Further support that the "no blood for oil" folks left their thinking cap
s at home. Consider:
- The value of these profits must be discounted because the return on the up-front cost would not be realized in profits for a great many years -- Even though Iraq's total oil reserves are vast, its output rate is modest. E2 has surprisingly little to say about the theory of the time value of money but you could read http://news.morningstar.com/news/MS/Stocks101/timevalue.html or any economics textbook; The wu above touches on this point, but I wanted to make it clear.
- War is inherently risky. The value of any potential, future oil profits must be further discounted by an estimation of the risk that the war could fail outright, or succeed but leave the oil inaccessible due to sabotage, including fire, biological or radioactive contamination, etc.
So clearly war for oil isn't a good "investment" for the U.S.
Conspiracy Theories without Evidence (is there any other kind?)
Ah! exclaim the sophomoric. The costs are mostly born by the taxpayers, but the profits belong to the oil companies, so it really is profitable for them to favor the war!
This is one of those inane conspiracy theories that pop up from time to time. Its key presumption is that somehow, oil companies have used their vast, hidden influence to convince President Bush, both houses of Congress, and a substantial portion of the American people to go along with them and shoulder a tremendous cost in lives, funds, and risk. And, they've exercised all this influence without actually making any public statements of their position; its all been behind the scenes. These oil companies must be pretty powerful! But consider:
- In 1991, this same oil conspiracy was too weak to convince President Bush 41 to move on to Baghdad when his army was practically within spitting distance;
- In 1998, when President Clinton revealed an Iraqi plot to assassinate Bush 41, the oil conspiracy was even weaker; in spite of a clear casus belli, it was all they could do to get Clinton to drop some guided munitions on empty factories and military buildings in the dead of night, even though a full-scale war would have been quite useful to Clinton at the time;
- Throughout this period, Saddam and the U.N. security council was receptive to the idea that the oil-for-food program should be dropped and Saddaam be allowed to pump as much oil as he likes. Surely this strategy would be far less costly, less risky, and would show profits much sooner. Surely it would require far less back-room political influence to get this to happen. Yet the oil conspiracy couldn't pull this off;
- Even as recently as November, 2001, the conspiracy was too weak to save Enron, the (at the time) seven-largest U.S. company. Clearly, after the demise of Enron, the oil industry has even less power and influence than it did before;
And yet in 2002 and 2003, the oil conspiracy, now international in scope, is powerful enough to take the country to the verge of war, and convince 18 democratic governments to sign letters of support, all while maintaining plausible deniability!
This outstanding article by an oil industry analyst who is neutral on the war question discusses all the other UN Security Council members' oil interests vis-à-vis Iraq:
Some words should also be said about OPEC
, the words are: read this excellent WU
. Had the so-called Gulf War II happened in the 70's or 80's, I agree a case could be made that it was all a plot to break the back of OPEC and ensure cheap oil. But, as the OPEC w/u amply demonstrates, OPEC's back has already been broken -- when OPEC used its oligopoly pricing power
to increase the price of crude, it made it profitable to exploit less accessible crude. More importantly, thanks to the efficiency of global capital markets
, OPEC's actions opened the floodgates for billions in R&D
to discover new oil fields and develop techniques that would allow hard-to-reach oil to be extracted at lower cost, thus significantly weakening OPEC's pricing power. The fall of the Soviet Union
's immense oil reserves to be exploited with the best Western technology. Also, OPEC member states, which outside of oil had economies that by Western standards, barely functioned, became addicted to the revenue
s and to Western standards of living
, and couldn't resist both increasing the official OPEC quotas, and cheating, er, ah temporarily exceeding their quota
s, just to get past the current domestic financial crisis
, we promise! etc.
Today OPEC is a joke. As OPEC's oligopoly pricing power is already weakened, the potential long-term benefits for the oil industry conspiracy of finishing off OPEC would be modest. War would be an very risky proposition for Big Oil -- if the war failed, or if it went well but met with widespread opposition in the diplomatic community, it might cause OPEC members to stop being preoccupied with their domestic concerns and re-discover their sense of purpose. It might cause non-OPEC countries, like Russia, to become interested in joining a renewed, stronger OPEC! Clearly, continued Containment of Iraq, and continued R+D investment (which also is a source of profit for the oil industry!) would seem a safer strategy for the big oil "conspiracy" -- a strategy that has been effective based on the decline of OPEC so far.
Is the current war on Iraq really just an attempt to deal OPEC a final death-blow, a spiteful hit-'em-while-they're-down sort of revenge? At least if they made this argument, the conspiracy theorist would have a (barely) plausible rationale for the conspiracy. In support they might cite Iraq's decision (someone told me they did this in 2002 or 3, and that some other OPEC members were considering following suit) to begin quoting oil prices in Euros instead of US Dollars. For this move to have any substance, Iraq would have to go a step further and actually stop accepting payment for oil in Dollars; as far as I can tell they haven't done so. If they did, such a move would, all else being equal, somewhat increase the value of the Euro relative to the Dollar. Of course, it wouldn't then be a conspiracy to control oil, it would be a conspiracy to control currencies. As others have pointed out, the appropriate slogan would be "No Blood for the Almighty Dollar" or something like that. Furthermore, the actual effect on the Euro/Dollar relationship would likely be small, since the value of the currencies are mostly determined by central bank policies, world currency reserves, and ultimately the perceived value of the currency fiat promise.
I suspect the only impact of Iraq's decision to quote oil prices in Euros is purely symbolic, though important: it is a diplomatic message designed to let the world know Iraq supports the European Union's (especially France's) attempt to construct an alternative to the U.S. hegemony. In such a project, Iraq's oil would be only one of many pieces in a multi-generational chess match that is far, far bigger than the oil industry; a struggle which one hardly needs the machinations of conspiracy theory to grasp.
So no, I don't think "its all about oil".