The thing is…

…I’m old enough to remember that the first Gulf War wasn’t “about the oil.” Nooooo. It was about not tolerating naked aggression. It was about liberating the freedom-loving peoples of Kuwait. It was about Saddam being worse than Hitler. It was about many noble things, none of them spelled o-i-l, no sirree.

Of course, as soon as it was over, it was almost universally acknowledged to have been about the oil.

And now history repeats itself as, I guess, tragic farce. Michael Kinsley, who is not exactly a raving conspiracy theorist, seems to suspect that this one might also have, well, something to do with the oil:

You can argue that every which way, and people do. Pick your paranoia. Here’s mine. The United States consumes about 20 million barrels of oil a day. Eleven million of those barrels are imported, but 9 million are from domestic oil production. Oil is oil, and when events — a war in the Middle East, or an OPEC ministers meeting in Vienna — affect the price of oil we import from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, it has the same effect on the oil produced in the United States.

In recent months, as America has threatened and prepared for war against Iraq, the price of oil has gone from the low 20s to the high 30s a barrel. American consumers, therefore, are paying an extra $15 a barrel, or $300 million a day, or over $100 billion a year as a “war premium” on the oil they consume. It’s like a tax — imposed as a result of government policy — except that the government doesn’t get the money. That’s before the war even starts, and it is in addition to the $300 billion or so they’re saying that prosecuting the war is going to cost directly. Of that $100 billion, $55 billion pays for the oil we import. But $135 million a day — a day — or more than $45 billion a year (minus some taxes) goes into the pockets of domestic oil producers.

And the LA Times informs us:

WASHINGTON — Maybe it’s a coincidence, but American and British oil companies would be long-term beneficiaries of a successful military offensive led by the United States and Britain to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Industry officials say Hussein’s ouster would help level the playing field for U.S. and British firms that have been shut out of Iraq as Baghdad has negotiated with rivals from other countries — notably France, Russia and China, three leading opponents of war.

A post-Hussein Iraq also would be a bonanza for the U.S.-dominated oil-services industry, which is in the business of rehabilitating damaged infrastructure, reversing declining output from aging fields and providing essential support work to drillers and explorers. A leader in that industry is Halliburton Co., where Dick Cheney was chief executive before becoming vice president.

(Warning: horribly invasive registration procedure on that one.)

And then there’s this from Mother Jones, which pretty much encapsulates what I mean when I say it’s “about the oil”:

In the geopolitical vision driving current U.S. policy toward Iraq, the key to national security is global hegemony — dominance over any and all potential rivals. To that end, the United States must not only be able to project its military forces anywhere, at any time. It must also control key resources, chief among them oil — and especially Gulf oil. To the hawks who now set the tone at the White House and the Pentagon, the region is crucial not simply for its share of the U.S. oil supply (other sources have become more important over the years), but because it would allow the United States to maintain a lock on the world’s energy lifeline and potentially deny access to its global competitors. The administration “believes you have to control resources in order to have access to them,” says Chas Freeman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush. “They are taken with the idea that the end of the Cold War left the United States able to impose its will globally — and that those who have the ability to shape events with power have the duty to do so. It’s ideology.”

Iraq, in this view, is a strategic prize of unparalleled importance. Unlike the oil beneath Alaska’s frozen tundra, locked away in the steppes of central Asia, or buried under stormy seas, Iraq’s crude is readily accessible and, at less than $1.50 a barrel, some of the cheapest in the world to produce. Already, over the past several months, Western companies have been meeting with Iraqi exiles to try to stake a claim to that bonanza.

But while the companies hope to cash in on an American-controlled Iraq, the push to remove Saddam Hussein hasn’t been driven by oil executives, many of whom are worried about the consequences of war. Nor are Vice President Cheney and President Bush, both former oilmen, looking at the Gulf simply for the profits that can be earned there. The administration is thinking bigger, much bigger, than that.

“Controlling Iraq is about oil as power, rather than oil as fuel,” says Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and author of Resource Wars. “Control over the Persian Gulf translates into control over Europe, Japan, and China. It’s having our hand on the spigot.”

All links via Hesiod’s invaluable blog.