Middle East References
February 4, 2004
 
WSJ.com - A Historian's Take on Islam Steers U.S. in Terrorism Fight
WSJ.com - A Historian's Take on Islam Steers U.S. in Terrorism Fight: "Bernard Lewis's Blueprint --
Sowing Arab Democracy --
Is Facing a Test in Iraq

By PETER WALDMAN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL


Bernard Lewis often tells audiences about an encounter he once had in Jordan. The Princeton University historian, author of more than 20 books on Islam and the Middle East, says he was chatting with Arab friends in Amman when one of them trotted out an argument familiar in that part of the world.


"We have time, we can wait," he quotes the Jordanian as saying. "We got rid of the Crusaders. We got rid of the Turks. We'll get rid of the Jews."

Hearing this claim "one too many times," Mr. Lewis says, he politely shot back, "Excuse me, but you've got your history wrong. The Turks got rid of the Crusaders. The British got rid of the Turks. The Jews got rid of the British. I wonder who is coming here next."

The vignette, recounted in the 87-year-old scholar's native British accent, always garners laughs. Yet he tells it to underscore a serious point. Most Islamic countries have failed miserably at modernizing their societies, he contends, beckoning outsiders -- this time, Americans -- to intervene.

Call it the Lewis Doctrine. Though never debated in Congress or sanctified by presidential decree, Mr. Lewis's diagnosis of the Muslim world's malaise, and his call for a U.S. military invasion to seed democracy in the Mideast, have helped define the boldest shift in U.S. foreign policy in 50 years. The occupation of Iraq is putting the doctrine to the test.

For much of the second half of the last century, America viewed the Mideast and the rest of the world through a prism shaped by George Kennan, author of the doctrine of "containment." In a celebrated 1947 article in Foreign Affairs focused on the Soviet Union, Mr. Kennan gave structure to U.S. policy in the Cold War. It placed the need to contain Soviet ambitions above all else.

Terrorism has replaced Moscow as the global foe. And now America, having outlasted the Soviets to become the sole superpower, no longer seeks to contain but to confront, defeat and transform. How successful it is at remolding Iraq and the rest of the Mideast could have a huge impact on what sort of superpower America will be for decades to come: bold and assertive -- or inward, defensive and cut off.


As mentor and informal adviser to some top U.S. officials, Mr. Lewis has helped coax the White House to shed decades of thinking about Arab regimes and the use of military power. Gone is the notion that U.S. policy in the oil-rich region should promote stability above all, even if it means taking tyrants as friends. Also gone is the corollary notion that fostering democratic values in these lands risks destabilizing them. Instead, the Lewis Doctrine says fostering Mideast democracy is not only wise but imperative.

After Sept. 11, 2001, as policy makers fretted urgently about how to understand and deal with the new enemy, Mr. Lewis helped provide an answer. If his prescription is right, the U.S. may be able to blunt terrorism and stabilize a region that, as the chief exporter of oil, powers the industrial world and underpins the U.S.-led economic order. If it's wrong, as his critics contend, America risks provoking sharper conflicts that spark more terrorism and undermine energy security.

After the terror attacks, White House staffers disagreed about how to frame the enemy, says David Frum, who was a speechwriter for President Bush. One group believed Muslim anger was all a misunderstanding -- that Muslims misperceived America as decadent and godless. Their solution: Launch a vast campaign to educate Muslims about America's true virtue. Much of that effort, widely belittled in the press and overseas, was quietly abandoned.

A faction led by political strategist Karl Rove believed soul-searching over "why Muslims hate us" was misplaced, Mr. Frum says. Mr. Rove summoned Mr. Lewis to address some White House staffers, military aides and staff members of the National Security Council. The historian recited the modern failures of Arab and Muslim societies and argued that anti-Americanism stemmed from their own inadequacies, not America's. Mr. Lewis also met privately with Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Mr. Frum says he soon noticed Mr. Bush carrying a marked-up article by Mr. Lewis among his briefing papers. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Says Mr. Frum: "Bernard comes with a very powerful explanation for why 9/11 happened. Once you understand it, the policy presents itself afterward."

His exposition and the policies it helped set in motion heralded a decisive break with the doctrine that prevailed during the Cold War. Containment, Mr. Kennan said, had "nothing to do with outward histrionics: with threats or blustering or superfluous gestures of outward 'toughness.' " It rested on the somber calculation that even the most aggressive enemy wouldn't risk its own demise by provoking war with a powerful U.S.

AMERICA ABROAD



Some ideas that have shaped U.S. foreign policy:

1900: Open Door Policy rejects efforts to carve up China or restrict its ports

1901-09: Gunboat Diplomacy used by Theodore Roosevelt to exert U.S. influence and deter Europeans from Americas

1917: Making the world safe for democracy is Woodrow Wilson's rationale for entering World War I

1919-20: Isolationism rises as U.S. shuns League of Nations Wilson championed

1930: Protectionism reflected in Smoot-Hawley tariff bill

1932-3: Good Neighbor Policy of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt forswears armed intervention in Latin America

1941: FDR looks to a world with Four Freedoms: of speech, of worship, from want and from fear--meaning deep arms reduction

1947: Containment of Soviet power by counterforce is urged by George F. Kennan; later, notion of mutually assured destruction helps keep U.S.-Soviet relations peaceful

1947: Truman Doctrine, focused on Turkey and Greece, says U.S. will back free peoples resisting armed minorities or outside pressures

1948: Secretary of State George C. Marshall implements Marshall Plan that sets out to lift Europe from postwar poverty

1957: Eisenhower Doctrine offers U.S. aid to any Mideast country threatened by communism

1960s: Domino theory and vow by John Kennedy to "bear any burden, pay any price" for freedom motivate U.S. to fight Vietnam war

1969-76: Realpolitik of Henry Kissinger leads to opening with China, detente with Soviets

Late 1970s: Human rights guides foreign policy in Carter years

Mid-1980s: Reagan Doctrine aids insurgents fighting leftist governments in Central America, Africa and Afghanistan

1990: New World Order of superpower cooperation declared by George H.W. Bush after Iraq invades Kuwait

2001-2003: "Lewis Doctrine" calls for seeding democracy in failed Mideast states to defang terrorism



The Lewis Doctrine posits no such rational foe. It envisions not a clash of interests or even ideology, but of cultures. In the Mideast, the font of the terrorism threat, America has but two choices, "both disagreeable," Mr. Lewis has written: "Get tough or get out." His celebration, rather than shunning, of toughness is shared by several other influential U.S. Mideast experts, including Fouad Ajami and Richard Perle.

A central Lewis theme is that Muslims have had a chip on their shoulders since 1683, when the Ottomans failed for the second time to sack Christian Vienna. "Islam has been on the defensive" ever since, Mr. Lewis wrote in a 1990 essay called "The Roots of Muslim Rage," where he described a "clash of civilizations," a concept later popularized by Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington. For 300 years, Mr. Lewis says, Muslims have watched in horror and humiliation as the Christian civilizations of Europe and North America have overshadowed them militarily, economically and culturally.

"The question people are asking is why they hate us. That's the wrong question," said Mr. Lewis on C-SPAN shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. "In a sense, they've been hating us for centuries, and it's very natural that they should. You have this millennial rivalry between two world religions, and now, from their point of view, the wrong one seems to be winning."

He continued: "More generally ... you can't be rich, strong, successful and loved, particularly by those who are not rich, not strong and not successful. So the hatred is something almost axiomatic. The question which we should be asking is why do they neither fear nor respect us?"

For Mr. Lewis and officials influenced by his thinking, instilling respect or at least fear through force is essential for America's security. In this formulation, the current era of American dominance, sometimes called "Pax Americana," echoes elements of Pax Britannica, imposed by the British Empire Mr. Lewis served as a young intelligence officer after graduate school.

Eight days after the Sept. 11 attacks, with the Pentagon still smoldering, Mr. Lewis addressed the U.S. Defense Policy Board. Mr. Lewis and a friend, Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi -- now a member of the interim Iraqi Governing Council -- argued for a military takeover of Iraq to avert still-worse terrorism in the future, says Mr. Perle, who then headed the policy board.

A few months later, in a private dinner with Dick Cheney at the vice president's residence, Mr. Lewis explained why he was cautiously optimistic the U.S. could gradually build democracy in Iraq, say others who attended. Mr. Lewis also held forth on the dangers of appearing weak in the Muslim world, a lesson Mr. Cheney apparently took to heart. Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" just before the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Cheney said: "I firmly believe, along with men like Bernard Lewis, who is one of the great students of that part of the world, that strong, firm U.S. response to terror and to threats to the United States would go a long way, frankly, toward calming things in that part of the world."

The Lewis Doctrine, in effect, had become U.S. policy.

"Bernard Lewis has been the single most important intellectual influence countering the conventional wisdom on managing the conflict between radical Islam and the West," says Mr. Perle, who remains a close adviser to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "The idea that a big part of the problem is failed societies on the Arab side is very important. That is not the point of view of the diplomatic establishment."

Mr. Lewis declined to discuss his official contacts in Washington. When told his political influence was a focus of this article, he turned down an interview request. "It's still too early," he said. "Let's see how things turn out" in Iraq. In speeches and articles, Mr. Lewis continues to advocate assertive U.S. actions in the Mideast, but his long-term influence is likely to turn on whether his neoconservative acolytes retain their power in Washington in years to come.

Born in London in 1916, Mr. Lewis was drawn to the study of history and foreign languages by a deep curiosity about "what things looked like from the other side," he said on C-SPAN in April. He earned undergraduate and doctoral degrees in Mideast and Islamic history from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, then spent five years working on Mideast issues for British intelligence during World War II.

Among other things, his wartime service taught him the dangers of appeasement, he told a seminar at the University of Toronto last spring. He said speeches by foes of war in Iraq reminded him of the arguments of peace activists in the 1930s. "All I can say is thank God they didn't prevail then," he said. "If they had, Hitler would have won the war and the Nazis would be ruling the world."

In 1945, Mr. Lewis returned to the University of London as a professor, where he earned renown in Ottoman and Turkish history. He was lured to Princeton in 1974 and soon became a mentor to many of those now known as neoconservatives.

Mr. Perle recalls hearing Mr. Lewis speak in the early 1970s and inviting him to lunch with Mr. Perle's then-boss, the late Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington. "Lewis became Jackson's guru, more or less," says Mr. Perle. Mr. Lewis also was an adviser to another Democrat, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, when Mr. Moynihan was ambassador to the United Nations in the 1970s. He formed lasting ties with several young Jackson and Moynihan aides who went on to apply his views to Iraq. Among them were Paul Wolfowitz, now deputy defense secretary; Elliott Abrams, now National Security Council Mideast chief; and Frank Gaffney Jr., a former Pentagon official. Talking with Mr. Lewis, Mr. Perle says, was "like going to Delphi to see the oracle."

Mr. Lewis retired from teaching in 1986 but has maintained ties with many former students in high posts. One, Pentagon analyst Harold Rhode, has played prominent roles as Mr. Wolfowitz's adviser on Islamic affairs, as a planner of the Iraq occupation and as an aide to Pentagon strategist Andrew Marshall. Mr. Lewis dedicated his latest book, "The Crisis of Islam," to Mr. Rhode -- who says Mr. Lewis is "like a father to me."

Mr. Lewis is also close to government circles in Israel and Turkey -- non-Arab lands he describes as the only successful modern states in the region. He warmly praises Kemal Attaturk, who made Turkey a secular republic after World War I by suppressing Islam. (He has also said the Ottoman Turks' killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 wasn't genocide but the brutal byproduct of war. It was a stance for which a French court convicted Mr. Lewis in 1995 under France's Holocaust-denial statute, imposing a token penalty.) Israeli experts say Mr. Lewis's contacts with Turkish generals and politicians helped cement Israeli-Turkish military ties in the 1990s.

Mr. Lewis became politically involved with Israel by the mid-1970s, when he wrote an article for the American Jewish Committee publication Commentary. At a time when Israel was dead-set against a Palestinian state, he recommended that Israel "test the willingness" of the Palestine Liberation Organization to negotiate a two-state solution to the conflict.

But Mr. Lewis also wrote that Palestinian Arabs didn't have a historical claim to a state, because Palestine hadn't existed as a country prior to British rule in 1918. Israeli leaders jumped on that part of his thesis. The late Prime Minister Golda Meir required her cabinet to read the article, says Amnon Cohen of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who worked for the West Bank military government. He says Mrs. Meir summoned Mr. Lewis and "they spoke for hours. Her aides tried to end it, but Golda kept going and Bernard didn't want to be rude. She was very much in favor of his point" that Palestine as a nation had never existed.

Mr. Lewis began spending months at a time at the Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University in the 1980s. He became the confidant of successive Israeli prime ministers, including Ariel Sharon. Mr. Cohen organizes an annual conference at Hebrew University in honor of Mr. Lewis's birthday.

Mr. Wolfowitz took part by videoconference in 2002. Signaling the administration's acceptance of Mr. Lewis's prescription for Iraq, Mr. Wolfowitz said: "Bernard has taught how to understand the complex and important history of the Middle East, and use it to guide us where we will go next to build a better world for generations to come."

Mr. Lewis's work has many critics. Some academics say Mr. Lewis's descriptions of Arab and Muslim failures epitomize what the late Edward Said of Columbia University dubbed "Orientalism" -- the shading of history to justify Western conquest. Mideast historian Juan Cole of the University of Michigan praises Mr. Lewis's scholarly works earlier in his career but says his more-popular writings of recent years tend to caricature Muslims as poor losers, helpless and enraged.

Mr. Cole is among those who say Mr. Lewis's call for military intervention to transform failed Muslim states risks making the culture clash between Islamic lands and the West worse. So far, they say, Iraq looks more like a breeding ground for terrorism than a showcase of democracy -- not surprising, they say, given that the U.S. invaded an old and proud civilization.

"Lewis has lived so long, he's managed to live into an era when some people in Washington are reviving empire thinking," says Mr. Cole. "He's never understood the realities of political and social mobilization and the ways they make empire untenable."

Ilan Pappe of Haifa University says Mr. Lewis's view that political cultures can be remade through force contributed to Israel's decision to invade Lebanon in 1982. "It took the Israelis 18 years, and 1,000 soldiers killed, to abandon that strategy," Mr. Pappe says. "If the Americans operate under the same assumptions in Iraq, they'll fail the way the Israelis failed."

After Sept. 11, a book by Mr. Lewis called "What Went Wrong?" was a best-seller that launched the historian, at age 85, as an unlikely celebrity. Witty and a colorful storyteller, he hit the talk-show and lecture circuits, arguing in favor of U.S. intervention in Iraq as a first step toward democratic transformation in the Mideast. Historically, tyranny was foreign to Islam, Mr. Lewis told audiences, while consensual government, if not elections, has deep roots in the Mideast. He said Iraq, with its oil wealth, prior British tutelage and long repression under Saddam Hussein, was the right place to start moving the Mideast toward an open political system.

Audiences lapped it up. At the Harvard Club in New York last spring, guests crowded the main hall beneath a huge elephant head, sipping cocktails and waiting for a word with the historian before his speech. On a day when Baghdad was falling to U.S. forces, one woman wanted to know if the American victory would make Arabs more violent. Mr. Lewis politely deflected the question.

When the throng shifted, another interrogator pushed forward, this one clearly intent on the possible next phase of America's remolding of the Mideast. "Should we negotiate with Iran's ayatollahs?" asked Henry Kissinger, drink in hand.

"Certainly not!" Mr. Lewis responded.

Up on the podium, Mr. Lewis lambasted the belief of some Mideast experts at the State Department and elsewhere that Arabs weren't ready for democracy -- that a "friendly tyrant" was the best the U.S. could hope for in Iraq. "That policy," he quipped, "is called 'pro-Arab.' "

Others, like himself, believe Iraqis are heirs to a great civilization, one fully capable, "with some guidance," of democratic rule, he said. "That policy," he added with a rueful smile, "is called 'imperialism.' "

Write to Peter Waldman at peter.waldman@wsj.com

Updated February 3, 2004 2:33 p.m

 
WSJ.com - In Quest for Energy Security, U.S. Makes New Bet: on Democracy
WSJ.com - In Quest for Energy Security, U.S. Makes New Bet: on Democracy: February 4, 2004


PAGE ONE
In Quest for Energy Security, U.S.
Makes New Bet: on Democracy

It No Longer Places Stability
Above All Else in Mideast,
As Move on Iraq Indicates
By ANDREW HIGGINS
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In April 1975, America's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins, sent a confidential cable to Washington denouncing as "criminally insane" an idea then being floated in the media: America should seize Saudi oil fields to break an Arab oil cartel and ensure a supply of cheap energy to fuel the U.S. economy.

Scoffing at the bravado of what he called America's "New Hawks," he warned that any attempt to take Arab oil by force would lead to world-wide fury and a protracted guerrilla war. This "could bring only disaster to the United States and to the world," he wrote.

His 34-page cable, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, did not go down well in Washington. The idea of invading Saudi Arabia wasn't the work of cranks but of senior policy makers. Discussion of a military strike never got beyond the preliminary planning stage, but the idea terrified the Saudis, who laid plans to booby-trap oil wells.

A few months after sending his cable, Mr. Akins was out of a job. He believes that his memo, which stoutly defended the Saudis' right to control their oil, "was basically the cause of my being fired."

The episode, with its echoes of today's bitter quarrels over Iraq and relations with the Saudi kingdom, highlights America's struggle with a quandary that has tormented it for decades: how to deal with countries that America doesn't trust, that don't trust America but that can dictate the fate of America's economy through their control of oil.

For more than half a century, the U.S. has veered between confrontation and cajolery as it strove to secure a pillar of its global power: a steady flow of fuel at a stable price from the Persian Gulf. The U.S. has jumped from country to country in search of reliable friends.

It has often stumbled: The shah of Iran was overthrown. Saddam Hussein mutated from prickly partner to foe. The House of Saud still stands but wobbles, both at home -- where a divided ruling family staggers between reform and reaction -- and in Washington, where people ask how an ally could spawn 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers.

"Our big problem all along has been that our great friends often don't turn out to be so reliable," says William Quandt, a Middle East scholar who was on the White House's National Security Council during oil shocks caused by the 1973 Arab embargo and the 1979 Iranian revolution.

While many Arabs believe last year's invasion of Iraq was a petroleum grab, there's no evidence the U.S. plans to hold on to Iraqi oil fields or put them up for sale. Indeed, occupation officials have recommended a strong, state-controlled Iraqi oil sector, even if that means limited investment opportunities for U.S. oil companies. Washington's avowed goal in Iraq was entirely different: reducing the threat of terrorism by seeding a democratic government in place of one run by a dangerous tyrant.


Still, with the U.S. occupation, the quest for a solid ally in a region holding two-thirds of the world's known oil reserves has begun afresh, in a risky new direction. Instead of vesting hopes of stability in authoritarian leaders, Washington now seeks wrenching change by prying open closed political systems. No Gulf producer is a democracy. Of the world's known oil reserves, only 9% is situated in countries rated "free" by the U.S. research group Freedom House.

Since the 1970s crises, America has scoured the globe for other supplies, in an effort to reduce the dependence of global oil markets on Gulf states alternately cursed and courted. The U.S. has looked to the North Sea, Alaska, Mexico and, more recently, Russia, the Caspian Sea and West Africa. It has also poured money into fuel cells and other such technologies.

Much new oil has been found, and the U.S. has become far more efficient in energy use. But none of this disturbs a hard truth: America's economy, the engine of its global pre-eminence, depends on some of the world's most anti-American nations. By 2020, the federal Energy Information Agency expects, the Persian Gulf will account for 54% to 67% of world oil exports, up from around 30% now.

The White House believes giving Iraq democratic rule can help lance the boil of Mideast anti-Americanism. This, in turn, might help solve what President Bush, in a speech early last year, identified as a big problem: a dependence for oil "on countries that don't particularly like us." Whether America's initiative works in Iraq, whose oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia's, could also have an impact on the Saudis. A big unknown is whether the "democratic revolution" Mr. Bush has promised spreads to the doggedly undemocratic kingdom.

When invading Saudi Arabia was considered in the 1970s, the U.S. not only dropped the idea but decided it wouldn't even apply strong political pressure on the despotic Gulf states behind the embargo. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said at the time that pressure could cause instability and "open up political trends that could defeat economic objectives."

Today, haunted by terrorism, the U.S. makes a different calculation. Citing the absence of political freedom in the Mideast, Mr. Bush said in a speech last fall "it would be reckless to accept the status quo."

Also out to overthrow the status quo, however, are America's enemies in the region. Democracy, if it really takes hold there, could amplify their voices. Anger at Western use of Arab oil has been a theme for decades of populist rhetoric, both secular and Islamist. Just last month, Osama bin Laden, in a tape played on al Jazeera television, denounced the U.S. occupation of Iraq as a "big power" plot to control the Gulf's oil. Years earlier, Mr. bin Laden offered his own policy for an oil market he called the "biggest theft in history." A barrel of crude, the Saudi-born al Qaeda leader said in 1998, ought to cost $144, quadruple its current price.

FDR and the King
America has been fretting about dependence on foreign oil since the early 1940s, when Interior Secretary Harold Ickes wrote a gloomy article titled "We're Running out of Oil!" It warned: "If there should be a World War III, it would have to be fought with someone else's petroleum." Soon thereafter, geologist Everette Lee DeGolyer returned to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia and reported that "the center of gravity of world oil production is shifting ... to the Middle East."

With this in mind, Franklin D. Roosevelt, though seriously ill, made a stop on his journey home from the 1945 Yalta conference to meet the Saudi king, Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud. Their encounter on a battleship in the Suez Canal established bonds that, for more than half a century, would tie the two countries: oil and security. It also raised an issue that would divide them for just as long -- establishment of a Jewish state. Roosevelt wanted it in Palestine. The king suggested Jews get land in Germany.

America's wish to keep Persian Gulf oil secure took a violent turn in Iran. In 1953, the CIA carried out a British plot to topple an Iranian leader who had nationalized the Anglo-Persian Oil Co.

At first, the U.S. had no enthusiasm for an idea it saw as a last gasp by Britain's expiring empire. Christopher Woodhouse, an official the U.K. sent to Washington to lobby for the plan, wrote later how he helped win over the U.S.: "I decided to emphasize the Communist threat to Iran rather than the need to recover control of the oil industry."

The resulting coup against Mohammed Mossadegh brought back the exiled Iranian shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who promptly invited U.S. companies to join a new international consortium to run Iran's oil industry. Washington poured in arms, turning Iran into a Cold War bulwark against the Soviet Union.

On prices, however, Iran's and America's interests diverged. The shah became a truculent hawk in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. "He turned out to be the most hard-driving of all," says James Schlesinger, secretary of defense in the mid-1970s and later energy secretary. "It was a great disappointment to Kissinger and Nixon, who thought the shah was a pal of theirs."

Saudi Arabia also disappointed. On Oct. 17, 1973, Mr. Kissinger met with other top U.S. officials to discuss the Yom Kippur Arab-Israeli war and possibility of oil-supply disruptions. Reporting on a meeting held earlier in the day with Arab envoys, he described the Saudi foreign minister as a "good little boy," according to recently released transcripts, and predicted confidently: "We don't expect an oil cutoff in the next few days." Minutes later, an aide rushed in with a bulletin: Saudi and other Arab oil producers had announced an immediate cut in output. Prices leapt 70% overnight and later quadrupled. The U.S. sank into a recession.

Mr. Nixon launched a plan to end all imports by 1980. It flopped: Imports rose 40% by the target date. Mr. Kissinger turned to the Soviet Union for help, offering wheat in return for oil. The "bushels for barrels" plan fizzled.

The Military Option


Behind the scenes, officials mulled a more robust response to Arab cuts. Ambassador Akins says he knew something was afoot after a barrage of articles appeared championing war against Saudi Arabia. Particularly belligerent was one that appeared in Harper's under the byline Miles Ignotus, a pen name. Titled "Seizing Arab Oil," it argued that "the only countervailing power to OPEC's control of oil is power itself -- military power."

Its author was Edward Luttwak, a hawkish defense expert then working as an adviser to the Pentagon. Mr. Luttwak says he wrote the piece after discussion with several like-minded consultants and officials in the Pentagon, including Andrew Marshall, who was, and remains, head of the Defense Department's in-house think tank, the Office of Net Assessment.

Mr. Luttwak says they wanted to demonstrate the merits of "maneuver warfare," the use of fast, light forces to penetrate the enemy's vital centers. "We set out to revolutionize war," Mr. Luttwak says. Last year's invasion of Iraq, he says, "was the accomplishment of that revolution." Mr. Marshall says that "Mr. Luttwak worked for me on several related subjects, but I do not recall cooperating on the article."

Mr. Schlesinger says an oil-field grab was never adopted as policy but the Pentagon did examine the possibility. It concluded that the "only difficulty would be sabotage."

Britain's National Archives last month released several secret reports on America's likely response to the oil crisis. A December 1973 assessment by Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee said Washington might use subversion to "replace the existing rulers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi with more amenable men" or try "gun-boat diplomacy" to intimidate existing rulers. But an invasion to seize Arab oil fields was "the possibility uppermost in American thinking," the report added. It said Mr. Schlesinger had told Britain's ambassador "it was no longer obvious to him that the United States could not use force."

Another British intelligence report from the period outlined a "dark scenario" under which U.S. policy makers would use force "despite their experience in Vietnam.... This would, of course, be a highly dangerous policy with only slim chances of success." Military action, the U.K. intelligence committee warned, would provoke Arab sabotage and leave America's European allies "badly torn."

While weighing ways to punish Arab oil producers, Washington played down the Iranian shah's price aggressiveness. Iran's anti-Soviet stance trumped its unhelpfulness on energy. The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency gave an upbeat assessment of the shah's prospects in September 1978, saying he was "expected to remain actively in power over the next 10 years." Three months later, he fled a country in chaos, with Americans held hostage and Ayatollah Khomeini in power. Iran quit exporting oil for nearly a year. World prices nearly tripled.

Relations With Iraq

With Iran ruled by stridently anti-American mullahs, Washington tilted toward Iraq, which also had a new leader, Saddam Hussein. The Baath Party to which he belonged had first grabbed power in 1963 after a coup backed by the U.S. against the Iraqi government of Abdul Karim Qasim, whom the U.S. saw as dangerously leftist. Among his sins: He had hosted a meeting that set up OPEC.

When Mr. Hussein invaded Iran in 1980, Washington initially stayed aloof, but grew worried when the tide turned and Iraq faced defeat. The U.S. then provided Iraq with satellite pictures and other help.

Donald Rumsfeld, as President Reagan's special Mideast envoy, visited Baghdad twice. He discussed the idea, never followed up, of building a pipeline out of Iraq through Jordan. "I noted that Iraq's oil exports were important," Mr. Rumsfeld reported after a 1983 meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, according to a cable obtained by the National Security Archive. Mr. Rumsfeld visited again the following year, despite an uproar over Mr. Hussein's use of chemical weapons against Iran.

A 1988 national-security directive enshrined the wooing of Iraq as policy. "Normal relations" with the Hussein regime, it said, "would serve our longer-term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East." But this courtship, too, ended in tears: Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, seized its oil fields and began moving troops toward Saudi Arabia. Once again, a partner had become an enemy.

American concerns about oil were by no means the only motive for the multinational effort to drive Iraq out of Kuwait, but they weighed in the balance. Then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney told a White House meeting "we should sort this out from strategic interests in Saudi Arabia and oil," according to a book by the first President Bush and his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft.

The U.S. rushed troops to drive back Iraq and defend Saudi Arabia, which became a cornerstone of a newly declared "New World Order" -- a rampart against Iraq, an eager market for warplanes, and a generally reliable steward of the oil market. The kingdom, says Mr. Schlesinger, who sits on the U.S. Defense Policy Board, "worked hard to keep us tranquilized" by managing oil prices.

What to do about Mr. Hussein, once driven out of Kuwait, stirred fierce debate. Letting him continue building up his arsenal would, among other perils, put "a significant portion of the world's supply of oil ... at hazard," wrote Mr. Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and 15 other conservatives in a 1998 letter to President Clinton urging regime change.

A group sponsored by the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy and the Council on Foreign Relations also called Mr. Hussein a menace but suggested an easing of sanctions against his regime -- to allow oil-sector investment and also to reduce anti-American rage. "Like it or not, Iraqi reserves represent a major asset that can quickly add capacity to world oil markets and inject a more competitive tenor to oil trade," said its report.

New Look at the Saudis

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks brought the debate to a head, heightening fear of Iraq and creating doubt in some minds about the reliability of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis worked to calm oil prices after the attacks, increasing their output. But as the homeland of so many of the hijackers, Saudi Arabia lost much of the trust won back since the 1970s oil embargo.

Conservative pundits began decrying the kingdom as an adversary. Some urged the conquest of Iraq partly as a way to ease dependence on the Saudis. Former Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey says he and most other U.S. officials had viewed the Saudis as "somewhat idiosyncratic but generally as allies." Now, he says, officials woke up to the dangers of depending on "vulnerable autocracies and pathological predators."

Richard Haass, director of policy and planning at the State Department when the war in Iraq started, says the U.S. in the past "always gave Saudi Arabia a bye" on political questions and "never looked at what went on internally so long as their foreign policy met our basic requirements: energy, base access, the peace process" in Israel. After Sept. 11, Americans "internalized the lesson that what goes on inside Saudi Arabia can affect us, and affect us fundamentally."

In August, the last U.S. Air Force unit quietly left the Prince Sultan air base outside Riyadh, ending a deployment that dated to the 1991 Gulf War and removing one of Mr. bin Laden's rallying cries. With U.S. forces ensconced in Iraq, Qatar and Kuwait, the U.S. no longer needs Saudi bases. At the same time, the Pentagon has been working on a reshuffle of forces elsewhere. It envisions shrinking the U.S. military presence in Europe and putting some 20,000 troops in Africa and the Caucasus, in part to help protect emerging oil-production areas.

The 2001 attacks gave new impetus to the quest for energy diversity. Two decades after bushels-for-barrels, the U.S. again turned to Moscow. Russian oil production, now mostly in private hands, has picked up from a post-Soviet slump and, at over eight million barrels a day, nearly equals Saudi output. But Russia consumes plenty of this oil itself and has big trouble getting the rest to market. An Arctic export pipeline project pushed by Washington hit an unexpected hurdle when Russia jailed its main backer, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

This year's U.S. presidential election, meanwhile, has revived energy angst. "It's time to make energy independence a national priority, and to put in place a plan that frees our nation from the grip of Mideast oil in the next 10 years," Sen. John Kerry states in a TV campaign ad.

"We've been going round in circles for decades," says Milton Copulos, a consultant the Energy Department hired in the 1980s to gauge Soviet oil potential. Now president of a think tank called the National Defense Council Foundation, Mr. Copulos has assessed hidden economic and military costs of imported oil. If military spending directly related to protecting oil supplies and other costs were reflected at the pump, he figures, gasoline would cost $5.28 a gallon in the U.S. "We are always looking for a quick fix, but the fundamental problem is we have to wean ourselves off oil," he contends.

Unless this happens, Saudi Arabia will remain the pivot of U.S. energy security. It now creaks under political and other pressures, but Washington has to keep it turning. Mr. Bush recently named James C. Oberwetter, a Texas oil lobbyist and former head of the American Petroleum Institute, as ambassador to the kingdom.

Iraq, though a potential big producer, pumps less than a quarter of the Saudi output. Sabotage is one of the hindrances to Iraqi production, seeming to bear out a warning voiced by Ambassador Akins in 1975 about Saudi Arabia.

"There are scrub bushes, there are gullies, there are many places where guerrillas can be hidden," he wrote in his cable decrying the notion that the kingdom could easily be conquered and pacified. "Given the inevitable hostility of the country and its allies ... it is difficult to believe [oil] production could ever be brought back."

Write to Andrew Higgins at andrew.higgins@wsj.com7



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Updated February 4, 2004



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