Cheney '94 versus Cheney '03:
This is your brain on oil

A Dick Cheney interview from 1994, when he was with the American Enterprise Institute, has been getting a lot of attention since it was posted by Grand Theft Country on YouTube in August.

In case you haven't seen it yet, or you're masochistic enough to enjoy listening to Cheney speak, here is the video:

Here is the transcript:
Q: Do you think the U.S., or U.N. forces, should have moved into Baghdad?

A: No.

Q: Why not?

A: Because if we'd gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn't have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq.

Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place? That's a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it -- eastern Iraq -- the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. In the north you've got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey.

It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families -- it wasn't a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth?

Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.
A YouTube visitor asked:
Why did they do this if they already knew how bad it was going to be?

Is it just because of oil, or defense contracts? If so, then why didn't they just bring in more troops?

This video is very telling about the lack of character of the VP and others, and removes the possibility that they were just wrong or ignorant of the likely outcome, but raises more questions about what the actual goal must have been.
To take this line of reasoning a bit further, what if Cheney came to appreciate what chaos in Iraq would do for the oil business, not to mention defense contractors? What happened between 1994 and 2003 that could have led Cheney to change his position so radically?
  • He joined the American Enterprise Institute.
  • From 1995 until 2000, he served as CEO of Halliburton.
  • In 1997, along with Donald Rumsfeld, William Kristol and other neocons, he founded the "Project for the New American Century."
But getting in bed with the neocons and Big Oil probably weren't enough to completely change Cheney. I think we can safely assume that he stood with other notable neo-con PNAC comrades when they were making statements like these back in 1998:
Back in 1998, Richard Perle claimed that "It would be neither wise nor necessary for us to send ground forces into Iraq when patriotic Iraqis are willing to fight to liberate their own country." If the United States were "to give logistical support and military equipment to the opposition and to use airpower to defend it in the territory it controls," the result would be "a full-blown insurrection against Saddam."

Douglas Feith argued then that "It is by no means certain that the various elements of Iraq's army would fight well, or, in some cases, at all if the US showed determination to delegitimate Saddam and to create exclusion areas to be placed under Iraqi opposition control, defended with US-supplied anti-tank weapons, and protected by the US Air Force and, only if necessary, by US ground forces."

And Paul Wolfowitz sounded a somewhat more cautious note but still scoffed at the idea that the United States would have to overthrow Saddam by itself: "I don't believe that it's as hard as it is made to sound. Maybe it's not as simple as it sometimes sounds, but it's certainly not as hard as [Clinton administration National Security Adviser] Sandy Berger makes it sound when he talks about a major land invasion of Iraq. I know there are differences between Iraq and [Soviet-era] Afghanistan, but I think it is relevant to point out that we overthrew the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan without a single American ground troop; as a matter of fact, without a single American pilot."
If Cheney changed his mind sometime between 1998 and 2003, what could have changed it?
  • Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi had Cheney's ear, promising him that US troops would be met with roses, not IEDs.
  • In 2000, Cheney had his fourth heart attack.
Or maybe being in the oil business changed his mind. Which brings us to the second question, "why didn't they just bring in more troops?" This assumes that stability was a goal or that we wanted Iraq's oil. What if Iraq's oil is more valuable left in the ground? Greg Palast writes:
The decision to expand production has, for now, been kept out of Iraqi's hands by the latest method of suppressing Iraq's oil flow - the 2003 invasion and resistance to invasion. And it has been darn effective. Iraq's output in 2003, 2004 and 2005 was less than produced under the restrictive Oil-for-Food Program. Whether by design or happenstance, this decline in output has resulted in tripling the profits of the five U.S. oil majors to $89 billion for a single year, 2005, compared to pre-invasion 2002. That suggests an interesting arithmetic equation. Big Oil's profits are up $89 billion a year in the same period the oil industry boosted contributions to Mr. Bush's reelection campaign to roughly $40 million.