And, it was fundamentally wrong.
It played to an obvious narrative, with both President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney coming from the oil industry. But history will show, that’s not how things played out.
It seems fairly clear now, with the benefit of hindsight, that an inexperienced president was convinced by older, more experienced advisors that a successful military campaign in Iraq would lead to a stable democracy that could serve as a model for the region. At the very least, it would give us a friendly partner where we once had a dangerous threat. And, they convinced him the costs would be low and it would all be over quickly.
Bush was shaken by the 9-11 attacks, as we all were, and that also impacted his decision to go to war in Iraq. I’m not as forgiving as to his unwillingness to accept reality and change course once the war started going badly.
But I don’t think his original motives were corrupt. We didn’t go to war with Iraq to steal their oil.
That, says President Donald Trump, was our big mistake. And it’s one that he’s wanted to correct for some time.
In a speech to the CIA during his first days in office, Trump said: “You remember I always used to say, ‘Keep the oil.’ I wasn’t a fan of Iraq. I didn’t want to go into Iraq. But I will tell you, when we were in we got out wrong. And I always said in addition to that, ‘keep the oil.’”
Now that he is pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, Trump intends to get out right this time. And that means keeping the oil, even if it doesn’t belong to us.
The president has ordered the removal of some 1,000 U.S. soldiers from the area in Syria near the Turkish border where they had been fighting with and defending Kurdish allies. But they’re not coming home. Not yet, anyway, They’re being sent to take the oil first.
Homeland Security Advisor Robert O’Brien argued Sunday on Meet the Press that those same oil fields had been taken over by ISIS, and were used to fund its operations in the days when it was taking land and attempting to build a caliphate. The United States does have a legitimate reason to secure the oil fields and ensure that doesn’t happen again.
But when asked who owned the oil, O’Brien said that would be decided later. When pressed on what right we have to take it, or to serve as final arbiter as to who could have it, he didn’t have an answer.
They’re too busy these days killing each other, but before the civil war in Syria, the country was producing about 400,000 barrels of oil a day. That area is mostly controlled by the Kurds now, but what’s left of the government in Damascus has never given up its legitimate claim to its own natural resources. And, Russia still has valid contracts for some of the oil once pumping resumes.
I assume that at some point the war will end and this will all get sorted out. And, I have faith that U.S. oil companies will do just fine when it does. But not by plunder. These days it’s men in suits who take the oil, not men with guns.
Walter Rubel can be reached at email@example.com.