Despite the involvement of Saudi nationals in 9-11 the Bush team not for one moment contemplated invading the oil rich Saudi Arabia. Instead it chose to invade Afghanistan, the only country in central Asia that doesn’t have oil. Furthermore, the administration decided to end the decades long American military presence in Saudi Arabia, a country that produces five times as much oil as Iraq, and move U.S. bases to Qatar, which produces one tenth as much as Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain which has essentially ran out of oil. A questionable move for someone whose supposed main driver was oil.
The Administration's actions prior to the 2003 invasion beg another question. At the time Iraq was hardly exporting any oil and was under a strict sanctions regime which prevented international companies from investing in its ailing oil industry. For profit driven companies like Exxon and Halliburton the sanctions were an impediment to business and they lobbied the Administration to review them. The last thing they wanted was the uncertainty associated with war. Yet, since his inauguration in early 2001 and up until the war start in March 2003 President Bush was persistent in maintaining the sanctions regime, providing competitive advantage to non-American companies bidding for Iraqi oil. Bush's decision to go to war against the interests of Big Oil rather than lifting the sanctions pokes a huge hole in the Iraq-is-about-oil narrative.
Prior to the war the U.S. hardly imported any oil from Iraq and oil stood on $30 a barrel. Today, only four percent of U.S. oil imports come from Iraq and oil is at $80. With 160,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq America’s oil companies are nowhere to be seen. It is Russian and Chinese companies that are enjoying the spoils of war. If Greenspan is right and Iraq was truly about oil, then our failure there is even bigger than thought.
But he isn’t. Oil played at best a supporting role in the decision making process that led to the war. Greenspan’s statement has only one significance: it serves as a painful reminder of the Administration’s failure to provide a compelling explanation why we are in Iraq. And in the absence of such explanation even the Oracle can misconstrue.