It is hard to find any public statement from an American official justifying the ouster of Saddam Hussein in terms of oil. Yet oil had everything to do with regime change in Iraq--and it would be hard to find an official elsewhere, and certainly not in the Middle East, for whom the linkage would be anything but direct.
Both the Gulf War and the ouster of Saddam a dozen years later were essentially about oil. Saddam would not have been a threat to the status quo in the region in a way vital to U.S. interests if it were not the center of the world's oil supplies. Nor could he have mustered the wherewithal to build a powerful military machine or to have developed WMD capabilities without the cash generated by oil exports. And outsiders, especially the United States, would not have been as concerned about his attacks on his two neighbors--Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990--if they did not believe that his military successes, unchecked by U.S. power, could have altered the balance of power to the detriment of U.S. strategic interests by threatening directly Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar and Oman and the passageway through the Strait of Hormuz: Saddam could have controlled the taps of up to 24 million barrels a day of the world's oil--or nearly one-third of the globe's total supply.
But few if any people who analyzed the geopolitics of oil before spring 2003 would have predicted--let alone been able to forecast--how radically different the energy situation is today, one year later. How might we sort out these ironies and contradictions? And how can we begin to assess how history likely will judge the role of oil in this critical event in U.S. foreign policy?