June 04, 2003

Gross Distortion at the Guardian

Gross Distortion at the Guardian

The Wolfowitz pile on continues unabated. This time Wolfowitz is accused of now admitting the U.S. went to war because of oil.

The Guardian is headlining as follows:

"Oil was the main reason for military action against Iraq, a leading White House hawk has claimed, confirming the worst fears of those opposed to the US-led war.

The US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz - who has already undermined Tony Blair's position over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by describing them as a "bureaucratic" excuse for war - has now gone further by claiming the real motive was that Iraq is "swimming" in oil.

The latest comments were made by Mr Wolfowitz in an address to delegates at an Asian security summit in Singapore at the weekend, and reported today by German newspapers Der Tagesspiegel and Die Welt.

Asked why a nuclear power such as North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq, where hardly any weapons of mass destruction had been found, the deputy defence minister said: "Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil."

But this quote is inaccurate on its face as well as taken completely out of context. Wolfowitz was answering a query regarding why the U.S. thought using economic pressure would work with respect to North Korea and not with regard to Iraq:

"The United States hopes to end the nuclear standoff with North Korea by putting economic pressure on the impoverished nation, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Saturday. North Korea would respond to economic pressure, unlike Iraq, where military action was necessary because the country's oil money was propping up the regime, Wolfowitz told delegates at the second annual Asia Security Conference in Singapore."

"The country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse," Wolfowitz said. "That I believe is a major point of leverage." "The primary difference between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options in Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil," he said. Wolfowitz did not elaborate on how Washington intends to put economic pressure on North Korea, but said other countries in the region helping it should send a message that "they're not going to continue doing that if North Korea continues down the road it's on." [my emphasis]

Now it might not have been smart of Wolfowitz, on the heels of the Vanity Fair interview imbroglio (however much the press distorted his comments there too) to describe Iraqi oil supplies using evocative language like "the country floats on a sea of oil." But any judicious analysis of his comments begs the conclusion that he was making an explicit reference to his contention that there were no viable punitive economic options with regard to pressuring Iraq on compliance with relevant U.N. resolutions given the monies the Baathist regime could access because of its oil supplies. This is patently different than the Guardian's spin (no, lie) that Wolfowitz said the U.S. had "no choice" regarding going to war in Iraq because of a too-tempting-to-pass-up-neo-imperialistic-oil grab-opportunity.

It is hugely irresponsible of the Guardian to run such a distorted, tabloid-style headline. Regardless, however, this story will now make the rounds of the international press (it started in Germany) and conspiracy theorists will have new fodder to peddle their noxious claims that the U.S. went to war because of oil.

BTW, here is Wolfowitz's take on accusations the U.S. went to war in Iraq to control its oil supplies:

Q: "I'm Satoru Suzuki with TV-Asahi of Japan. Mr. Secretary, eleven weeks have passed since the coalition forces moved into Iraq. Yet you've found no weapons of mass destruction in that country -- no convincing evidence yet. Given that, are you still convinced that you'll be able to find such weapons eventually and, in the absence of such weapons, how can you still justify the war, and what would you say to those critics in Japan and the rest of the world who've been saying that the war was mainly about oil?"

Wolfowitz: "Well, let me start with the last part. The notion that the war was ever about oil is a complete piece of nonsense. If the United States had been interested in Iraq's oil, it would have been very simple 12 years ago or any time in the last 12 years to simply do a deal with Saddam Hussein. We probably could have had any kind of preferred customer status we wanted if we'd been simply willing to drop our real concerns. Our real concerns focused on the threat posed by that country -- not only its weapons of mass destruction, but also its support for terrorism and, most importantly, the link between those two things. You said it's eleven weeks since our troops first crossed the Kuwaiti border, and coalition troops first entered Iraq, as though eleven weeks were a long time. Eleven weeks is a very short time. In fact, unfortunately, significant elements of the old regime are still out there shooting at Americans, killing Americans, threatening Iraqis. It is not yet a secure situation and I believe that probably influences to some extent the willingness of Iraqis to speak freely to us."

We -- as the whole world knows -- have in fact found some significant evidence to confirm exactly what Secretary Powell said when he spoke to the United Nations about the development of mobile biological weapons production facilities that would seem to confirm fairly precisely the information we received from several defectors, one in particular who described the program in some detail. But I wouldn't suggest we've gotten to the bottom of the whole story yet. We said, when Resolution 1441 was being adopted, that the most important thing was to have free and unintimidated access to Iraqis who know where these things are. Simply going and searching door to door in a country the size of the state of California is not the way you would find things. You would find things when people start to give you information -- we're still in an early stage of that process and there is no question we will get to the bottom of what's there.

But there should be no doubt whatsoever this was a war undertaken because our President and the Prime Minister of England and the other countries that joined with us believe -- and I think they believe correctly -- that this regime was a threat to our security and a threat that we could no longer live with. It is also the case that, beyond a shadow of any doubt whatsoever, this regime was a horrible abuser of its own people and that there is no question the Iraqi people are far better off with that regime gone."

UPDATE: Full original transcript of Wolfowitz's remarks here.

Oh, and remember the Straussian conspiracy? Wolfowitz addresses that too in a separate interview:

Q: "First of all, the question of ideas. That is, is there anything at all, we talked about this a little off the record, is there anything at all to the Straussian Connection?"

Wolfowitz: "It's a product of fevered minds who seem incapable of understanding that September 11th changed a lot of things and changed the way we need to approach the world. Since they refused to confront that, they looked for some kind of conspiracy theory to explain it. I mean I took two terrific courses from Leo Strauss as a graduate student. One was on Montesquieu's spirit of the laws, which did help me understand our Constitution better. And one was on Plato's laws. The idea that this has anything to do with U.S. foreign policy is just laughable."

Posted by Gregory at June 4, 2003 04:23 PM
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