I enjoy fresh, ripe peaches, nectarines, navel oranges, spinach, tomatoes, avocados, red onions, and many other fruits and vegetables. I am always pleased when I can get savory, succulent produce without paying an arm and a leg for it.
Many of my fellow Americans feel the same way about mass murder. They enjoy it – not so much actually committing it as cheering for others who do the deed on their behalf – but they prefer to get it on the cheap, if they can.
Politicians were not born yesterday. They know their constituents' likes and dislikes. So when the politicos geared up to slaughter thousands of Iraqis, back in 2002 and early 2003, they knew that their imminent killing spree would garner more popular support if they promised to carry it out for next to nothing. So that is precisely what they promised.
Their idea was that because Iraq has so much oil lying beneath its godforsaken surface, the U.S. government would be able to waltz into the country, take control of the legendary oil reserves, and use the proceeds from selling the oil to pay for the so-called reconstruction of what the invaders had just finished smashing. (To be honest, it wasn't going to be a waltz; the Americans knew the moves only for the old shock-and-awe Two Step: first step, bomb; second step, shoot; repeat rhythmically until the girl you took to the dance drops dead.)
Perhaps the most noteworthy funcionario to express this solemn promise was Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a leading architect of the war, who told a congressional committee on March 27, 2003: "There's a lot of money to pay for this that doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people . . . and on a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years . . . . We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."
Serving as the background singers for this hit song, other performers who made a similar promise included Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. It's so pleasant to hear the whole gang singing in such close harmony.
I thought about this silly little matter – I say "silly little" because one more lie is hardly noticeable when placed atop a mountain of other lies – as I was looking at an analysis by Kenneth P. Green, "Bringing Down Gas and Oil Prices," which was sent to me by the American Enterprise Institute. In two striking graphs, this article displays the real price of gasoline and the real price of imported oil acquired by refiners from January 1980 to January 2006.
Gazing at those graphs, one cannot help being struck by the great advance in prices since the U.S. military embarked on its unfriendly merger with the Iraqi oil industry. Despite some short-term fluctuations in prices, both trends have been sharply upward: gasoline (in 2005 dollars) rising from roughly $1.50 to roughly $2.70 per gallon; and oil (in 2005 dollars) from less than $30 to nearly $60 per barrel. Both prices now stand at real levels not reached since the early 1980s. Of course, the correspondence between the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and the sharp run-up in the prices of petroleum and its products might be a mere coincidence – I don't think it is, but other factors probably played a role as well.
What we know for sure is that the Iraqis have not successfully tapped their forecasted-to-be-fabulous oil revenues to compensate the U.S. forces for bringing the blessings of democratization to Mesopotamia. Iraqi oil production has generally remained below the amount produced before the invasion (farther still below the amount produced before the U.S. attack in 1991), and the industry's prospects are not good. Rick Jervis reported in USA Today on November 10, 2005: "'There's a lot of pessimism about oil production in Iraq,' says Michelle Billig, a political risk analyst in the oil sector for PIRA Energy Group. 'They're producing less this year than last year. And the outlook for the next year doesn't look so great.' . . . Production continues to slide despite a massive U.S.-funded effort to stabilize and boost output, repair critical parts of Iraq's oil infrastructure and develop a long-term plan for the Iraqi oil industry. The U.S. has spent $420 million fixing the oil network and allocated $1.7 billion to the sector."
Where do you suppose the U.S. government got all that money it's pumping into the ground in Iraq?
Okay, boys and girls, here's where we stand. We got our mass murder, and each day we get some more of it. So far, so good. But we sure as hell didn't get it cheaply. It seems that after the invasion, U.S. authorities changed the plan, having decided that the Iraqis should pay in blood, instead of oil. The price of gasoline is now nearly twice what it was before the war; the Iraqi oil industry, already a shambles, continues to serve as an attractive target for saboteurs and looters, and the future does not look bright for bringing the industry up to snuff faster than the insurgents blow it apart.
Well, win some, lose some, children. At least, the American invaders and, vicariously, all their aficionados on the home front have had the pleasure of killing and maiming tens of thousands of wholly innocent men, women, and children. That's something.
June 12, 2006
Robert Higgs [send him mail] is senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute and editor of The Independent Review. His most recent book is Depression, War, and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy. He is also the author of Resurgence of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11 and Against Leviathan.