Antonia Juhasz discusses the new Iraq oil bill and why oil workers in southern Iraq have announced a strike to oppose the law. Juhasz is author of “The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time.” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Iraq. As the Iraqi Parliament moves closer to a final vote on a controversial oil law, local opposition is growing. This week, oil workers in southern Iraq announced a strike to oppose the law and demand better wages. More than 600 workers are taking part, affecting two major pipelines. The workers want to be a part of the negotiation process from which they’ve been excluded. Critics say the law will expose Iraq’s oil to major privatization and foreign takeover.
My next guest has written extensively about the economic side of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Antonia Juhasz is a Tarbell Fellow at Oil Change International. She is the author of the book, The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time, which has just come out in paperback.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: First, talk about this strike, Antonia.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Well, the strike is critical. It’s been a long time building. There had been some negotiations between the strike leaders and Prime Minister al-Maliki. There are a number of demands, basic working conditions, wages, as you say, but also a seat at the table and opposition to the attempt to turn over Iraq’s oil to foreign oil corporations and the — as more knowledge has been brought to Iraq, it’s been very difficult for Iraqis to even learn what this oil law was about, just like it’s been difficult here. As more information has spread, the opposition has spread, as well, and now the workers have taken the situation into their own hands and struck.
AMY GOODMAN: And what is this U.S.-backed proposal?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: It’s a Bush administration, U.S. corporate, very simple attempt to figure out: If you’re going to wage a war for oil, how do you get the oil? Does Exxon come in on a tank with a flag and stick it in the ground, or do you have a more careful process? The careful process is very simply: write a law, get a new Iraqi government in place, have the Iraqis pass the law, and then turn the oil over to U.S. oil corporations.
The Bush administration designed the law. Last January, President Bush announced that it was a benchmark for passage by the Iraqi government. It was the same day that he announced the surge. And in the language of the administration, the surge was meant to provide the political space so that the Iraqis could discuss the oil law and other benchmarks. The Democrats then adopted this language of the benchmarks and said in the supplemental war spending bill, again, that the Iraqis have to pass this benchmark. And it very simply turns Iraq from a nationalized oil system, essentially closed to U.S. oil corporations, to a privatized system in which potentially two-thirds of all of Iraq’s oil could be owned by foreign oil companies, and they can control the production with as long as 30-year contracts.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, what about the news coming out of Iraq that Raed Jarrar has reported on, talking about the significance of the vote for the U.S. to get out of Iraq by the Parliament?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: It’s very significant. The United Nations mandate for the U.S. occupation of Iraq gives ultimate authority to the Iraqi Parliament and the Iraqi Cabinet to determine if the occupation can continue. So, theoretically, if the Iraqi Parliament, joined by the Cabinet — and that’s critical — say that the occupation cannot continue, theoretically it would have to end. That stands in vast opposition to the plans of the Bush administration and now, apparently, the plans of the Democratic leadership, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Couldn’t it give Bush an out?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: It could give Bush an out, if he wanted an out. I don’t think he wants an out.
AMY GOODMAN: Because?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Well, I think there’s many ways in which the war is not going all bad for the president and for the administration. The only thing that’s truly going bad is the instability. But what has worked is a government in place that is more amenable to U.S. interests than the last 10 years of the Hussein regime, a government in place that is willing to negotiate in a dramatic fashion on the nature of Iraq’s oil regime, and being on the precipice of a transfer of Iraq, a fundamental transfer, in its oil policy. We have U.S. oil corporations engaging daily in negotiations with the Iraqi Oil Ministry, waiting on the sidelines. If the law passes, U.S. corporations have the potential to own a true bonanza of oil and, if the U.S. military stays, protection to get in and get it. Now —
AMY GOODMAN: Which companies, in particular?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Chevron, Exxon, Conoco, BP, Shell, Marathon.
AMY GOODMAN: Are all now working intensively with the Oil Ministry.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, they absolutely are, and have been from the beginning.
AMY GOODMAN: And if they don’t pass this law?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: If they don’t pass the law, it’s a big strike at the heart of the agenda. I would say that the game wouldn’t be over, and the fact that the administration is talking publicly about this Korea policy, the idea that the United States would maintain some sort of military presence similar to the U.S. presence, quote-unquote, “keeping the peace between South and North Korea,” that’s a permanent military engagement, which could last as long as 50 years. The 30-year contracts, the length, the extended length of the occupation, leads me to believe that this is the idea that the administration wants to pursue.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think of this comparison?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: It’s incredibly disturbing. First of all, the conditions are completely dissimilar, except for the desire of the United States to maintain a presence and to use the misunderstanding, I think, of the American public as to the role of the U.S. military in Korea, to say, “Well, we’ve created peace for 50 years in one situation. We can create peace for 50 years in this other situation. Oh, and by the way, our military will be really well situated to move forward across the region to spread peace across the Middle East, where, oh, by the way, there also happens to be two-thirds of the world’s remaining oil.” It’s a terrifying proposition.
AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz, right now, looking at Iraq — we talk about President Bush — what about the Democrats? We have a Democrat-controlled House and Senate.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, in the afterword to The Bush Agenda, which I just finished writing in February, I was extremely excited at the move of the Democrats to take over the House and the Senate, and I was particularly excited in terms of the mandate that the American public had given them on the war, ending the war. That mandate brought a lot of excitement, as well, from the American public, which, as I tour around the country, as I tour around the world, I have seen that energy slowly, slowly, slowly dissipate, as people watch the Democrats play politics with the lives of U.S. soldiers, with the lives of Iraqis, with the hope of the American public. That energy has just dissipated, and the Democrats have proven that it’s all about politics in the end, that it’s all about their, I think, misinterpretation of what’s going to get them the 2008 presidential election. I think they’re wrong on their calculation.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s the calculation?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: The American public is afraid of just a quick end to the war, that they need to seem more reasonable, and I think that that’s why the Democrats picked up the — and the Democratic leadership — picked up the benchmark language — we’ll make the Iraqis do some work; if they don’t do the work, then maybe we’ll end the occupation — although that language changed in the final supplemental. And instead of saying, “If the Iraqis don’t pass the benchmarks, then we’ll end the occupation,” the language changed to, “If the Iraqis don’t pass the benchmarks, we’ll cut off reconstruction funds,” which is obscene in itself. But that the American public doesn’t want them to end the war right away and that they need to seem more reasonable and they need to wait out the war and blame it on the Republicans, and that’s how they’re going to win the 2008 presidential election.
I think what that calculation is going to do is going to cause them — maybe not at the end of the day, if we’re sitting in a booth and the choice is between Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich, that most Democrats or most of the public won’t choose Hillary Clinton, but rather that all of that energy, that legwork, that activism, that spirit that got them the House and the Senate is going to be gone.
AMY GOODMAN: Where does trade fit into the story of war?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: The Democratic leadership is also playing a fast and quick with an agenda that also got the Democrats into the House and the Senate, which was a mandate to not focus on the advancement of rights of the largest multinational corporations in the world by expanding a free hand for them through a free trade agenda, but rather to focus on fair trade, the interests of small business, local communities, local development. The Democratic leadership has been doing private deal making with the administration, making deals to pass trade agreements with Peru, with Colombia, with Panama, and potentially allowing the administration a hand to move forward with fast-track, a negotiating mechanism which puts all of the power into the administration and takes it all away from the Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking as the G8 is meeting and the mass protests are taking place outside. In fact, at the end of the afterword to the paperback of The Bush Agenda, you talk about what is the hope.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: The situation with the G8 has been both very exciting and very disturbing, of course, because the violence has been so extreme against the people organizing to protest. But the fact that that energy is still there, that resistance is still there, and also the dialogue has changed fundamentally in the meeting in the G8. It’s now focused on how to get the United States in line with climate chaos, adjusting climate chaos, how to thwart U.S. attempts to build the missile defense plan. And the power of the administration is clearly, clearly waning. I mean, there’s not much left of the original administration at this point, between Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and Libby, and they’re all getting knocked off — excuse me, they’re losing their positions one by one. And that is the success of the resistance of our movements.
Our movements have had a tremendous fundamental shift — forced a fundamental shift in the debate, in the well of support, which has completely dried up for this administration, and we have successfully linked with global struggles, with global people around the world, to demonstrate that while our government may be following this imperial agenda, the people of the United States do not share that agenda and are working with people around the world to stop it. And the G8 meeting is a wonderful example of that taking place right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Antonia Juhasz, for joining us. Antonia Juhasz is an author and activist. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Cambridge University Review of International Relations Journal, the Los Angeles Times. The paperback of her book has just come out, The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time. She’ll be speaking tonight in New York at 7:00 at All Souls Church up on Lexington.