In his recently published memoir “Decision Points,” former president George W. Bush devotes a chapter to defending his deeply controversial Iraq policies. He dismisses the argument that he intended to establish Iraq as part of an imagined American empire or to gain control of the country’s oil. Were Bush’s Iraq policy opponents off target?
Manipulation of Pre-War Intelligence?
We now know that a significant and probably decisive part of the body of evidence against Saddam Hussein – particularly related to his alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and operational relationship with al-Qaeda – was fabricated by Iraqi defectors connected to Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). While intelligence community analysts had serious doubts about the reliability of INC-connected sources, administration officials disregarded analysts’ concerns.
We also know that the intelligence community was pressured by hawks in the administration – most prominently Vice President Dick Cheney – to find what was needed to secure Congress’s vote for war. When the intelligence community refused to vet pieces of evidence that could not be verified or were derived from sources of dubious reliability, Douglas Feith’s office, operating outside normal intelligence channels with Paul Wolfowitz’s approval, allegedly cherry-picked evidence to strengthen the case. Feith’s team then briefed their case to Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, as well as to members of Dick Cheney’s and Condoleeza Rice’s staff.
Former president Bush writes that he appointed the Robb-Silberman Commission to learn why the Iraq pre-war intelligence he received was wrong and how such mistakes could be precluded in the future. The commission, however, never examined the intelligence activities of Feith’s office; neither did it investigate communications between Bush policymakers and INC members.
The Republican-controlled Senate Select Intelligence Committee stridently refused to investigate these questions. And, despite their criticism of the Republicans, when Democrats gained control of the committee after the 2006 elections, they also decided to drop these issues from their oversight agenda.
The committee’s bipartisan reluctance to dig deeper indicates that neither party ultimately wanted to know the complete set of facts or, in the Democrats’ case perhaps, risk political retaliation.
If former President Bush is serious about understanding the ostensible Iraq intelligence failure, he should publicly request that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint an independent counsel to investigate the US and Iraqi officials in question.
War for Oil and Empire?
Former President Bush also notes in his memoir that some critics “alleged that America’s real intent was to control Iraq’s oil.” (p. 253) He continues: “[W]e were criticized harshly by the left and some in the international community for wanting to build an empire in Iraq. We never sought that.” (p. 268)
Greg Palast reported for the BBC in 2005, however, that “neo-conservatives at the Pentagon” were pushing for “the sell-off of all of Iraq’s oil fields.”
According to Palast’s report, “The sell-off was given the green light in a secret meeting in London … shortly after the US entered Baghdad.”
Naomi Klein wrote for Harper’s in 2004 that Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer issued a directive allowing foreign investors to own 100 percent of Iraqi assets without any requirement to reinvest profits in the Iraqi economy.
Joshua Gallu reported for Spiegel in 2006 that “Iraqi authorities found it necessary to promise the IMF a draft petroleum law by the end of this year – this in the same letter that says ‘we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the program remains on track.'”
“The IMF sets the conditions for Iraq’s debt relief from the so-called Paris Club countries,” wrote Gallu. “Eighty percent of that debt has been wiped clean, and the final 20 percent depends on certain economic reforms.”
The above-mentioned petroleum law, shepherded along by US government officials, contains no parliamentary oversight measures to safeguard the nation’s strategic economic assets – a serious threat to the sovereignty of a country that depends on oil for over 90 percent of its national budget.
If former President Bush is serious about setting the historical record straight and securing his legacy, he should request that President Obama declassify all official documents on US economic policies in Iraq, including policies on diplomatic support for investment in Iraq’s oil fields, from 2002-2008. The families of more than 4,400 American troops and 100,000 Iraqis have a right to know the fully declassified truth about how the former president’s senior cabinet members shaped US policies on Iraq, and what their intentions were in doing so.