Stratfor’s analysis of US reasons for invading and occupying Iraq described Stratfor’s changing views on why we invaded Iraq. How astonishing that five years later we are still attempting to understand this, a powerful indictment of the foggy thinking of US elites at that time. Has the quality of their thinking about Iraq improved since then?
Stratfor has again tweaked their analysis, as seen in this excerpt from “Stratfor’s War: Five Years Later” (18 March 2008):
The motivation for the war, as we wrote, had to do with forcing Saudi Arabia to become more cooperative in the fight against al Qaeda by demonstrating that the United States actually was prepared to go to extreme measures. The United States invaded to change the psychology of the region, which had a low regard for American power. It also invaded to occupy the most strategic country in the Middle East, one that bordered seven other key countries.
… The United States is now providing an alternative scenario designed to be utterly frightening to the Iranians. They are arming and training the Iranians’ mortal enemies: the Sunnis who led the war against Iran from 1980 to 1988. That rearming is getting very serious indeed. Sunni units outside the aegis of the Iraqi military are now some of the most heavily armed Iraqis in Anbar, thanks to the Sunni relationship with U.S. forces there. It should be remembered that the Sunnis ruled Iraq because the Iraqi Shia were fragmented, fighting among themselves and therefore weak. That underlying reality remains true. A cohesive Sunni community armed and backed by the Americans will be a formidable force.
… The irony is that the war is now focused on empowering the very people the war was fought against: the Iraqi Sunnis. In a sense, it is at least a partial return to the status quo ante bellum.
The last two paragraphs display a stunning inability to see how things have changed. Unless something changes the situation — on the scale of the US invasion and occupation — neither the Kurds nor the Shia Arabs will again be dominated by the Sunni Arabs — nor will the the Sunni Arabs in “Iraq” have the ability to threaten Iran. Iraq has fragmented. Our training and arming the Sunni Arab militia was the last step in that process.
Stratfor shows that US elites have not yet come to terms with the “new Iraq” we have created. This failure to recognize changes might lead to our making new mistakes, on top of those made in the past five years.
The peoples of Iraq can re-gain control of their destiny and, if they choose, re-create Iraq. America might be disruptive element in Iraq and a barrier to this. But America has become so interwoven in Iraq’s affairs that getting us out might be beyond their abilities. The blood spilled during the past five years also acts as a barrier. The rebirth of Iraq is possible, but probably not the best way to bet.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
For information about the Iraq War
- The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace (13 March 2007) — Iraq is fragmenting.
- Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq (21 September 2007) — Iraq has fragmented, and why that is a good thing.
- Archive of links to articles about the Iraq War
- Our Goals and Benchmarks for the Expedition to Iraq
8 thoughts on “Stratfor again attempts to explain why we invaded Iraq”
The last two paragraphs display a stunning inability to see how things have changed. Unless something changes the situation — on the scale of the US invasion and occupation — neither the Kurds nor the Shia Arabs will again be dominated by the Sunni Arabs — nor will the the Sunni Arabs in “Iraq” have the ability to threaten Iran. Iraq has fragmented. Our training and arming the Sunni Arab militia was the last step in that process. … Stratfor shows that US elites have not yet come to terms with the “new Iraq” we have created. This failure to recognize changes might lead to our making new mistakes, on top of those made in the past five years.
These two quotes make a salient point. The so-called “War on Terror” has caused tremendous changes in Iraqi society as well as more generally throughout Arabia, Islam, and such other guerrilla hotspots as Nigeria and Columbia. The United States, however, has not changed much at all.
Much this change has been highly damaging for Iraq and elsewhere – the civilian deaths, the refugees, the economic chaos. and so forth. Yet to some extent, this means that these societies are emerging as “new and improved,” — better capable of engaging in 4th Generation, 5th Generation, global guerrilla warfare or whatever it is that the 21st century is evolving into.
If this trend continues, the the United States will become like the late Ottoman “sick man of Europe” or like the later day Spain.
“The last two paragraphs display a stunning inability to see…”
Stratfor is a for-profit outfit. They’re not paid for results, they’re paid when customers subscribe. They’re not unlike bad investment advisors who are skilled at publishing impressive-looking newsletters but bad at investment.
Dickens wrote, in Tale of Two Cities, “The leprosy of unreality disfigured every human creature in attendance upon Monseigneur.” Replace “Monseigneur” with “customer” and you get a kind of marketing-heavy capitalism that thrives on PR, not results.
Fabius Maximus replies: I think that is a bit harsh an analogy for Stratfor. As a long-time subscriber, I have found their reporting first-rate. Their analysis is usually good, but spotty on high-profile politicized issues (e.g., Iraq). I believe the major weakness of their work is a relentless top-down perspective, which see most things as master-players moving pawns on the board. That worked poorly during the cold war (e.g., China and Vietnam were not pawns), and even more so in a non-trinitarian era — with the increasing role of non-state actors.
The problem with any analysis on this topic is that it looks for a single reason for why we acted. Our decision making isn’t accomplished through a logical flow anymore. There are too many moving parts.
Fear: WMDs, Iran, al Qaeda, Israel’s security, etc.
Greed: Oil, oil, oil. Oil supplies are getting tighter. NOCs were gaining ground and slowing exploitation. Iraq was the only country with huge unexploited reserves that could flood the market if properly exploited. It was also disconnected from the global economy (easy to target).
To get at that oil, you could either lift the sanctions or change the regime. We changed the regime. The chance to set up a situation where private oil companies could run the entire enterprise using the best tech/etc. Needless to say, it didn’t work out as planned.
Fabius Maximus: Agreed, single factor explanations are chaff. The original article, to which this was an update, showed the evolution of informed thinking about our original goals in Iraq by looking at one source (Stratfor). Note that they gave multiple reasons but never mentioned oil, which is odd. As you show, it was almost certainly a factor in the calculation of the war’s benefits.
Invasion and occupation of Iraq as hedge against peak oil.
Fabius Maximus replies: Since the US government is doing nothing, absoutely nothing (not even research and planning), in preparation for Peak Oil, it is a reasonable assumption that its senior leaders do not consider Peak Oil to be likely within the foreseeable future. Hence not a motivation for occupying Iraq; John Robb’s analysis (above) seems more likely. Note: “Peak Oil” by itself means little. All experts believe global oil production (even including unconventionals) will peak. The debate is when. Now or 2050?
“…it is a reasonable assumption that its senior leaders do not consider Peak Oil to be likely within the foreseeable future.”
Why do you assume an interest to keep the oil price low? Some people get rich by high oil prices, people who own something in the oil business. IIRC Bush was in that milieu.
Fabius Maximus: I would like some evidence before believing that Bush invaded Iraq in order to deliberately generate chaos, so as to prevent their oil production from rising (it is aprox flat vs. pre-war levels). Esp as that could hardly be something he could tell his senior advisors.
“I would like some evidence before believing that Bush invaded Iraq in order to deliberately generate chaos, so as to prevent their oil production from rising (it is aprox flat vs. pre-ear levels). Esp as that could hardly be something he could tell his senior advisors.”
At the risk of being seen as a conspiracy monger, I suspect I could come up with a vast number of fringe journalism stories that allege the Bush team invaded to create chaos. I am not confident that such an exercise in fringe journalism reposting would be really constructive, however.
One important point is that many observers believe Bush is not making the most important decisions. So if the Bush team wanted chaos, the most likely scenario is that the senior advisors wanted chaos and then they flattered Bush into believing that he also wanted chaos.
Be that as it may, the web has plenty of conspiracy theorists and plenty of mainstream koolaid drinkers. What makes this site and a few others unique is that they try to discuss fringe issues in a manner that the mainstream could find credible. So I don’t want to throw too much conspiracy into my comments, here, but I do want to encourage Fabius and his comrades to doubt any mainstream perspective. (To that end, perhaps I am too quick to criticize sources I see as mainstream — e.g. Stratfor. I apologize.)
P.S. Fabius, you wrote “pre-ear levels” of oil production. Did you mean “pre-invasion”?
I’ve heard many proposals for the real reason for the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. For those who suggest it was an oil grab, I think we must realize that we had economic control over Persian Gulf oil before the invasion, even though we did not occupy the land. Every nation in the Persian Gulf sold their oil in US dollars, even belligerent states like Iran.
Then, in November of 2000, Saddam Hussein announced that Iraq would begin selling oil in Euros. We must realize that oil is the world’s number one commodity, and you must have dollars to buy oil. That means Japanese Yen, British Pounds, and Euros must be sold and US Dollars must be purchased before you can buy a barrel of oil.
This gives the US dollar a huge advantage, and maintains the value of our currency, even while we run huge trade and budget deficits. No other nation could maintain the value of their currency with deficit spending proportional to ours. In my opinion, the Bush administration invaded Iraq to defend the dollar, and the global reserve status of our currency.
A quick search with the terms “euro”, “petrodollar”, “Iraq”, will provide plenty of information on this. Here is a link to an essay written by retired general William Clark. There is with a lot of good information here. And it should be noted that General Clark first wrote about this conspiracy before the the invasion. “Revisited – The Real Reasons for the Upcoming War With Iraq: A Macroeconomic and Geostrategic Analysis of the Unspoken Truth“, William Clark (January 2004).
Fabius Maximus replies: I have not read Clark’s report. However, this theory has little empirical support and has been debunked many times. The in which currency global trade (aka flows) is denominated has only a psychological importance — a factor whose importance is difficult to assess. But even so, trading decisions of small peripheral nations like Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela will not have substantial impact on the USD’s “reputation”.
The primary factor moving currencies is in what currencies public and private entities (people and organizations) choose to hold wealth. This is why relative interest rates drive short-term currency moves. The reserve currency is the “default” for holding wealth. Changes in holdings (aka stocks) can cause large changes in the relative price of the USD vs. other currencies. As above, Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela are not among the wealthy — either in terms of accumulating wealth (e.g., China), or stores of wealth (e.g., China, Japan, EU).
I disagree with you Fabius:
One of your recent posts discusses rising prices for rice. Look at inflation rates worldwide. China is facing 10% inflation and is going to allow “more flexibility” in the trade value of the yuan.
The falling US dollar is raising prices for commodities worldwide, not just in the US.
As for holding wealth in US dollars, again, the dollar is the de facto currency to purchase commodities worldwide. That is what gives the dollar its value. And that is why the dollar is the marque currency in the world.