Foreign Affairs

U.S. Troops Could Soon Be Protecting Chinese Oil in Iraq

After the November 7 seismic shift in political power, a very important and robust debate over American involvement in Iraq will play out in the coming months. At both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, Congress and the White House will each try to understand the lessons learned on Election Day.

The essential question to be debated on Capital Hill about our military involvement in Iraq appears to be whether Americans want our troops to leave quickly, or if voters simply desire a mid-course correction. These issues will be debated in Congress and discussed extensively in the public domain.

Unfortunately for them, and without much notice, the Iraq government may have started down a path that will unite both left and right forces in the American political spectrum and end American military involvement in the country. The political endgame would be the same way the Vietnam War ended.

In 1973 Congress voted to cut off the money to engage combat operations. The congressional action lead directly to the great human tragedy of the “killing fields” of Cambodia and the Vietnamese boat people. This is the historical record.

Now America’s commitment in Iraq is in play politically. Going into the war, some on the left have tried to make the case that the invasion of Iraq was all about oil. Those on the right have made their case that oil is important, but the mission was founded on much more profound principals of democracy and appropriate American self-defense. Late in the political season oil did come into play and President Bush got it just right when he said radicals would use it as a weapon.

While the campaign was running its course, Iraq Oil Minister Hassein Shahrastani was visiting Japan and China, encouraging them to develop the Iraq oil fields and refining operations. It was a brilliant move with Japan and, quite possibly, an endgame for America in Iraq by embracing China. The minister recently stated that a “preliminary agreement” with China was reached.

Rather quickly, if Chinese oil field exploitation and refineries are allowed, American citizens will have the specter of our troops dying to protect Chinese oil in Iraq. Very important people with very significant and profound thinking will sit at very important tables in Washington, D.C., and rationalize this Iraqi action, and they will be profoundly wrong.

I suspect the thinking will be something like this: Iraq is a sovereign nation, and if the People’s Republic of China is willing to take the risk where others fear to go, why not let them?

But America is also a sovereign nation, and even more important people at even more important tables—the dinner table—will have significant reservations if their sons, daughters, fathers and mothers are fighting and dying to protect China’s oil fields.

The Iraq government, if dissuaded from triggering a Chinese oil rush, may be insuring America will stay for an honorable end game.

In the 1990s, a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats came together in the House every year to debate the American trade relationship with the People’s Republic of China. The squishy middle always had the votes, but advocates for concern about human rights in China and the growth of the People’s Liberation Army had “truth justice and the American way” on their side.

I wonder how new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) will feel about continuing to fund the American military if it is defending Chinese oil. I suspect if Iraq knocks off this foolish dance with China, they may have a better chance of continued American involvement.

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