Blood for Oil

Someone's gonna get paid:

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat. [...]

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.

There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract. The Bush administration has said that the war was necessary to combat terrorism. It is not clear what role the United States played in awarding the contracts; there are still American advisers to Iraq’s Oil Ministry.

I think the evidence is clear that the Bush administration went to war in Iraq because it's run by crazy people. The oil money more plausibly comes into play in explaining the desire to stay at war forever. After all, these companies (or their corporate ancestors) had oil contracts in Iraq in the past and now they're getting them back "36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power." Nationalization, you see, is a substantial risk of doing business -- especially natural resource business -- in unstable countries. But a given government is much, much, much less likely to nationalize western countries' assets if it's dependent on external U.S. military support and especially if its security services are nicely enmeshed with the U.S. military.

Our troops can "curb Iranian influence" and provide "stability" all of which is good for business. But don't call it imperialism, we're there to help!

Presented by

Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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