culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Ensuring a crooked playing field. Who gets the spoils of war? The American taxpayer who, willingly or not, finances the White House's unilateral military campaigns? The "liberated" newly-democratic Iraqi people? Let's see.

First comes a statement (
Wall Street Journal, sub. req'd) that sounds reasonable, even honorable, upon first hearing during a White House news saturation cycle earlier this year:
In January Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. would not exploit Iraqi oil reserves for its own purposes, and that oil would be held "in trust" for the Iraqi people. The U.S. government has held talks this year with Iraqi opposition groups about administration of oil fields after Saddam Hussein leaves power.
Later, in whispered tones that you must listen closely for, comes the following (same article):
Speaking Friday at the European Institute conference, James Placke, Middle East specialist at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, said in the aftermath of a potential war, existing Iraqi oil field agreements with foreign companies will likely have to be recast.

"I think it's likely that the playing field will be leveled, which probably means that the existing memoranda of understanding will be renegotiated to fit into a very different framework from the one in which they were originally agreed upon," Placke said.

In the initial two-to-three-year phase of recovery and rebuilding, oil services companies like Halliburton Co. (HAL) and Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB) would be the main foreign contractors, rather than large integrated oil firms like Shell, he said. Assuming political stability and internal security, Iraq could use that transition phase to set a framework for longer-term relationships with foreign oil firms, he said.

Iraq's oil reserves are estimated at more than 112 billion barrels, the second-largest after those of Saudia Arabia. Recent production capacity under the U.N. oil-for-food program has been 2.5 million barrels a day, but industry analysts project production could be more than twice that level with sufficient time and investment.

In December the Council of Foreign Relations and the Baker Institute projected Iraq's oil export infrastructure would need investment of $5 billion, and its fields would need another $5 billion plus $3 billion per year in operating costs to raise production to pre-1990 levels of 3.5 million barrels a day.
"Likely have to be recast," "renegotiated," "assuming political stability," "could be," and "would need" conditionalize every promise ever made to anyone, anywhere. Except, of course, for clandestine promises made to Halliburton, Dick Cheney's company and current compensator extraordinaire.

But in the article you will find another name, Baker, that brings back unhappy memories of December 2000, when the name of the president of the United States was still unknown. Besides running post-election campaigns for children of his cronies, James Baker — James A. Baker III to his friends — has an institute of his own. This institute issues papers, like "Guiding Principles for U.S. Post-Conflict Policy in Iraq", which pays lip service to other concerns but is more about oil than anything else. The document is explicitly about the setting of priorities. For example, the 270 trillion cubic feet of Iraqi natural gas receive a chapter of their own in the addendum, entitled "Good potential, but not a priority."

With the international focus of its recommendations, this report appears to have been the foundation of Colin Powell's remarks in January. The uni-national involvement of Halliburton was evidently appended after the initial publicity, which suggests that the entire paper might have been a Powell-appeasing tactic from the get-go. "Let's get Colin to present this 'oil in trust for the Iraqi people' concept — we can always change it later," is the thinking.

To better understand how these men want this campaign to unfold, we must go back in time. Like any good right-wing think tank, the Baker Institute comes up with radical ideas, pronouncements, and wish lists, such as those found in this set of policy recommendations from April 2, 1997:
...Iran's influence on the question of exports from Central Asia should also be revisited.

The United States, with its global responsibilities, must maintain a firm and consistent policy on Iran. However, the United States must recognize that it has not been successful in bringing our allies to the same level of sanctions on Iran.
Iraq is mentioned, but the focus on Iran in unmistakable. In other words, there will be an aftermath to the Iraq campaign, and it will consist of Iran.

"I think it's likely that the playing field will be leveled," Placke said in the first article cited above. Not "level." Leveled.

The playing field will indeed be leveled, one way or another, by unscrupulous US corporate concerns. The coming war is a campaign of military clear-cutting for American industrial interests to get closer to the assets they crave.

For the Cheneyesque gang, the playing fields from which obstacles must be removed are actually three: First, Iraq. Second, Iran. Third, the Central Asian republics.

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