chevron-Texaco want stability, and this is not what Bush is providing in Iraq and the Gulf region,” adds Mohamedi.
During the past few decades, major oil companies have consistently opposed U.S. policies and military threats against countries like Iran, Iraq, and Libya. They have, indeed, time and again, lobbied U.S. foreign policy makers for the establishment of peaceful relations and diplomatic rapprochement with those countries. The Iran-Libya Sanction Act of 1996 (ILSA) is a strong testament to the fact that oil companies nowadays view wars, economic sanctions, and international political tensions as harmful to their long-term business interests and, accordingly, strive for peace, not war, in international relations.
In May of 1997, for example, major U.S. oil companies such as Conoco, Exxon, Atlantic Richfield, and Occidental Petroleum joined other non-military U.S. transnational corporations to create an anti-sanction coalition. Earlier that same year Conoco’s Chief Executive Archie Dunham publicly took a stance against unilateral U.S. sanctions by stating that “U.S. companies, not rogue regimes, are the ones that suffer when the United States imposes economic sanctions.” Texaco officials have also argued that the U.S. can be more effective in bringing about change in other countries by allowing U.S. companies to do business with those countries instead of imposing economic sanctions that tend to be counterproductive.
A widely-shared view attributes the Bush administration’s militaristic foreign policy to the influence of neoconservative forces and the power of their ideology: the small but influential cabal of starry-eyed ideologues, bent on spreading the U.S. economic and political system, along with American power and influence, managed to single-handedly drive the country to war through lies and false pretexts. Some of these critics compare the “ideologically-driven” neoconservative militarists to the idealistic Jacobinic forces ofmore than two centuries ago in Europe, the eighteenth century French revolutionaries whose intention to remake Europe in revolutionary France’s image launched the Napoleonic Wars. Proponents of this thesis further argue that the neoconservatives’ domination of the Bush administration’s foreign policy amounted to a political coup d’etat.
While this argument may not be altogether false, it is woefully deficient. By placing an inordinately high emphasis on pure or abstract ideology, and on political personas or the role of individuals, the argument tends to lose sight of the bigger, but largely submerged, picture: the powerful military-industrial-Likud interests—the real architects of war and militarism—that lie behind the façade of neoconservative figures in and around the Bush administration. There is clear evidence that the leading neoconservative figures have been long-time political activists who have worked through think tanks set up to serve either as the armaments lobby or the Likud (militant Zionist partisans) lobby or both—going back to the 1990s, 1980s and, in some cases, 1970s. These corporate-backed militaristic think tanks include the American Enterprise Institute, Project for the New American Century, Center for Security Policy, Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Middle East Forum, National Institute for Public Policy, and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. There is also evidence that the major components of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, including the war on Iraq, were designed long before George W. Bush arrived in the While House—largely at the drawing boards of these think thanks, often in collaboration, directly or indirectly, with the Pentagon and the arms lobby.
Take the Center for Security Policy (CSP), for example. It “boasts that no fewer than 22 former advisory board members are close associates in the Bush administration. . . . A sixth of the Center’s revenue comes directly from defense corporations.” The Center’s alumni in key posts in the Bush administration include its former chair of the board, Douglas Feith, who served as Undersecretary of Defense for policy, Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim, former Defense Policy Board chair Richard Perle, and longtime friend and financial supporter Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In its 1998 annual report, the center “listed virtually every weapons-maker that had supported it fromits founding, from Lockheed, Martin Marietta, Northrop, Grumman, and Boeing, to the later ‘merged’ incarnations of same—Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and so forth.”
Likewise, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an influential Washington think tank and a major lobbying force for the military-industrial-Zionist alliance, can boast of being the metaphorical alma mater of a number of powerful members of the Bush administration. For example, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne Cheney, State Department arms control official John Bolton (now U.S. ambassador to the UN), and former chair of the Defense Policy Board Richard Perle all have had long-standing ties with the Institute. The Institute played a key role in promoting Ahmed Chalabi’s group of Iraqi exiles, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), as a major Iraqi opposition force “that would be welcomed by the Iraqi people as an alternative to the regime of Saddam Hussein” once the Untied States overthrew that regime. “From 1998 on, when there was U.S. government money openly available to support the Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein due to the AEI-backed Iraqi Liberation Act, Chalabi’s INC grabbed the bulk of the funding.” In return, the INC, working closely with the AEI, played an important role in the justification of the invasion of Iraq. It served, for example, as a major source of (largely fabricated) intelligence for the civilian militarists of the Pentagon whenever they found the intelligence gathered by the CIA and the State Department at odds with their plans of invading Iraq.
Another example of the interlocking network of neoconservative forces in the Bush administration and the militaristic think tanks that are dedicated to the advancement ofthe military-industrial-Zionist agenda is reflected in the affiliation of a number of influential members of the administration with the Jewish Institute for the National Security Affairs (JINSA). JINSA “is on record in its support of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and against the Oslo Accord. . . . In its fervent support for the hard-line, pro-settlement, anti-Palestinian Likud-style policies in Israel, JINSA has essentially recommended that ‘regime change’ in Iraq should be just the beginning of a cascade of toppling dominoes in the Middle East.”
JINSA has influential friends either as liaisons with or members of the Bush administration. For example, Douglas Feith, assistant secretary of defense during the first term of the Bush administration, is a former JINSA advisor. General Jay Garner, the initial head of the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq, is also a former JINSA advisory board member. JINSA advisor Michael Ladeen, who also unofficially advises the Bush administration on Middle Eastern issues, has occasionally talked about the coming era of “total war,” indicating that the Bush administration should expand its policy of “regime change” in Iraq to other countries in the region such as Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. “In keeping with its role as a cheerleader for U.S. intervention in the Middle East, JINSA chose to honor Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz . . . to receive the 2002 edition of its Henry M. ‘Scoop’ Jackson public service award. The corporate sponsor of the affair was Northrop Grumman, a company that Wolfowitz worked for as a paid consultant prior to joining Rumsfeld’s Pentagon.”
The fact that neoconservative militarists of the Bush administration are organically rooted in the military-industrial complex and/or the militant Zionist supporters of “greater Israel” is even more clearly reflected in their incestuous relationship with the jingoistic lobbying think tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Like most of its counterpart institutes within the extensive network of neoconservative think tanks, PNAC was founded by a circle of powerful political figures a number of whom later ascended to key positions in the Bush administration. As William Hartung describes, “In many ways, the founding of PNAC in 1997 marked the opening salvo in the formation of the Bush policy of aggressive unilateralism. The signatories of PNAC’s founding statement of principles are a rogue’s gallery of intransigent hardliners, ranging from Iran-Contra re-treat Eliot Cohen, to ex-Pentagon hawks I. Lewis Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld, to neo-con standbys Frank Gaffney, former Reagan drug czar WilliamBennett, and Norman Podhoretz, to the President’s brother and partner in electoral crime, Jeb Bush.” Add the signature of Vice President Dick Cheney to the list of PNAC founders, “and you have the bulwarks of the neo-con network that is currently in the driver’s seat of the Bush administration’s war without end policies all represented in PNAC’s founding document.”
A closer look at the professional records of the neoconservative players in the Bush administration indicates that “32 major administration appointees . . . are former executives with, consultants for, or significant shareholders of top defense contractors.” For example, James Roche, former air force secretary who took over the army, is a former president of Northrop Grumman; his assistant secretary Nelson Gibbs is another Northrop alumni. An under secretary at the air force, Peter Teets, was chief operating officer at Lockheed while Michael Wynne, a Defence Department under secretary, was a former senior vice-president at General Dynamics. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself is an ex-director of a General Dynamics subsidiary, and his deputy during the first term of the Bush administration, Paul Wolfowitz (now the head of the World Bank), acted as a paid consultant to Northrop Grumman. Today, point out Hartung and Ciarrocca, the armaments lobby “is exerting more influence over policy making than at any time since President Dwight D. Eisenhower first warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex over 40 years ago.”
This sample evidence indicates that the view that the neoconservative militarists’ tendency to war and aggression is inspired by an ideological passion to spread American ideals of democracy is clearly unwarranted. Their success in orchestrating the unprovoked war against Iraq stemmed largely from the fact they were working essentially on behalf of two immensely powerful special interests, the military-industrial complex and the influential Zionist lobby in the United States. Neoconservative architects of war and militarism derive their political clout and policy effectiveness largely from the political machine and institutional infrastructure of these two powerful interest groups.
William D. Hartung, How Much Are You Making on the War, Daddy?
Johnathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler. The Global Political Economy of Israel
Cyrus Bina, “The American Tragedy: The Quagmire of War, Rhetoric of Oil, and the Conundrum of Hegemony,” Journal of Iranian Research and Analysis, vol. 20, no. 2
Conundrum of Hegemony,” Journal of Iranian Research and Analysis, vol. 20, no. 2
Ismael Hossein-zadeh, author of the recently published The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave-Macmillan 2007), teaches economics at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.