Why is Democracy Now shielding “war for oil” against reality?

In its headlines for December 14, Democracy Now followed the report on Blair’s confession about his committment to regime change in Iraq regardless of the absence of WMDs, with this:

Iraq Signs Oil Deals with 10 Foreign Companies

Blair’s comments come just as Iraq has signed a series of major oil deals. A two-day auction ended Saturday with ten foreign companies winning access to Iraq’s massive reserves. The oil giant Royal Dutch Shell won the rights to the Manjoon oilfield near Basra, one of the world’s largest. The US-based Exxon Mobil and Occidental Petroleum also submitted winning bids.

The wording is careful: it appears to suggest a connection between what Blair said and the Iraqi oil contracts. The war in other words was for oil. That is a remrkable conclusion to draw from news about an auction in which US companies were the big losers (hence DN’s careful choice of the words ‘foreign companies’). Unless Democracy Now is suggesting that the US waged a war for Russia, Norway and China — biggest winners in the auction — it is not clear why it continues to insist on the discredited “war for oil” argument? Why is it so difficult to admit who actually conceived the war?

But some could argue that this may be a mere reflection of the changing balance of power: that US oil majors are unable to secure contracts doesn’t necessarilty mean that the war wasn’t for oil.

Consider this excerpt from the news report about the auction:

The 10 deals the Iraqi Oil Ministry reached with foreign oil companies suggest that China, Russia, and European oil firms are poised to play a major role in refurbishing Iraq’s oil industry, crippled by decades of war and sanctions.

American companies walked away with stakes in just two of the 10 auctioned fields. Seven American companies had paid to participate in the second auction, which began Friday. The only one that submitted a bid lost. Two American companies reached deals for fields auctioned in June.

The meager representation of American oil giants in Iraq’s opening oil industry surprised analysts.

“Iraq finally opened its doors after six years of war, and instead of U.S. companies, you have Asians and Europeans leading the way,” said Ruba Husari, the editor of Iraq Oil Forum, an online news outlet. “It will be a long time before anything else will be on offer in Iraq.”

Concerns over security, underscored by massive coordinated bombings Tuesday, and political instability as the U.S. military withdraws, likely kept American oil companies from venturing more forcefully in Iraq, which has the world’s third-largest proven crude reserves, analysts said.

Now compare it to this piece by Anthony Sampson from December 2002:

While Washington hawks depict a war against Iraq as achieving security of oil supplies, Western oil companies are worried about the short-term danger and the supposed long-term benefits of intervention…

Oil companies dread having supplies interrupted by burning oilfields, saboteurs and chaotic conditions. And any attempt to redraw the frontiers could increase the dangers in both Iran and Iraq, as rivals seek to regain territory.

I hope you get my drift? So much for ‘war for oil’.

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

9 thoughts on “Why is Democracy Now shielding “war for oil” against reality?”

  1. Point taken, although the counter argument is that US expectations for the invasion of Iraq have simply not come to fruition. The US hawks blithely expected a short invasion leading to a pacified Iraq, in which a humbled citizenry and new political class would be grateful for their liberation. They simply didn’t plan for long-term security destablisation and ongoing militant warfare. Should their original expectations have been realised, there is no reason to presume that American companies would not have been at the forefront of these oil production auctions. Indeed, your quoted articles very much suggest this would have been the case.

    Moreover, having Iraqi oil under the fractured and decentralised control of multinational oil firms is still preferable to it being controlled by a nationalist dictator with distinctly anti-US sentiment and who, like Chavez, could use it for anti-imperial purposes. The US doesn’t necessarily need its companies to be pulling the oil from the sand to gain.

    With all due respect, perhaps the ‘war for oil’ arguments are not as empty as you suggest?

    Great site, by the way.

    1. I agree, in this day of multinationalism isn’t it a bit naive to think that only US based companies should win the bids for the oil war theory to be true. If the oil goes to Shell or Exxon does it really make that much difference for the world economy? Besides has the US ever fought a war in history that did not have a significant profit motive? There MUST be a profit in war, without question.

  2. A point missing on the argument is; where is the capital?

    I bet for Wallstreet and all their fonds it makes little if any difference who will be extracting the oil.

    At this point in time I guess no one can really doubt who owns the US government. I’d go so far as to say it is even naïve to think that the world’s imperial plutocracy – which recognizes no soverenity or statehood – would contemplate war with no specify business interest in their agenda. The Age of Corporations is over. They, as everything else, have been reduced to mear means.

    Anyway, if you really think about it, TARP was an act of war. A fierce blow dealt by the powerfull on the powerless. In that aspect they – the powerfull – are philosophically light years ahead of us – the powerless. They don’t have to imagine a worls as John Lenon had suggested. They live in it.

  3. Who financed the war? They were the real winners.

    As for the oil, the US government has thousands of shares in many of those oil companies so the money will still come in by the billion$…and the steeling of America’s wealth will go on as expected.

  4. Brit documents show that at least their oil companies were keen for the war. From the Independent:

    The documents were not offered as evidence in the ongoing Chilcot Inquiry into the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war. In March 2003, just before Britain went to war, Shell denounced reports that it had held talks with Downing Street about Iraqi oil as “highly inaccurate”. BP denied that it had any “strategic interest” in Iraq, while Tony Blair described “the oil conspiracy theory” as “the most absurd”.

    But documents from October and November the previous year paint a very different picture.

    Five months before the March 2003 invasion, Baroness Symons, then the Trade Minister, told BP that the Government believed British energy firms should be given a share of Iraq’s enormous oil and gas reserves as a reward for Tony Blair’s military commitment to US plans for regime change.

    The papers show that Lady Symons agreed to lobby the Bush administration on BP’s behalf because the oil giant feared it was being “locked out” of deals that Washington was quietly striking with US, French and Russian governments and their energy firms.

    Minutes of a meeting with BP, Shell and BG (formerly British Gas) on 31 October 2002 read: “Baroness Symons agreed that it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq in that way if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis.”


    1. October 2002, that’s about 11 months after preparations for war had already started; 3 months after Cheney had already made an un-official declaration war. Why wouldn’t the oil companies try to look after their best interests once the war was already a sure thing?

  5. As difficult as it may be for the people of the U.S. to accept, not everyone wants to be an American. When we withdraw troops that had no bussines being where-ever George W. sent them Everything returns to “normal”.Let’s fix our government first. Obviosly, War doesn”t stimulate the economy but Obama did. Let’s br honest. Until we use ouf own oil and move away from a petroliium based society, expect more “oil wars” when conservatives are in power. Bernhard H. Muenchsdorfer

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