No US Companies Will Get Iraqi Oil Contracts

Vivienne Walt’s report for Time magazine on the handing-out of Iraqi oil contracts strikes me as unduly snarky:

Those who claim that the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 to get control of the country’s giant oil reserves will be left scratching their heads by the results of last weekend’s auction of Iraqi oil contracts: Not a single U.S. company secured a deal in the auction of contracts that will shape the Iraqi oil industry for the next couple of decades. Two of the most lucrative of the multi-billion-dollar oil contracts went to two countries which bitterly opposed the U.S. invasion — Russia and China — while even Total Oil of France, which led the charge to deny international approval for the war at the U.N. Security Council in 2003, won a bigger stake than the Americans in the most recent auction. “[The distribution of oil contracts] certainly answers the theory that the war was for the benefit of big U.S. oil interests,” says Alex Munton, Middle East oil analyst for the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, whose clients include major U.S. companies. “That has not been demonstrated by what has happened this week.”

I think you would have to have a pretty crude understanding of politics to think that the sole motive for invading Iraq was a desire to see contracts assigned to companies headquartered in the United States.

That said, if you do think a desire to see contracts assigned to oil companies headquartered in the United States was a major Bush administration war aim, all this demonstrates is that the war failed to achieve its aims. After all, I don’t think anyone seriously disputes that one thing the Bush administration was hoping to achieve was to intimidate Iran into complying with American demands. The war has not, in fact, had that effect. But that’s because the war was a bad, poorly implemented idea, conceived of and conducted by immoral and unintelligent people. The fact that the war has failed to achieve most of its aims has no bearing on the issue of whether or not those were, in fact, the aims.

You always need to recall that the original Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld vision for the war was something very different. US troops go in, overthrow Saddam, quickly install an Ahmed Chalabi or Ayad Allawi type at the head of a new regime, and then a peaceful, stable, pro-American, unitary Iraq emerges like magic. The bulk of American troops pack up and go gome quickly. Maybe 20 or 30 thousand stick around safely on bases, ready to project power around the region. In that Iraq would contracts have gone to Chinese and Russian companies? Probably not. But the larger point would be that having the country of Iraq under American control in that sense would be about a lot more than a contract or two.