Friday, July 06, 2007

What Is This Oil Stuff You Keep Talking About?

The Australian Defence Minister's recent bout of truth-telling has proven to be a bit of an embarrassment for the Howard government:
Prime Minister John Howard has moved to hose down Defence Minister Brendan Nelson's earlier revelation that Australian troops are remaining in Iraq partially because of concerns over global oil supplies.

Speaking this morning, Dr Nelson said oil was among the reasons to keep troops in Iraq.

"Energy security is extremely important to all nations throughout the world, and of course, in protecting and securing Australia's interests," he said.

"The Middle East itself, not only Iraq, but the entire region is an important supplier of energy oil, in particular, to the rest of the world."

But Mr Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello disagree.

Prime Minister John Howard told radio 2GB Iraq is not about oil.

"We are not there because of oil," he said. "We didn't go there because of oil and we don't remain there because of oil."

"We're fighting for something much more important here than oil, this is about democracy," Mr Costello said. [...]

Mr Howard was asked back in 2003 whether this war had anything to do with oil. Mr Howard said in no way did this have anything to do with oil.
It is not only disingenuous, but rather condescending to hear the comedy routine of Howard and Costello dissemble about one of the most obvious and prominent motives for our respective nations' involvement in Iraq, and the Middle East in general, both in recent history and for the better part of the past century. Oil matters. Any pundit or politician that tries to convince you otherwise is telling you that they don't think much of your intelligence.

While the Bush administration has been no stranger to attempts to cleanse the Iraq war debate of any crude residue, even the President himself in his July 4th speech in West Virginia was willing to acknowledge what made Howard and Costello blanch in fear:
Al Qaeda hasn't given up its objectives inside Iraq....If we were to quit Iraq before the job is done, the terrorists we are fighting would not declare victory and lay down their arms -- they would follow us here, home. If we were to allow them to gain control of Iraq, they would have control of a nation with massive oil reserves -- which they could use to fund new attacks and exhort economic blackmail on those who didn't kowtow to their wishes.
Leaving aside the absurdity of the notion that al-Qaeda could take over the Kurdish north and/or Shiite South (where all the, shhh, o-i-l is) when it is barely able to maintain its foothold in the Sunni west, at least Bush mustered the courage to speak of the resource that thou shalt not name Down Under.

Speaking of the black stuff that totally wasn't a motivating factor for the coalition and like nobody cares about it other than leftist conspiracy theorists, the Iraqi legislature is having a devil of a time arriving at a consensus on the package of national oil laws that will guide policy for the foreseeable future. If one didn't appreciate how democracy and freedom were the real engines for action in Iraq, for both the domestic and foreign actors, one might get the impression that oil was an overriding concern.

The process associated with the oil legislation is itself a microcosm of the Iraqi political scene: there are shifting and uncertain alliances, a lack of broad based compromise (with the Sunni camp being left out in the cold), progress comes in fits and starts - combined with near-fatal setbacks, and the ultimate status remains in doubt. It is a process that has yet to produce effective solutions, and the current predicament appears no more promising.

One thing is clear, though, a legislative raft that the Bush administration has touted as key to fostering reconciliation and sucking oxygen from the insurgencies and civil wars is proving to be anything but:
The Shiite Sadr Movement and the Iraqi Accord Front and Iraq Front for National Dialogue, both Sunni parties, are leading the Parliament boycott. They -- along with many technocrats, the powerful oil unions, and others -- oppose a decentralized oil sector and too much access by foreign companies to Iraq's oil. The Association of Muslim Scholars -- Sunni clerics -- has issued an edict against voting for the law. "Unlike in Shiite Islam, the authority of Sunni clerics is limited, and the AMS fatwa may not be decisive," wrote University of Michigan Middle East expert Juan Cole. "But given that Sunni fundamentalist deputies already oppose the draft, it adds oil the fire."
Kind of reminiscent of the constitution drafting process, and series of elections. At the time, war boosters were proclaiming that each event would prove to be the decisive turning point in bringing stability and harmony to Iraq. Of course, those that knew better spoke of the potential for each to deepen the communal divisions in Iraqi society. Plus ca change.

But seriously, would it be overly conspiratorial to question why the Bush administration would be so intent on seeing these oil laws passed when the very communities that are supposed to be placated by such passage are the most opposed? If one of the main purposes of the legislation is to reassure Sunnis that they will have a stake in the new Iraq, enough that they will stop fighting, shouldn't their objections be a concern?

Why, if one didn't know better, one would be left assuming that oil has taken a priority over the mission of democratization.

I know. How absurd.

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