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Did Bush Cut Secret Oil Deal With Saudis Ahead of 2004 Election?

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The White House and a top Saudi official are denying allegations that before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration made a secret deal with Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan involving oil price fixing ahead of the November presidential elections. [includes rush transcript]

The charge came in an interview Sunday on 60 Minutes with Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward. His new book “Plan of Attack” hit news stands yesterday and has already caused a firestorm of controversy. Here is an excerpt from 60 Minutes Host Mike Wallace’s interview with Bob Woodward.

WALLACE: Prince Bandar enjoys easy access to the Oval Office. His family and the Bush family are close. And Woodward told us that Bandar has promised the president that Saudi Arabia will lower oil prices in the months before the election to ensure the US economy is strong on Election Day.

And you also say, 'Bandar wanted Bush to know that the Saudis hoped to fine-tune oil prices to prime the economy in 2004. What was key, Bandar understood, were the economic conditions before a presidential election.'

Oil prices are at an all-time high.

WOODWARD: They’re high, and they could go down very quickly. That’s the Saudi pledge. Certainly over the summer or as we get closer to the election, they increase production several million barrels a day and the price would drop significantly.

Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward speaking this Sunday on 60 Minutes.

Record-high gasoline prices have become a hot issue in the presidential race. Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry was quick to attack Bush at a campaign stop in Florida yesterday. He said that if the allegation of a secret White House deal with the Saudis is true, it is “outrageous and unacceptable to the American people.” Both the White House and the Saudi government denied the allegation.

Another allegation in Woodward’s book that is causing a stir is that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were the first to know about his decision to go to war in January 2003.

What has caused a stir over the past several days is Woodward’s charge that before Bush informed Secretary of State Colin Powell of his decision, he gave Cheney and Rumsfeld permission to inform Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan about the war plans. Woodward says they even showed Bandar a top-secret map of the war plan. Woodward charges that Cheney and Rumsfeld first briefed Bandar at the White House on January 11, 2003.

WOODWARD: Saturday, January 11th, with the president’s permission, Cheney and Rumsfeld call Bandar to Cheney’s West Wing office. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Myers, is there with a top-secret map of the war plan. And it says “Top Secret. No foreign.” “No Foreign” means “no foreigners are supposed to see this.” They describe in detail the war plan for Bandar. And so Bandar, who’s skeptical because he knows in the first Gulf War we didn’t get Saddam out, so he says to Cheney and Rumsfeld 'So Saddam, this time, is going to be out, period?' And Cheney, who has said nothing, says the following: 'Prince Bandar, once we start, Saddam is toast.'

WALLACE: And after Bandar left, Cheney said…

WOODWARD: 'I wanted him to know that this is for real. We're really doing it.’ Now, Bandar—this isn’t enough for Bandar. Cheney, Rumsfeld, he said to them—he said, 'I have to hear this from the president.' Then two days later, Bandar is called to meet with the president, and the president says 'Their message is my message.'

At that meeting Woodward describes, Rumsfeld reportedly told Bandar, “You can take this to the bank,” Then, pointing at the map of the war plan, Rumsfeld said “This is going to happen.”Woodward characterizes Powell as being opposed to invading Iraq. Yesterday, Powell denied Woodward’s allegation that he was kept out of the loop.

  • Jim Paul, Executive Director of Global Policy Forum. He is based at the United Nations and monitors events there. He has authored a number of reports on oil companies and Iraq.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Jim Paul. He is the Executive Director of Global Policy Forum, based at the United Nations and monitors events there. He has authored a number of reports on oil companies and Iraq that can be found on “” Welcome to Democracy Now! Jim Paul.

JIM PAUL: Nice to be with you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. Can you respond to this explosive report by Bob Woodward?

JIM PAUL: Well, first place, I must say that I don’t trust Bob Woodward’s account. He has seemed in this book and the previous one to be more or less a flag for the Administration. These accounts I think are basically distorting the reality of oil and the importance of oil in the Middle East. One of the things that he is proposing is that there’s an October surprise of some kind going on here, which suggests that the Saudis are boosting the oil prices up into a high zone and then they’re going to drop it down close to the election. This doesn’t seem to me to be plausible at all, and there are other factors at operation in the oil markets, but also it leads the public to think that the United States Government is in the business of pushing the prices of oil down ultimately, and that really isn’t true. The United States Government and the big companies have an interest in keeping the prices a certain band, keeping them up, in fact, although perhaps not as high as they are right now. I think Woodward’s account falsifies our understanding of the — of oil and certainly about oil and the Iraq war.

AMY GOODMAN: But I’m confused, Jim Paul. This certainly does not look — make the Bush Administration book very good.

JIM PAUL: Well, it doesn’t make the Bush Administration look very good. It the least it doesn’t make the President look very good. This is a journalist. He’s not somebody who is the Press Secretary of the President. There have to be certain things that passes revelations and so on. Overall, I’m saying that the account of the book is not one that is terribly critical of the Administration in the fundamental sense of what the Iraq War was all about and what the role of oil in that war was. He doesn’t really address the question of the oil and the oil companies in the war. That’s the crucial element as far as I’m concerned.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this issue of General Colin Powell, of the Secretary of State being out of the loop, this issue of the meeting where the Saudi Ambassador to the United States is seeing a top secret war plan before the Secretary of State is?

JIM PAUL: Well, Secretaries of State have often been out of the loop. This isn’t the first time. On the other hand, Colin Powell’s exact relationship with the Administration is perhaps exaggerated in this book. I felt that Colin Powell’s differences with the President have always been made to seem to be bigger than they really were. That’s just my own judgment, frankly. I think it’s important for the public to understand that they do talk about these things with foreign leaders. They do reveal things of this kind. This is not the first time at all. But exactly when the Secretary of State was brought into the loop, it’s hard to say.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s interesting, this idea of an October surprise, and it’s not a new idea. There was an allegation made that it perhaps was the reason why President Reagan was first elected with Vice President George H. W. Bush, and that was the October surprise of a secret negotiation that then the aspiring Vice President, George H. W. Bush, was involved with, with the Iranians when they held hostages to keep those hostages held until after the election so that Carter would be defeated, and Reagan would be elected, ultimately, the hostages were released on the morning of the inauguration of President Reagan. That was never proven, but that was the October surprise then. What do you think of this October surprise possibility?

JIM PAUL: Well, of course, there was another important surprise of this kind, too, which had to do with the Paris Peace Talks and the decision of the South Vietnamese government to pull out of the Paris Peace Talks at the last minute, therefore, boosting the chances of success of Richard Nixon. So, I think both sides play this game. I think there’s all kinds of things going on relating to the election, but these are elections that are run on the basis of personality, and surprises, and not on the basis of issues. What I’m trying to say is that the fundamental issue having to do with oil and the Middle East, the drive to seize control of the Middle East oil, and particularly oil in Iraq and how that relates to the war and the companies in particular, the big companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron Texaco and their role in all of this. This is what is not being raised in the public discourse and this is the problem that I have with these October surprise theories, even if there is some reason to think that both Democrats and Republicans would like to have their own surprises.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to talk to you about this in a minute, but we do have to break. We’re talking to Jim Paul. He is Executive Director of Global Policy Forum based at the United Nations. He’s in our New York studio at Downtown Community Television, with Engine Company 31 in Chinatown. I’m in Los Angeles with some of the Democracy Now! team as we continue our “Exception to the Rulers” tour. We’re going to continue with Jim Paul and then — well, last night I was in Santa Barbara. We were celebrating Community Radio Station KCSB, and I met a Vietnam veteran who is taking on the Pentagon over the recruiting of high school students. We’ll also talk with a Los Angeles-based Spanish reporter about the Spanish Prime Minister’s decision to pull troops out of Iraq. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, I’m Amy Goodman. As we continue our “Exception to the Rulers” tour, broadcasting from Los Angeles. Now we are speaking with Jim Paul, back in our studio in New York. He is Director of Global Policy Forum. As we take on the explosive allegations of journalist Bob Woodward made on “60 Minutes” and in his book, “Plan of Attack.” Jim Paul, I want to go to the point that you’re making that he’s not challenging the fundamental issues of oil companies, and their role in Iraq. Can you expand on that, please?

JIM PAUL: Sure, Amy. The oil companies were kicked out of Iraq, the big Western oil companies kicked out of Iraq in the nationalizations in 1972. Iraq’s oil reserves are maybe the greatest in the world, or possibly the second greatest, somewhere around 400 billion barrels of oil there. There’s an incredible amount of potential profits for the big companies. If you multiply 30, the price of oil approximately today, times 400 billion, you get something like $12 trillion worth of profits possible there. It’s quite clear that those companies they’re very keen to get back into a denationalized Iraqi oil scene. There was a tremendous conflict between the French companies, the Japanese and Chinese companies, the Russian companies. The war, if you look carefully at how the war developed, and the U.N. sanctions that preceded it, it was a battle over who was going to get into Iraq and who was going to exploit Iraqi oil. This is the eighth war now, the counter-insurgency that’s going on now, the eighth war in Iraq since 1914. Imagine that, a war every decade and — every one of those wars to one extent or another has been centered on the question of control of Iraq’s oil reserves.

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