Triumph…and Denial

Over the past weekend, the Bush administration scored arguably its largest political triumph in the Iraq War. That victory, of course, was the announcement that no-bid oil developmental contracts had been signed between the Iraqi government and five western oil companies (Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, Total, and Chevron) for the purpose of exploring the best ways to exploit some of Iraq’s massive untapped petroleum reserves. Hurrah, hurrah!

This is a major victory if one assumes (as I do) that the major geopolitical reason for the American invasion of Iraq in the first place was to break the barrier in place since 1972 that had kept the United States’ hands off Iraqi oil. Moreover, at a time when issuesof supply and demand are contributing to spiralling oil prices, the deal may also help increase Iraqi production, with some hoped-for dampening effect on the price of oil. This sounds like the stuff of rejoicing. But is it?

Somewhat astoundingly for an administration that takes credit for almost anything good that happens in the world (whether it contributed to that situation or not), the administration DENIES it had anything to do with the breakthroughs. As quoted in the New York Times, press spokesperson Dana Perrino, for instance, deadpanned that “Iraq is a sovereign country, and it can make decisions based on how it wants to move forward in its development of its oil resources.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (after whom, it should be remembered, an oil supertanker is named) added with an equally straight face, “The United States has stayed out of the matter of awarding Iraqi oil contracts. It is a private sector matter.” Never mind that the State Department served in a “consulting” role in drafting the contracts.

You can virtually see the noses growing in the White House. Head cowboys/oil “bidness”men Bush and Cheney can hadly be less than ecstatic at this turn of events. Ironically, if they simply admitted that this had been their motive all along, they could now claim triumph that would be hard to deny. But they are not. Why not?

Part of their reluctance, of course, must come from the fact that this was not why they said the United States went to war in the first place. At the time, a battle cry of “American blood for Iraqi black gold” would not have appealed to the American patriotic sense as well as the threats of weapons of mass destruction and terrorists. Those rationales were always a crock, and the Bushies should have known it, but as long as the public did not, they provided much less venal cover for the invasion than grubbing for oil. In addition, the Bush administration hardly dares admit to the Muslim world that their suspicions about American motivations were also correct, an admission that would hardly enhance America’s highly tarnished image in the region. And, should American companies be among those who ultimately gain concessions for pumping the oil (clearly the real brass ring), then someone will have to be around to make sure the oil keeps flowing. Do we see a rationale for a protracted stay in Iraq lurking only slightly in the background?

It has arguably been a very good weekend for a White House that has not had many good days lately. It’s almost a shame they do not think they can enjoy it. Maybe when the doors are all closed and the reporters are all safely dispatched from view, the high-fiving begins.

Source: Andrew E. Kramer, “U.S. Advised Iraqi Ministry on Oil Deals.” New York Times (online), June 30, 2008.  

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