12 Jul. 2007


A voice of reason from the Canberra Times:
One of the first tasks undertaken by US troops after the invasion was to secure the Iraqi oil ministry, and to occupy oilfields and installations. This was followed by the granting of lucrative reconstruction contracts to the US oil service industry, including Halliburton (the former chief executive of which was Vice-President Dick Cheney). The US has also negotiated, via the International Monetary Fund, the forgiveness of a significant proportion of Iraq's international debts in return for the opening up of Iraq's economy and the oil sector to foreign investment.

Iraq's oil industry had been nationalised during the 1973 OPEC oil crisis and has been operating well below full production. The US has been engaged in a big effort to ensure the enactment of a petrochemical Bill in Iraq (so far, without success) that would give effective control of Iraq's oilfields to multinational oil companies without any formal transfer of ownership.

While we may accept that the primary reason for the US-led invasion of Iraq was indeed to hunt down WMDs, the US occupation has nonetheless enabled the US to open up access to Iraqi oil by foreign multinationals. This would not be so politically sensitive were it not for two crucial factors.

First, the fig-leaf that gave a shred of respectability to the invasion in the absence of UN support has now withered and fallen. No WMDs were found. Iraq was not a source of international terrorism. And the civil war unleashed by the invasion has thwarted the attempt to impose anything resembling a stable democracy, revealing a misunderstanding of the underlying balance of forces in Iraq by the "coalition of the willing". Access to oil seems to be the only pay-off from the invasion, even if it was not the leading objective. However, American citizens are clearly not prepared to allow the blood of their defence forces to be spilled for oil. Australians are even less likely to accede to this rationale, given its exceedingly limited benefits for Australia.

Second, maintaining Western access to Iraqi oil supplies is neither a sustainable nor a long-term pay-off for the war, given the predicted onset of peak oil and scientific warnings that the world must move rapidly towards a low-carbon economy. Indeed, the opportunity costs of fighting to preserve access to an unsustainable energy source are huge.

The costs to the US of the Iraq war in excess of $US350 billion ($A406billion) have exceeded the anticipated costs of it complying with its ambitious Kyoto target of a 7 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2012 from a 1990 baseline ($A377 billion). For the record, US emissions have grown 20 per cent between 1990 and 2003, according to the World Bank.

A far better option for the US, and for Australia, is to spare the troops and apply the strategy of precaution and pre-emption to the catastrophic risks of climate change by investing the budget reserved for Iraq in reducing dependence on foreign oil through an aggressive domestic energy demand management strategy and massive development of non-carbon energy sources. Small wonder the Bush Administration and the Howard Government seek to banish the "o" word from the Iraq war debate. Given their mutual repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol, American and Australian citizens might begin to join the dots.