UPDATE: The Stanford Daily, which originally reported on the round table, incorrectly attributed some of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s comments to Gen. Abizaid. Though Abizaid did say “Of course it’s about oil, we can’t really deny that,” it was Friedman who said “We’ve treated the Arab world as a collection of big gas stations.” The Daily has posted a correction.
During a round table discussion on “the Fight for Oil, Water and a Healthy Planet” at Stanford University on Saturday, Gen. John Abizaid (Ret.), the former CENTCOM Commander, said that “of course” the Iraq war is “about oil“:
“Of course it’s about oil, we can’t really deny that,” Abizaid said of the Iraq campaign early on in the talk.
“We’ve treated the Arab world as a collection of big gas stations,” the retired general said. “Our message to them is: Guys, keep your pumps open, prices low, be nice to the Israelis and you can do whatever you want out back. Osama and 9/11 is the distilled essence that represents everything going on out back.”
Abizaid has previously argued that the U.S. would need “to keep a long-term military presence in Iraq” in order to protect “the free flow of goods and resources” such as oil, but his Stanford comments go much further in pinning oil as a prime motivator for the war.
The Bush administration, however, still denies any connection between the war in Iraq and America’s geopolitical interest in Middle East oil. Just last month, after former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan wrote that “the Iraq War is largely about oil,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates rejected the notion, saying “I just don’t believe it’s true“:
“I wasn’t here for the decision-making process that initiated it, that started the war,” Gates said. But he added, “I know the same allegation was made about the Gulf War in 1991, and I just don’t believe it’s true.”
“I think that it’s really about stability in the Gulf. It’s about rogue regimes trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. It’s about aggressive dictators,” Gates said.
Though Abizaid says that Bush’s Iraq policy seeks to keep oil “prices low,” the per-barrel cost of oil has risen dramatically since the U.S. first invaded. In March 2003, the price of oil was roughly US$35 a barrel. Today, prices reached “above $85 a barrel for the first time.”