Academic journal article Military Review

Oil, Corruption, and Threats to Our National Interest: Will We Learn from Iraq?

Academic journal article Military Review

Oil, Corruption, and Threats to Our National Interest: Will We Learn from Iraq?

Article excerpt


PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT knew the insidious impact of corruption in government and society when in 1900 he said, "No man who is corrupt, no man who condones corruption in others, can possibly do his duty by the community." (1)

Oil production in underdeveloped countries helps feed, sustain, and deepen corruption. Part of the reason is that the cost of producing a barrel of oil is a small fraction of its price on the global market, so government coffers are full of petrodollars, and there is little or no transparency or accountability in how government funds are spent. Threats to our national security from oil-producing countries like Iran have long been on the radar screen, but now threats from other countries such as Venezuela, Nigeria, and Sudan are on the horizon. How America deals with corruption in Iraq will likely condition our response to these impending threats.

Corruption creates conditions that lead to and sustain dictatorships and kleptocracies--both of which are contrary to our national interest and our aims of promoting democratic principles and the rule of law around the world. The Transparency International Corruption Perception Index for 2008, a report ranking countries by the degree corruption is perceived to exist among politicians and public officials, ranked Nigeria 122d, Venezuela 158th, Sudan 173d, and Iraq 178th out of a total of 180 countries. (2)

Indeed, corruption in Iraq is staggering and because of the encouragement received during Saddam Hussein's reign, can be considered part of the country's culture. Reports note, "the Iraqi government is in danger of being brought down by the wholesale smuggling of the nation's oil and other forms of corruption that together represent a 'second insurgency."' (3) In 2007, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil estimated that $700 million of revenue is lost every month because of oil smuggling. (4) The amount lost in 2008 is uncertain because of "the absence of a comprehensive metering system." (5) Iraq's Shi'a, Sunni, and Kurdish sects are strengthening themselves through endemic corrupt practices. These sects do not believe that federalism is the most likely outcome in Iraq, so they are trying to enhance their political, economic, and military power in preparation for what they believe will be the inevitable bloody climax once American troops leave. Petrodollar corruption is feeding, sustaining, and deepening the sectarian divide. During my two tours in Iraq, I observed rampant corruption in the Iraqi Security Forces and at the border ports of entry. (6) Little has been done to counter this corruption militarily, politically, or economically. Our apparent indifference has led to the Iraqis effectively defrauding the American taxpayer of billions of dollars.

Overdependence on oil revenues, a lack of accountability, and the discretion leaders enjoy in spending petrodollars are characteristics of Venezuela, Nigeria, and Sudan as well. Petrodollars tend to corrode fragile states, as happened in Venezuela when oil fields were discovered in 1917. Then-dictator Juan Vicente Gomez doled out concessions to his children and close associates. That pattern of corruption has continued in Venezuela to the present day. After the overthrow of the Perez Jimenez dictatorship in 195 8, a series of elected governments and the major political parties failed to deal with corruption. In spite of a massive influx of petrodollars, especially after 1974, more than 65 percent of the people are now mired in poverty, and the traditional political parties are discredited and have effectively disappeared, facilitating movement along the Cuba-inspired path that President Hugo Chavez appears to have chosen for that unfortunate country.

Chavez's radicalization following his landslide victory at the polls was clearly timed to occur when America was heavily focused on Iraq and Afghanistan. Chavez has also been very active in supporting radical elected leaders in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, and has developed close ties with Iran. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.