The baby-oil theory ...

johnhall johnhall at
Fri Apr 18 18:08:27 PDT 2003

April 18 -  In the waning days of the argument over whether to intervene
in Iraq, I came to think that I could, with a 99 percent chance of being
bang on target and inflicting no collateral damage, spot an obvious
phony. At the meeting or the debate, someone would get up and announce
that of course we'd all be better off without the "bad guy" Saddam
Hussein. Having cleared his or her throat in this manner, the phony
would go on to say what the real problem was (East Timor sometimes, or
the imminent obliteration of tens of thousands of Baghdadi civilians, or
Ariel Sharon's plan to expel all the inhabitants of the West Bank under
cover of an American imperialist war).

NONE OF THESE hysterical predictions came true, but now I can't open a
bulletin from the reactionary right or the anti-war left without being
told that Iraq is already worse off without Saddam Hussein. And how can
we tell that Iraq is worse off? Because contracts for its reconstruction
are being awarded to American corporations. Of the three feasible
alternatives (that the contracts go to American capitalists, or to some
unspecified non-American capitalists, or that Iraqi oil production stays
as it was), the supposed radicals appear to prefer the last of the

        This view, which admittedly expresses a wider concern, can stand
some examination. The Iraqi oil industry was until March 2003 a fiefdom
of the Baath Party. Its revenues were mysteriously apportioned but went
to the upkeep of a militaristic and dictatorial regime. Its physical
plant was much decayed, as a consequence of U.N. sanctions. The
oil-for-food program was exploited in the most cynical manner by members
and clients of the palatial Saddam regime, who used the semilegal trade
to enrich themselves while starving and neglecting the population. (By
the way, now that sanctions can be properly lifted, let us remember that
their very imposition was opposed by the anti-war spokesmen, who would
have scrapped them without conditions even though they had been imposed
by the sacrosanct majority of the United Nations.) Meanwhile, vast
contracts were awarded, on the basis of political favoritism, to Russian
and French consortia. At moments when the Baathist authorities felt
themselves insecure, they would threaten to set fire to the oil wells
or-as in late March-would actually do so.


But in Iraq this proposed scenario [evil capitalists causing a war] is
believed in only by the puerile. It's the baby-oil theory. It was for
the sake of real oil and for the grim-faced Saudis that Saddam Hussein
was kept as a favorite by Washington during the 1980s and saved from
overthrow in 1991. It was not for the sake of oil that the risky
decision to cease this corrupt coexistence was made. But at least now
the Iraqi people have a chance of controlling their own main resource,
and it will be our task to ensure that the funding and revenue are
transparent instead of opaque. This couldn't have been left to the oil
interests who ran the place until recently, and it couldn't even have
been attempted if we'd listened to the peaceniks, who strike me now more
than ever as . oleaginous.

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