Although the U.S. government cited a number of reasons for each of these wars, both wars were fought, at least in part, to protect the American economy and its businesses from the threatened loss of access to petroleum. As with earlier American wars, these conflicts stimulated American business and technological development in unforeseen ways.
From colonial times through the early twenty-first century, nearly all American wars have been fought at least partially over economic resources of one kind or another. Throughout the entire history of warfare, the struggle to control resources has played a part in military conflicts, whatever rationalizations may be given by political leaders and historians regarding the causes of war.
Since shortly after World War II, access to oil from the countries surrounding the Persian Gulf has been a key element in U.S. foreign policy. In the immediate post-World War II era, the United States was very successful in maintaining access to oil. However, as time went on, American hegemony in the Middle East weakened. In 1972, Iraq nationalized American and other foreign
Although Iraq had substantial oil revenues, it did not invest in developing its oil fields. Because Iraqi oil extraction was inefficient and exploration had been limited, many oil experts believed that the Iraqi oil fields were the most important potential source of oil on the globe. Rather than increasing oil exploration, Iraqi president Saddam
Hussein’s open aggression provoked the United States to demand that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait and to threaten an international military response if it did not. Although this was the most important reason given by the U.S.-led coalition, the United States also argued that the Iraqi army was in a position to threaten conquest of the Saudi Arabian oil fields, which would give Iraq control of more than half of the world’s oil reserves.
Shortly after the invasion, the United Nations Security Council issued a resolution ordering Iraq to leave Kuwait. In January, 1991, after Iraq had refused to comply, the United Nations authorized the United States to form a coalition to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. The ensuing Persian Gulf War began with U.S.-led United Nations coalition air assaults on Iraq on January 17. The ensuing war was brief. By the end of February, Iraq agreed to withdraw from Kuwait and a cease-fire was in place. After Iraqi forces were out of Kuwait, a United Nations commission redrew the nation’s border with Iraq. The United Nations then created safe zones and no-fly zones within Iraq to protect Kurds and other Iraqi minorities. The United Nations also arranged for ongoing inspections of Iraqi facilities to monitor the situation and force the destruction of any nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. It also continued trade sanctions on Iraq.
The war that began in Iraq in 2003 was an outgrowth of issues left unresolved after the 1991 war. In contrast to the earlier conflict involving a United Nations coalition, this new conflict was undertaken as a U.S. initiative. After Hussein’s government was destroyed in just a few weeks in 2003, the United States shifted to maintaining its presence in Iraq against guerrilla-style warfare conducted by anti-American forces from within and without Iraq. The United States offered several different justifications for invading Iraq other than oil, but it was widely believed that access to Iraqi and Persian Gulf oil was the underlying cause of war. Analysts who claim oil to be the main cause of the 2003 Iraq War point to the 2008 contract between a major American oil company in Iraq for access to Iraqi oil fields–ending the thirty-six-year Iraqi oil nationalization policy–as a confirmation of this view. American business and economic interests in oil seem to have had a large role to play in both Iraqi wars.
In response to the threat during wartime, typically a nation’s scientists and engineers focus on improving war-related technology, and these inventions or modifications often find applications in the peacetime economy that follows. For example, the eighteenth century French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War produced the long rifle known as the Kentucky rifle. The U.S.
By considering the two Iraqi wars as a single conflict with about a decade of low-level military action in between active fighting, it is possible to see innovations more clearly. Some of the weapons and weapons systems were originally developed for use against the Soviet Union during the
For example, radar-evading
Bradley fighting vehicles and M-1 Abrams main battle tanks had been developed for use against the Soviet Union but had never been used in combat until the two Iraqi wars. Each weapons system involves a wide range of new technologies in communications, computerized fire-control systems, infrared night-vision technology, and powerful new engines. Both make use of innovative new metals such as the depleted uranium used in shells and tank armor. Although civilian uses of this equipment are less obvious, they are nonetheless quite real. Businesses are involved not only in creating the military equipment but also in manufacturing new civilian goods.
In the first Gulf War, Hussein’s armed forces used primitive conventional missiles called Scuds, which had sufficient range to reach
The two wars also brought about developments in a wide variety of infantry supplies and weapons. The first Iraqi war saw the first deployment of a utility vehicle called a high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (Humvee), which quickly made the transition to civilian life as the country’s most expensive sport utility vehicle (SUV), the Hummer. Numerous small arms innovations occurred, but soldiers probably most appreciated the development of new ceramic plates for use in body armor, new designs in camouflage uniforms, and infrared technologies for use in night vision goggles. All these improvements made infantrymen safer and reduced casualties. When casualties occurred, new emergency medical techniques were employed, and these improvements were quickly incorporated into civilian medical practice. In the process of retreating from Kuwait, the Iraqi army set fire to many of the Kuwaiti oil wells, creating massive fires that required weeks to bring under control. This led to the creation of new environmental technologies and fire-suppression strategies for dealing with the situation.
Beyond these hardware and software improvements, certain innovations in operations have had far-reaching consequences. The Iraqi wars placed a tremendous burden on United States Armed Forces in terms of human resources. One way to solve this problem was to use private corporations to provide certain functions. This need for additional people coincided with an ideological preference for
Another major example of privatization is the use of private quasi-military forces such as those employed in security operations for the State Department and other U.S. government departments in the war zone. The personnel of these private groups are not subject to the laws of war and are therefore immune from prosecution for wrongdoing in ways that U.S. military personnel are not. Some consider this immunity to be a strategic advantage, but others have roundly condemned how these private forces are used.
All these changes created a large number of new opportunities for American businesses to participate in both Iraqi wars. Criticism of privatization has been growing, and it is impossible to say whether such practices will continue in the future. It is undeniable, however, that American business will continue to have a very large role in the Iraq War and in any future wars involving Americans.
Gordon, Michael R., and Bernard E. Trainor. Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq. New York: Vintage Books, 2007. As its title indicates, this book provides a detailed account of the military operations in the overthrow of Hussein’s regime in Iraq and the occupation of the country that followed. Kelly, Orr. King of the Killing Zone. New York: W. W. Norton, 1989. Detailed evaluation of the Abrams main battle tank and many variations. Munro, Alan. Arab Storm: Politics and Diplomacy Behind the Gulf War. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006. The importance of access to oil as a key component of both of the Iraq wars is a central theme of this examination of the diplomacy surrounding Iraq from 1990 onward. Ricks, Thomas E. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. New York: Penguin, 2006. This book is one of the most popular journalistic accounts of the second Iraq war in the administration of President George W. Bush. As the title indicates, the account is very critical, and it deals extensively with the business-related issues of the war. Seahill, Jeremy. Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. New York: Nation Books, 2007. This book provides a critical analysis of the privatization of the military function by the most prominent private military armed force, which the author characterizes as a mercenary army. Smith, Jean Edward. George Bush’s War. New York: Henry Holt, 1992. Journalistic account of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Wright, Steven. The United States and Persian Gulf Security: The Foundations of the War on Terror. Reading, England: Ithaca Press, 2007. This academic book analyzes the foreign policy of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to provide a long-term perspective on both Iraqi wars against the backdrop of U.S. policy toward Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the other countries in the Persian Gulf region.
Asian trade with the United States
Energy crisis of 1979
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
Private security industry