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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Appetite for Oil Fuels America's Warmongering

by Cynthia Tucker

ATLANTA -- You haven't heard a word about oil from President Bush or his Cabinet as they've gone about the country on their pre-Halloween scarefest, trying to frighten voters into supporting their so-called war on terror. They've spoken of freedom and civilization, courage and cowardice, Nazis and appeasers.

But they haven't mentioned oil.

By now, of course, most Americans have long since ceased giving any credence to the administration's public explanations for the war in Iraq. Most Americans no longer believe toppling Saddam Hussein was worth the sacrifices, nor do they connect the invasion to the broader war against Islamic jihadists.

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The idea that the president has pitched most recently - that the very foundations of Western civilization are at stake, as they were in World War II - is no more persuasive. If Mr. Bush genuinely believed the stakes were that high, he would have called on all the nation's resources, including a military draft. Instead, the White House has gone about business as usual: cutting taxes, refusing to take port security seriously and relying on an all-volunteer military.

While several agendas converged to drive the war wagon to Baghdad, providing the United States access to Middle East oil reserves was always a critical factor. It's not just liberals - Democrats, environmentalists, Hummer-haters - who say so. So do candid conservatives.

In his book The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, Boston University professor and West Point grad Andrew Bacevich analyzed four military interventions of the Reagan era: "None of the four episodes can be fully understood except in relation to global reserves of fossil fuels and America's growing dependence on imported oil."

Kevin Phillips, a former Republican political strategist, is blunt in his latest book, American Theocracy: "Oil abundance has always been part of what America fights for, as well as with."

Most Americans don't want to concede that. Perhaps that's why Mr. Bush was able to con the voters into re-electing him: Americans wanted to believe that we went to Iraq to clean out a terrorist infrastructure and to establish a base camp for democracy in the Middle East. No matter that the facts didn't point in that direction; it was easier for us to believe that than to believe we went to secure U.S. access to Mideast oil.

Yet history clarifies the point. The CIA intervened in Iran in the 1950s, clearing a path for the shah, because Iran had nationalized its oilfields, displeasing Anglo-American petroleum interests. Mr. Phillips notes that in 1973, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and others in President Richard M. Nixon's Cabinet "promoted, just short of openly, a plan for using U.S. airborne forces to seize the oilfields of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi." And surely no one still thinks the United States would have driven Mr. Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991 had petroleum reserves not been at stake.

The current administration kept oil at the forefront of its planning after 9/11, too. In a speech last year, retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, revealed discussions about "mounting an operation to take the oilfields in the Middle East, internationalize them, put them under some sort of U.N. trusteeship, and administer the oil and the revenues accordingly."

Mr. Bush and his Cabinet deserve their share of blame for failing to confront Americans with the consequences of our addiction to oil. But we've gone along with their deception. Until we admit the blood price we pay for petroleum, we'll never be able to construct a sane policy toward the Middle East.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun. Her e-mail is

© Copyright 2006 Baltimore Sun

Appetite for Oil Fuels America's Warmongering


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