You may remember the promise of the neocons in 2003: America’s war with Iraq would be paid for by Iraqi oil. Besides, the war would cost only $50 billion — $60 billion, tops.
Oh, well, they shrug. Bygone are bygones. Win a few, lose a few. Better luck next time. Don’t blame us. Now let’s bomb Iran.
The story of how China is buying almost half of Iraq’s oil has not gotten much attention. It does not seem to be consistent with President Bush’s war aims. But that’s how the fortune cookie crumbles. The war cost the Chinese government nothing. It is now using its newly printed counterfeit money to buy the oil that it could not legally buy under the Clinton Administration’s oil export restrictions on Iraq.
The war was fought over oil. A few of us said so in 2003. But what we did not understand was that it was fought to let China get half the oil. We thought it was fought to keep China from getting the oil. Silly us.
China’s government is making deals with Mobil Exxon to produce more oil in Iraq. It is willing to do this at rock-bottom prices. It is buying up the output by co-funding the exploration and capital costs. American companies are priced out. They want a shot at profit. China’s government is interested in subsidizing its domestic manufacturing sector. So, it is under-bidding private oil exploration firms. The oil flows east. The New York Times reports:
Before the invasion, Iraq’s oil industry was sputtering, largely walled off from world markets by international sanctions against the government of Saddam Hussein, so his overthrow always carried the promise of renewed access to the country’s immense reserves. Chinese state-owned companies seized the opportunity, pouring more than $2 billion a year and hundreds of workers into Iraq, and just as important, showing a willingness to play by the new Iraqi government’s rules and to accept lower profits to win contracts.
“We lost out,” said Michael Makovsky, a former Defense Department official in the Bush administration who worked on Iraq oil policy. “The Chinese had nothing to do with the war, but from an economic standpoint they are benefiting from it, and our Fifth Fleet and air forces are helping to assure their supply.”
This is not what the neocons spelled out in 2003. President Bush did not have this in his war aims. Call it the fog of pre-war.