- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002

For the skeptics, a war with Iraq isn't really about Saddam Hussein and his deadly military arsenal. For some ardent supporters, it is about that and much more.
As the Bush administration tries to nail down a U.N. agreement to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, activists pro and con say much more is at stake than the fate of one dictator in one middling Middle Eastern country.
The real motivations behind the Bush administration's hard line with Baghdad, critics say, include lucrative oil and defense contracts, and winning control of Congress to rewriting the Middle East political map for the benefit of America's main regional ally, Israel.
They contend that U.S. military moves in the war on terrorism since September 11, from Afghanistan through Central Asia to Iraq, have been dictated by the country's thirst for foreign oil.
"If the chief export of this area were broccoli, do you think this stuff would be going on?" asked Kevin Danaher of the human rights group Global Exchange.
Iraq has the world's second-largest proven oil reserves after Saudi Arabia, and exploration of promising new fields has been crippled by a decade of U.N. sanctions. French and Russian firms have an inside track on exploration, based on previously signed contracts, but a war and a new regime in Baghdad could give eager U.S. energy firms a fresh opportunity.
Both sides in the U.S. debate have been accused of letting financial considerations influence their policy prescriptions.
Prominent Republican skeptics of unilateral action, including former secretaries of State James A. Baker III and Lawrence Eagleburger and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, have seen their own business and consulting deals in the Middle East come under scrutiny.
The Scowcroft Group, a Washington-based "international business advisory group," says on its Web site that Mr. Scowcroft and other firm principals enjoy "strong ties to key decisionmakers" in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Mr. Eagleburger's law firm consults for energy companies operating in the Middle East, while Mr. Baker is a senior counselor to the Carlyle Group, the Washington-based merchant banking firm whose clients include major defense firms and the ruling family of Saudi Arabia.
Left-wing and isolationist sites on the Internet teem with conspiracy theories that the war is being pushed by an administration with personal and financial ties to the oil industry, starting with the president, a charge angrily denied by the White House.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice served on the board of oil giant Chevron for a decade before assuming her present post, while Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans ran a multibillion-dollar Denver oil and gas firm.
Most suspicious to the conspiracy theorists are the former business dealings of Vice President Richard B. Cheney, seen as a leading hawk in the internal administration debate. Mr. Cheney was the chief executive officer at the energy-services firm Halliburton in the mid-1990s, a company that had contracts to rebuild many of the exploration and drilling facilities in the region damaged in the Persian Gulf war.
Ironically, some of the staunchest supporters of war with Iraq say oil is indeed a reason to take on Saddam but not for its financial value to the United States.
Clinton administration CIA Director R. James Woolsey, who has testified before Congress in support of military action against Saddam, argued that oil profits have financed "the three totalitarian movements in the Middle East."
These are Iraq, Iran and al Qaeda, which is financed in large part by the seed money provided by terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and other Saudis.
"We are at war," Mr. Woolsey said. "We should start by asking what we can do, as soon as possible, to undercut our enemies' power."
For a small, critical core of conservative intellectuals in and close to the Bush administration, the focus on Saddam did not begin September 11, and the campaign to eliminate him from power would benefit U.S. strategic and economic interests around the world.
Mr. Cheney hinted at this in an Aug. 26 speech to a veterans group in Nashville, Tenn.: "Extremists throughout the region would have to rethink their strategy of [holy war]. Moderates throughout the region would take heart. And our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced, just as it was following the liberation of Kuwait in 1991."
The argument is not new.
In 1996, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies assembled a study group to produce recommendations for the incoming government of Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Among the participants were American analysts destined to become key voices in the Bush administration, including Douglas Feith, now undersecretary of defense for policy; David Wurmser, now a special assistant to State Department arms-control chief John R. Bolton; and Richard Perle, the immensely influential conservative defense strategist who how heads a civilian Pentagon advisory board.
Their recommendation: Israel should make a "clean break" with past peacemaking efforts and "shape its strategic environment" by using a traditional balance-of-power approach.
Elements of such a strategy would include removing Saddam from power and working with Turkey and Jordan to "roll back" Syria.
Israel would "transcend its foes" by "re-establishing the principle of pre-emption, rather than retaliation alone, and by ceasing to absorb blows to the nation without response," according to a summary of the panel's deliberations prepared by the think tank.

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