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September 2006

IT'S THE CRUDE, DUDE: Greed, Gas, War and the American Way

Oil has become the elephant in the room.

In some ways, we focus obsessively on oil. The headlines are dominated by stories about high gas prices and America's increasing dependence on foreign oil.

But at the same time, there is an awkward silence on the question of whether there was an oil motive in the invasion of Iraq. While the debate over Iraq swirls fast and furious in the media, the one thing that is never really discussed is the possibility that America went to war for oil. While millions of Americans suspect it, that possibility has been vehemently denied by the Bush administration and is dismissed with an impatient roll of the eye by media commentators.

Essentially, there are two separate narratives going on in the media: one about the growing importance of oil in our lives, the other about the fiasco in Iraq.

Are the two connected?
If so, why can't we admit this?
What's at stake?
Who is getting rich as a result?
What is Dick Cheney's role in this?

Linda McQuaig is a leading Canadian journalist who connects the dots in It's the Crude, Dude: Greed, Gas, War and the American Way.

She points out that for decades Washington has been intensely focused on gaining control of the oil reserves of the Middle East. That focus took on new urgency under the Bush administration, with its close ties to Big Oil, including a vice-president who's gotten rich going back and forth between Big Oil and the top echelons of the U.S. government. The urgency was driven by the fact that the vast oil reserves of Iraq – the last unharvested oil bonanza left on earth – were in the process of being parceled off to foreign competitors.

Iraq represented the alluring prospect of future energy security for the United States, even as America's own oil reserves were dwindling. And, with potential profits in the range of $100 billion a year, Iraq also represented the future of the oil industry. In the words of Wall Street oil analyst Fadel Gheit, Iraq "is the big dance. Everyone wants to be there."

But the U.S. oil giants hadn't been invited to the big dance. Instead, Saddam Hussein had been busy making deals with oil companies from other nations, including America's arch-rivals: China, Russia and France.

All this was on the minds of top executives of the big U.S. oil companies when they met, amid great secrecy, with Dick Cheney and his task force on energy, which had been set up within days of the new administration taking office. Although the administration has fought fiercely to prevent information about the deliberations of the task force being released, task force documents obtained under court order reveal an intense focus on Iraq and the question of how to gain control of its massive reserves – even as the administration was drawing up plans for toppling Saddam.

All this was underway, months before the attacks of September 11, 2001.

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