The web is ablaze with talk about Iraq, oil and the latest passing comment from Alan Greenspan. Let’s be clear:
The Iraq war is not about controlling oil. There is a global market in the gunk, and if the US or anyone else has difficulty getting it from country A it can always turn to country B. Also, no otherwise poor country would ever, ever refuse to sell oil for any prolonged period of time. It’s the difference between being important and having some leverage, and being a nobody. Quite aside from whatever you think about Hugo Chavez’ policies, where would he be if he stopped pumping and selling oil? So, no, there is no threat that any oil producing country will cause chaos by dismantling its industry or even reshuffling its sales contracts.
It could be about setting OPEC quotas, maybe. The countries the US hates and tries to undermine tend to be OPEC hawks (Iran and Venezuela). But it is not clear that those who set US priorities are so in favor of cheap oil either. There are also less expensive ways to influence OPEC.
Then what’s it about? The oil money. It’s big, one of the primary forces in the global economy. If Everett Dirksen had been a sheik, he might have said, “a few hundred billion here, a few hundred billion there, and soon you’re talking about real money.” Who gets this moolah and what they do with it is what it’s all about.
Washington has two overriding imperatives. First, the money should not be used to fund political movements the US opposes. This includes Chavismo, Islamicism or any other attack on liberal capitalism from the left or right. Second, the money should be recycled to banks with the appropriate dollar and euro portfolios, lest financial imbalances lead to a run on the hegemonic currencies. (OK, maybe there is no alternative if you have to put an unimaginably large sum somewhere, but it remains an imperative.) The blog folk wisdom about “the war was because Saddam wanted to price oil in euros” is technically wrong but gropes after the right answer: those who are allowed to rake in the oil billions must be counted on to send them back to the proper address.
Follow the money.