I have recently visited the wikipedia page that was titled "Rationale for the Iraq War" for the sake of interest. I then saw a section titled oil in that wikipedia page. I never believed that the Iraq War was fought for oil. It would make zero sense for the United States, the richest country in the world, to violate the international law, to worsen its reputation, and spend 1.7 trillion USD on a war to "take oil". However, that article did contain some interestring quotes from some people, for example this one:

People say we're not fighting for oil. Of course we are. - Chuck Hagel, the former United States Secretary of Defense

I did my research on this statement, and apparently, Chuck Hagel was merely expressing his opinion about the war. He also later on retracted this statement in a Washington Post interview. However, there was another interesting quote there made by a general, John Abizaid:

Of course it's about oil, it's very much about oil and we can't really deny that.

I found very little information about the context of this quote and what he meant by it. So, did he mean that the United States invaded Iraq for oil, did he mean that one of the main goals of the United States was to prevent the insurgents from controlling the oil fields in Iraq, or did he mean something else? What is the context of this quote after all?

1 Answer 1


This quote from General Abizaid came from a roundtable at Stanford University on October 13th, 2007. It was chaired by journalist Carlos Watson, and was entitled Courting Disaster: Fight for Oil, Water and a Healthy Planet. The quote is slightly taken out of context; it was part of a fairly long answer by the General, who was asked whether the goal of "bringing tranquillity" to Iraq was possible in the short-term - but in the context of the claim that the main reason the US was there was to do with oil.

Abizaid responded with the quote in your question, however went on to explain that it wasn't quite that simple, and pointed to other issues such as the rise of Shia & Sunni extremism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the threat from a potentially nuclear-armed Iran, and Al-Qaeda. I don't think that it's completely clear that this quote came in the context of him agreeing that oil was the main reason for the Iraq War - he could have just been agreeing that oil was part of the reason. He does, however, emphasize the need for the US, in his opinion, to reduce its dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Below is a transcript of the relevant part of the video, so the reader can make up their own mind.

Carlos Watson: General Abizaid, we clearly have seen... Chairman Alan Greenspan recently said as he came out with his new book that he thought part of the reason if not the main reason that we're in Iraq right now has to do with oil and the fight over oil. And whether that's exactly right or whether the reality is that part of our involvement in the Middle East is tied to oil dependence, energy dependence, clearly we're there, clearly lots of troops are there and many of your own troops have died or been wounded. Give me your estimation having spent the last four years commanding troops there about the ability to any time in the near term to bring some tranquillity, frankly, to Iraq. Is that a reasonable hope over the next five or ten years, or is it the long war that you've talked about?

General Abizaid: Look it's... first of all I think it's really important to understand the dynamics that are going on in the Middle East, and of course it's about oil. It's very much about oil, and we can't really deny that. And from the standpoint of the soldier who's now fought in the Middle East for six years, my son-in-laws fought there for four years, my daughter's been over there, my son has served the nation. My family has been fighting for a long time, and... (applause). And the only reason I bring this point up is to make sure that we understand that this isn't about being a General, it's about being a citizen. And we have to understand that what's happening in that region has an awful lot to do with globalization - it's a battle of the integrators vs. the disintegrators. And the epicenter for the problem is the Middle East.

Four big problems exist there that our country is gonna have to deal with for a long time. The first is the rise of an ideological, very very dangerous movement that's exemplified by Sunni extremism and Osama bin Laden and many groups that are allied with him. The second is the rise of Shia extremism as exemplified by a nuclear-armed Iran which is certainly in the offing today and a state that's very, very aggressive. Third problem is the continuing corrosive effect of the Arab-Israeli conflict that absolutely positively needs to be dealt with, otherwise this continued corrosive conflict drives people to the extremes in a very difficult way. And the fourth problem has to do with the need for the global economy to depend upon the flow of oil from the Middle East. And it is this dependency that we have to understand can't just be dealt with by military means. We must adopt, as a matter of national security policy, a way to reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. It's essential that we do.

Now as we go about dealing with these problems in the Middle East, there's two accelerators to the difficulty that we face there.

The first is the proliferation of nuclear weapons. And while I used to lose a lot of sleep over the difficulties of dealing with the security problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was really Pakistan that kept me up at night. The problem of a meltdown in the society that would cause a nuclear weapon to go loose, to be transferred into the hands of the extremists, should be something that we worry about. The other problem that you need to understand that we're dealing with in the region has to do with the globalization of the security problems - it's just not a nation-state problem - Al-Qaeda is not situated in the Middle East, Al-Qaeda is a global phenomenon, it's a non-state actor, it seeks to cause its ideology to be spread in the region, and it seeks to do us grievous harm.

The problem for us is that we can't just deal with our problems militarily, we need to have an economic diplomatic, political component to the solutions that must not only be driven by the US but accepted by the international community in a way which allows us to move forward in a positive way. Having said that, as difficult as it is, and as difficult as Tom Friedman knows it is, I believe we've got to stabilize Iraq, we've got to stabilize Afghanistan, we've got to do our diplomatic best to find some resolution to the Arab-Israeli problem, and most importantly, we've got to reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

  • Thank you for letting me know the context, but could you please elaborate more on what he meant with this quote? To me it is conter-intuitive that he first says that it is about oil and then says that "we've got to reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil."
    – Itsme1
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 9:49
  • @Itsme1 As I read it, his reasoning is that if the US, and the global economy as a whole, were less dependent on Middle Eastern oil, the oil would not have been such a motivating factor for the invasion. In other words, the invasion was [partly] about oil; in order to make the global economy in general, and the US in particular, more robust, and ensure that oil is not a reason for invasion in the future, we've got to reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
    – CDJB
    Commented Aug 24, 2020 at 9:55

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