Monday, November 28, 2005

Syriana and Iraq

History News Network

By Mark A. LeVine
November 27, 2005

Critics have been hailing "Syriana," George Clooney's latest film to take on the policies of the Bush Administration, as a cinematic tour de force that has "compelling real-world relevance" and is "unsettlingly close to the truth." But what is the truth "Syriana" supposedly approaches? Put briefly, the plot describes the ramification of a bungled CIA-authorized assassination of a Middle Eastern leader who decided to sign a major oil deal with China instead of an American oil company with close ties to the US Government.

Given the increasing numbers of Americans who believe that the Bush administration deliberately misled the country to justify the Iraqi invasion, many film-goers will no doubt walk accept the film's argument that Big Oil shapes American policies to its interests, even when they violate our core ideals. But is the movie really a case of art imitating life, or does "Syriana" veer towards the kind of hyperbole and exaggeration that marred Oliver Stone's "JFK?"

The evidence would seem to speak for itself. It includes:

- Newly discovered documents, reported in the Washington Post, that reveal that as early as February 2001 senior executives of at least four of the country's biggest oil companies, ExxonMobil, Conoco, Shell and BP America, met with Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force.

- Documents from these meetings obtained by the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch--including a map of Iraq and an accompanying list of "Iraq oil foreign suitors"--reveal Iraq, with perhaps the world's second largest oil deposits, to have been a major topic of discussion. Indeed, the map erased all features of the country save the location of its main oil deposits. The list of suitors revealed that dozens of foreign companies were either in discussions over or in direct negotiations for rights to some of the best remaining oilfields on earth.

- The meetings occurred at a moment when scientists and industry leaders began worrying that the "age of peak oil production" is approaching faster than previously assumed. Once it arrives, it will no longer be possible to extract enough oil from the earth to replace what we consume, thereby setting off a potentially explosive competition for the world's remaining supplies.

- In such a scenario, insuring American access to, and where possible leverage or even control over, the world's major oil deposits would be a natural concern for an Administration umbilically tied to Big Oil, particularly in the context of escalating competition with an aggressive, energy-hungry China.

- A 2002 report by Deutsche Bank explained the major US companies would lose if Saddam made a deal with the UN, whereas the Europeans, Russians and Chinese would come out ahead. But in a post-Saddam Iraq, the report argued, the US oil majors--specifically, according to the report, ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco--could manage the country's resources. No wonder the executives of those companies denied meeting with Cheney's staff only weeks after George W. Bush's inauguration.

- At the very moment the first Energy Task Force meetings with industry officials were held, in February 2001, the National Security Council issued a directive for staff to cooperate with the Energy Task Force in the "melding" of new "operational policies towards rogue states" with "actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields." No place on earth was more amenable to such melding than Iraq.

- Two and a half yeas after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration continues to resist calls for a major troop withdrawal, despite the fact that most intelligence reports, and Iraq politicians, confirm our presence to be the main motivation for the insurgency.

With American losses and expenditures mounting daily, the threat of WMD disproved, the promise of peace and democracy seeming increasingly pollyanish, the Bush Administration is running out of good reasons for the US to maintain a long-term presence in Iraq. Two that come to mind, however, are oil and military bases--subjects, needless to say, that remain largely unbroachable in polite discourse in Washington or Baghdad.

But it's hard to think of anything else that would constitute the "core interests" both the Bush Administration and leading democrats (most recently Senator Joseph Biden) argue will be threatened by an American withdrawal from Iraq any time soon.

It took roughly fifty years for the CIA to admit that it organized the overthrow of Iranian President Mossadeqh when he dared to nationalize his country's oil industry. Our government also helped organize coups that put the Baath Party in power in Iraq twice, in 1963 and 1968. There's no doubt who was behind the toppling of Saddam. The question that remains, however, is: What was the real reason we invaded Iraq? On that score, "Syriana" hits closer to home than most politicians on either side of the aisle would care to admit.


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