Alan Greenspan’s contention that “the Iraq War is largely about oil” is reassuring in the sense that at least somebody thinks the war is about something, rather than, as it looks more and more, about nothing. But, now that details of Greenspan’s thinking have emerged in the Washington Post, the security of believing in a vast Machiavellian conspiracy of incisive strategic minds has been shattered once again:
Greenspan: Ouster Of Hussein Crucial For Oil Security
Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, said in an interview that the removal of Saddam Hussein had been “essential” to secure world oil supplies, a point he emphasized to the White House in private conversations before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Greenspan, who was the country’s top voice on monetary policy at the time Bush decided to go to war in Iraq, has refrained from extensive public comment on it until now, but he made the striking comment in a new memoir out today that “the Iraq War is largely about oil.” In the interview, he clarified that sentence in his 531-page book, saying that while securing global oil supplies was “not the administration’s motive,” he had presented the White House with the case for why removing Hussein was important for the global economy.
“I was not saying that that’s the administration’s motive,” Greenspan said in an interview Saturday, “I’m just saying that if somebody asked me, ‘Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?’ I would say it was essential.”
He said that in his discussions with President Bush and Vice President Cheney, “I have never heard them basically say, ‘We’ve got to protect the oil supplies of the world,’ but that would have been my motive.” Greenspan said that he made his economic argument to White House officials and that one lower-level official, whom he declined to identify, told him, “Well, unfortunately, we can’t talk about oil.” Asked if he had made his point to Cheney specifically, Greenspan said yes, then added, “I talked to everybody about that.”
Greenspan said he had backed Hussein’s ouster, either through war or covert action. “I wasn’t arguing for war per se,” he said. But “to take [Hussein] out, in my judgment, it was something important for the West to do and essential, but I never saw Plan B” — an alternative to war. …
As for Iraq, Greenspan said that at the time of the invasion, he believed, like Bush, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction “because Saddam was acting so guiltily trying to protect something.” While he was “reasonably sure he did not have an atomic weapon,” he added, “my view was that if we do nothing, eventually he would gain control of a weapon.”
His main support for Hussein’s ouster, though, was economically motivated. “If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands,” Greenspan said, “our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first gulf war. And the second gulf war is an extension of the first. My view is that Saddam, looking over his 30-year history, very clearly was giving evidence of moving towards controlling the Straits of Hormuz, where there are 17, 18, 19 million barrels a day” passing through.
Greenspan said disruption of even 3 to 4 million barrels a day could translate into oil prices as high as $120 a barrel — far above even the recent highs of $80 set last week — and the loss of anything more would mean “chaos” to the global economy.
Given that, “I’m saying taking Saddam out was essential,” he said. But he added that he was not implying that the war was an oil grab.
“No, no, no,” he said. Getting rid of Hussein achieved the purpose of “making certain that the existing system [of oil markets] continues to work, frankly, until we find other [energy supplies], which ultimately we will.”
Uh, I realize I wasn’t the most powerful unelected official in America for two decades like Mr. Greenspan was, and I lack his sources of inside information, but how exactly was this decade’s Saddam Hussein, with no air force and rusty tanks, going to get to the Straits of Hormuz, which would require him to fight past American military bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman? A fleet of lateen-rigged dhows? A camel caravan marching for 20 waterless days across the Anvil of the Sun to attack from behind? A really long tunnel?
By the way, it always seemed strange to me that Greenspan, widely worshipped when he was an old man as the essence of wisdom, when in his prime, from his late 20s up at least through the age of 42, had been a leading acolyte in the Ayn Rand cult. Bill Bradford reported in The American Enterprise:
As I learned in hours of interviews with their associates, Greenspan was a member of Rand’s inner circle during this entire period [the 1950s] and beyond. He lectured on economics for the Nathaniel Branden Institute. He wrote for the first issue of The Objectivist Newsletter, and when Rand broke with Branden [her 25-year younger lover], he signed a public statement condemning the traitor “irrevocably.” [Greenspan was then in his 40s.]
Randall Parker tees off on Greenspan in “Greenspan Deluded On Saddam Threat To Strait Of Hormuz,” and points out:
Greenspan is another example of a general problem we face: We are poorly led. We give our elites – especially our political elites – far too much respect and deference. These people are nowhere near as competent as they make themselves out to be. The really talented people in America are in investment banks and Silicon Valley start-ups. They aren’t in Washington DC in high government positions. Though I bet there are some smart people on K Street manipulating the yahoos in government.
We mostly are better off if the sharpest people are in venture capital-funded start-ups and investment banks. The private sector generates the wealth. But we need some small handful of sharpies in key positions of power who can recognize when nonsense is being spoken and say no to stupid policies.
For whatever it’s worth, I figured I’d repost this blog item I wrote around June 11, 2003, which ws based on some emails I exchanged with Stanley Kurtz shortly before the invasion of Iraq.:
And, oh, yeah, that stuff about Saddam being a threat to invade Kuwait again? The normally sensible Stanley Kurtz imprudently rehashes his prewar scaremongering about how Saddam couldn’t be deterred the moment — Any Day Now — when he got a nuclear bomb, or maybe a dirty bomb (which ain’t exactly the same thing). Deterrence might have worked on Joe Stalin, but Saddam was just utterly crazed, etc etc.
Obviously, Saddam hasn’t had any sort of nuclear bomb program to speak of since 1995, or some Iraqi would have told us about it by now. What, you think Iraqis have some kind of Sicilian code of omerta and every single one of the hundreds or thousands of workers is steadfastly refusing to tell the conquerors exactly what they want to hear? Yeah, that’s exactly how Arabs behave…
But even if Saddam had a nuclear bomb, the evident weakness in Kurtz’s case that Saddam was going to invade Kuwait again was overwhelmingly confirmed by the fighting south of Baghdad. In short, nuclear weapons, even if they existed, were irrelevant because his tanks would never have gotten to Kuwait. America’s absolute air superiority meant they would never have made it through the No-Fly zone before being turned to scrap. Without air superiority, tanks are worthless in open country (not that Saddam’s rust bucket tanks were worth much under any conditions). And the Iraqi regime didn’t even send up one airplane to defend itself. Nobody, rational or irrational, smart or stupid, can conquer Kuwait if they can’t physically get to Kuwait. And Saddam’s tanks couldn’t get there without first being turned into hamburger helper by our Warthogs.
Tell me, did you see anything during the three weeks war that indicated that Saddam could mount a credible invasion of anybody?
Now, you might argue that Saddam could have sat in Baghdad and threatened nuclear terrorism against NYC if we didn’t let his boys drive to Kuwait, but nuclear terrorism is a really, really stupid idea if you have a return address (e.g., Downtown Baghdad).
Of course, even in extremis, he didn’t do anything remotely like that, as the whole world has seen.
Basically, Stanley’s not describing the historical Saddam, may he be burning in hell, but Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies: “I will blow up the world unless you pay me … ONE MILLION DOLLARS!” This threat is perhaps practicable if your secret lair is a laboratory hidden in a hollowed-out volcano, but not if you own 47 palaces.
Clearly, we do need to do some game theorizing about what to do with Dr. Evil-type figures — in fact, Osama bin Laden (remember him?) is as close to a Goldfinger-type bad guy as I ever want to see — but it doesn’t do American credibility any good to say easily falsifiable things like Saddam was a major danger to invade Kuwait despite absolute air inferiority. And American credibility is a dangerous thing to waste.
Nuclear weapons are extremely useful deterrents against invasion, as we showed in the Fulda Gap for 40 years. As offensive weapons … Let’s just say that any 3rd World regime’s strategy for conquest that relies upon initiating a nuclear exchange with the Strategic Air Command is a non-starter.
It’s all very well to plan for crazed leaders acting in random fashions, but the vast proportion of bad things that have happened down through history have happened for superficially plausible reasons. So, our first priority must be to make sure we are providing the correct incentive structures for non-random actors. The problem is that we’ve just once again upped the need for regimes to acquire nuclear deterrrents to prevent American attack (as did our aggression in Yugoslavia in 1999). Our destroying the utility of weapons inspections as a viable instrument — in their very moment of triumph — is likely to encourage proliferation of nuclear or infectious biological weapons. Since not having weapons of mass destruction is no defense against the whim of the President of the United States, you’d better have them. In turn, that increases the chances of crazed leaders or Dr. Evil-types getting them.
(Republished from iSteve
by permission of author or representative)