Oil for War

Article excerpt

After invading one of the most petroleum-rich countries on earth, the U.S. military is running on empty. By Robert Bryce

NAPOLEON FAMOUSLY SAID that an army marches on its stomach. That may have been true for his 19th-century force. But the modern American military runs on jet fuel--and lots of it.

Today the average American G.I. in Iraq uses about 20.5 gallons of fuel every day, more than double the daily volume consumed by U.S. soldiers in Iraq in 2004. Thus, in order to secure the third-richest country on the planet, the U.S. military is burning enormous quantities of petroleum. And nearly every drop of that fuel is imported into Iraq. These massive fuel requirements--just over 3 million gallons per day for Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the Pentagon's Defense Energy Support Center--are a key reason for the soaring cost of the war effort.

Controlling Iraq's oil has historically been a vital factor in America's involvement in Iraq and was always a crucial element of the Bush administration's plans for the post-Saddam era. Of course, that's not how the war was sold to the American people. A few months before the invasion, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared that the looming war had "nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil." The war was necessary, its planners claimed, because Saddam Hussein supported terrorism and, left unchecked, he would unleash weapons of mass destruction on the West.

Nevertheless, oil was the foremost strategic focus for the U.S. military in Iraq. The first objectives of the invading forces included the capture of key Iraqi oil terminals and oilfields. On March 20, 2003, Navy SEALs engaged in the first combat of the war when they launched a surprise invasion of the Mina al-Bakr and Khor alAmaya oil loading terminals in the Persian Gulf. A few hours later, Marine Lt. Therral Childers became the first U.S. soldier to die in combat in the invasion when he was killed fighting for control of the Rumaylah oil field in southern Iraq.

Oil was also the first objective when U.S. forces reached Baghdad on April 8. Although the National Library of Iraq, the National Archives, and the National Museum of Antiquities were all looted and in some cases burned, the oil ministry building was barely damaged. That's because a detachment of American soldiers and a half-dozen assault vehicles were assigned to guard the ministry and its records.

After all, the war's architects had promised that oil money was going to rebuild Iraq after the U.S. military took control. In March 2003, Paul Wolfowitz told a Congressional panel, "The oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years. Now, there are a lot of claims on that money, but ... we are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon." As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor explained in their 2006 book, Cobra II, "The Pentagon had promised that the reconstruction of Iraq would be 'self-financing,' and the preservation of Iraq's oil wealth was the best-prepared and -resourced component of Washington's postwar plan."

After the invasion, when inspectors failed to find any weapons of mass destruction, Bush and his supporters changed their story, claiming that the U.S. had invaded Iraq to spread democracy in the Middle East. When democracy failed to materialize, the justification for the invasion turned to oil. During an October 2006 press conference, Bush declared that the U.S. could not "tolerate a new terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East with large oil reserves that could be used to fund its radical ambitions or used to inflict economic damage on the West."

The U.S. military and the new Baghdad government have failed, however, to secure Iraq's tattered oil sector. As A.F. Alhajji, energy economist and professor at Ohio Northern University, has said, "whoever controls Iraq's oil, controls Iraq. …