12 , 2003
A number of excellent
pieces by members of the Mount Holyoke community have been published
in the press over the summer. In recent weeks, for example, assistant
professor of philosophy James Harold wrote on the gay marriage
controversy in the San Francisco Chronicle and director of corporations
and foundations Tara Fitzpatrick reviewed, for the Chicago Tribune,
The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, a study
concerning four influential American Catholic writers from the
mid-twentieth century, including Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery
O’Connor and Walker Percy.
In an August 12 op-ed piece in the Hartford Courant, Ruth Lawson
Professor of Politics Vincent Ferraro wrote that the invasion
of Iraq was motivated in large part by U.S. and British interests
in maintaining stability in global oil markets. The piece is reprinted
below with the permission of the Courant.
Another Motive for Iraq War: Stabilizing Oil Market
By Vincent Ferraro, Ruth Lawson Professor of Politics
The United States invaded Iraq for a number of reasons. For some
members of the Bush administration, it was probably a way to reshape
the politics of the Middle East; for others, it was an opportunity
to enhance Israeli security. One of the least-discussed reasons
was to assure order in the international petroleum market. Perhaps
this objective is rarely mentioned because it’s obvious,
or maybe because no discussion was necessary among decision-makers
well versed in petroleum politics.
But one should not believe that the United States would occupy
a country with the world’s second largest reserves of petroleum
without considering the effect of that act on the world’s
most important commodity. On the other hand, one cannot believe
that the United States would ever articulate its objectives in
terms that most would regard as vulgar and commercial. We now
know that the evidence of an “imminent” attack by
Iraq was flimsy, and known to be so at the time by the intelligence
community. The threat to the stability of the international petroleum
market, however, was real.
Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force was particularly
concerned in March 2001 about non-American suitors for Iraqi oil,
according to documents obtained by Judicial Watch. Iraq had signed
contracts with a variety of oil companies, including ones from
France, China and Russia. That these companies would have access
to huge reserves of oil was profoundly unsettling to the largest
multinational oil companies (Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, ChevronTexaco)
because these newcomers would more than likely pump as much oil
as they could in the shortest amount of time, thereby reducing
the price of oil.
Overproduction of oil has long been a fear of the petroleum industry.
When confronted with overproduction in the early 20th century,
the major petroleum companies agreed to restrict access to areas
to any producers who would not agree to restrict production as
well. When oil was discovered in Bahrain in 1932 by a company
not party to that agreement (Standard Oil of California), every
effort was made to bring that company in line.
The French exclusion from the major fields in Saudi Arabia in
1947 was partially due to the efforts of the U.S. State Department
on behalf of American oil companies.
The Russians and the Chinese are newcomers to the world market,
and their willingness to overproduce oil is unrestrained given
their needs for energy and export revenues. Many in the United
States had worried that support for Iraqi sanctions would erode
in the United Nations and that Iraqi contracts with the French,
Russians and Chinese would be revived and honored.
This would explain why the United States was so willing to undertake
the invasion of Iraq without U.N. sanction, and also why it has
been so reluctant to agree to a U.N. mandate, despite the considerable
economic and political advantages in doing so. U.N. authorization
could activate the Iraqi contracts with non-U.S. or non-British
In May, the administration of the Iraqi petroleum industry was
handed over to Philip J. Carroll, a former chief executive of
Shell Oil Co., one of the companies committed to maintaining the
price stability of petroleum. The French, Chinese and Russian
firms will eventually be permitted to produce Iraqi oil, but how
much they pump will be regulated by an Iraqi Oil Ministry heavily
influenced by an American occupation. Already, oil contracts have
been obtained by U.S. firms Exxon Mobil, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips,
Marathon and Valero Energy.
The U.S. and British interest in petroleum price stability is
clearly self-interest, but one should be cautious about suggesting
that the invasion of Iraq was motivated by simple greed. The slogan
“No blood for oil” does not capture the complexity
of the issue. The world does have an interest in stable oil prices:
Very low prices encourage the extravagant use of a finite resource.
On the other hand, the American occupation of Iraq favors the
interests of American and British oil companies, maintains a higher
price for oil than likely would have been the case under a U.N.-sanctioned
occupation and seductively promises a more secure and less politically
dangerous supply of oil than that offered by Saudi Arabia.
And American control over Iraq gives it the ability to use oil
contracts to influence the conduct of other states: The Iraqi
oil contract awarded to Mitsubishi the day after the Japanese
agreed to send troops to Iraq is a dramatic example of how such
power can be used.
The mixing of private
and public interests in the Iraqi case raises serious questions.
None of this is necessarily inconsistent with the public interest,
but many of them satisfy private interests to a considerable extent.