December 14th, 2011
02:24 PM ET

Zakaria: Iraq's oil potential

Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of Fareed Zakaria's discussion with Joe Johns about the U.S. drawdown from Iraq and its global repercussions.

Joe Johns: After the United Kingdom left Iraq 80 years ago, things crumbled pretty quickly. If Iraq can remain strong, Fareed, in the coming years, something Mr. Obama says he is hoping for, could the United States and Iraq end up in an adversarial relationship?

Fareed Zakaria: I don't think so. I think if Iraq were able to stay strong, build greater stability, the single most important thing that would happen is Iraq would start exporting more oil. Remember, Iraq has the second-largest oil reserves in the world.

If it were able to produce anything near the amount it is capable of, this will have a huge impact on the world of oil and therefore have a huge impact on U.S.-Iraqi relations because the Iraqis would be doing us a big favor, diversifying the sources of oil, lowing the price and increasing supply.

The United States and Iraq did not have fundamentally adversarial interests. We're not adversaries by interest. Saddam Hussein was a weird dictator and we found ourselves on the other side of the stick with him.

Joe Johns: Now to the question of Iran. If you look at the situation down the road, can the United States essentially find itself in a worst position in Iraq because Iran is there? Because United States leaves, we have a vacuum, what happens?

Fareed Zakaria: That's a real concern. Look, Iran is the neighboring power. It is going to have influence in Iraq no matter what. In addition, many of the leaders who now rule Iraq, including the president, Mr. Talabani, the prime minister, Mr. Maliki, spent almost a decade in Iran when they were exiled by Saddam Hussein.

Iraq is a proud nation. There's a strong tradition of nationalism. While the leaders may have spent time in Iran, most Iraqis have memories of Iran in one sense: They fought a war. They fought an eight-year war with Iran, the Iran-Iraq war. They lost hundreds of thousands of people.

So I don't think the Iraqi people are going to be too comfortable with a policy in which the prime minister of their country becomes some kind of a puppet of the Iranian regime. Nations have national interests. And I expect that Iraq and any Iraqi prime minister will try to preserve his national interest and not become a puppet of Iran.

Joe Johns: Not to be too cynical, several thousand U.S. nonmilitary personnel and contractors will end up on the ground after the military leave. Are those people there for Iraq or are they there for the United States?

Fareed Zakaria: Well, it's a little bit of both. They are, in a sense, disguising the drawdown so it is not a drawdown quite to zero. We have some paramilitary forces, some who are protecting the embassy, embassy personnel, USAID people. There's going to be a fairly healthy contingent, I'm sure, of CIA people. There'll be people from the DEA. You add that together and the United States will have a certain kind of offensive presence in Iraq.

It's entirely justified. The U.S. consulate in Basra is minutes from the Iranian border. What were to happen if some Iranian thugs were to cross the border and try to launch an attack on the U.S. consulate in Basra? Well, you've got to be able to protect yourself. The U.S. is appropriately taking precautions so they don't end up in some situation that looks like the Iran hostage crisis all over again.

soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. Emperor Norton

    Great. We can open up another new source of foreign oil right when we need to be getting off of fossil fuels entirely.

    December 14, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Reply
    • Sean

      While I agree we need to get off fossil fuel entirely, it won't be a quick fix, we need to continue to buy/make better fuel effecient cars to reduce our dependence. It won't happen overnight, and this will help to provide relief in the short term.

      December 14, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Reply
      • Max in NY

        Sean- It can happen overnight- technically speaking. We went to the moon in less than 10 years with technology that wasn't really around at the time it was promised. We have the technology now...just not the will power. We spend $450billion+ per year on defense during times of relative PEACE...we just have misplaced priorities

        December 14, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
      • Dan

        Max – Not it can't. Just because you can figure out a way to push a piece of aluminum around using something other than oil doesn't mean you can replace the entire fossil fuel based infrastructure of the industrial world over night or over the next decade. The mission to the Moon pales in comparison to the task of replacing oil – and, in fact, itself was only possible because of oil. There are 800,000,000 oil powered vehicles on the planet with about 600,000,000 of those here in the U.S. Assuming you had some alternative fuel that could be massed produced like oil (you don't) who's going to build all those cars? Somewhere around 80 barrels of oil goes into the production of one car! Where is the infrastructure to produce and deliver this fuel? Where are the filling stations? Where is the investment capital necessary to fund this multi-trillion dollar project? Then there's agriculture. All commercial pesticides are made from petroleum. All commercial fertilizers are made from natural gas. We use fossil fuels to plow the fields, pump the water for irrigation, harvest, transportation, processing, packaging and delivery to market. The average calorie of food that you eat has 10 calories of fossil fuel invested by the time it reaches your plate not counting transportation and cooking.

        We need to get real about fossil fuels. we have built a system that is probably only possible with them. We not addicted to them any more than we are addicted to oxygen. Our lives depend on them. We need to change that and we need to change it as quickly as possible but pretending that we have an answer to that when we don't prevents us from making the necessary decisions – like learning to live with the fact that personal transportation as we have known it isn't a luxury we can afford anymore. we're going to have to learn to live with less material wealth and we probably will find that there simply isn't a way for us to support as many people as we currently do. It isn't a matter of "not having the will." It's a matter of facing the reality that we need to scale down our lives drastically or nature is going to do it for us.

        December 14, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        Iraq might have billions of barrels of oil, yet the resources are divided across sectarian lines. Most known resources are in the Shia populated areas of the south and the Kurdish north, with few resources in control of the Sunni population in the centre. In light of the sectarian conflicts the development of the oil sector will pose a huge challenge to the country.

        December 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
      • Some Geek

        Thanks to Dan for an insightful comment on our "will" to kick the oil habit. Not sure about the exact numbers, but I believe that's the right perspective. Remember, oil is essentially the best way that we've ever seen (so far) to store a concentrated form of solar energy. I'm sure, as you said that the rocket fuel and various other materials related to the moon missions were fossil fuel derived. Also, I'm occasionally amazed at the folks who write letters talking about how awesome fueling things with Hydrogen is when they don't understand that the only way we currently have to isolate large amounts of that element is with electricity produced with fossil fuel or nuke's.

        December 14, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
      • PAULIENY

        Those making the most money in this world, subsequently "running" the world too, are oil companies. Oil will not go away until it stops making money. Sorry. Greed wins again.

        December 14, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Dick

      Agreed. Getting off the juice is probably cheaper and more beneficial. I would imagine that 200-300 bil in research would have produced some fine alternative energy technologies + US jobs; however, since we have already invested all these money and lives we might as well get some oil.

      December 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Reply
    • ddblah

      Believe or not, that takes time, decades, to do ...

      December 14, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Reply
  2. Joseph McCarthy

    Of Iraq is going to stay loyal to the U.S. In fact, we invaded Iraq because of it's oil and as planned, Iraq will remain a satellite of the U.S. just like Poland did to Russia after WW2.

    December 14, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Reply
    • Dick

      You are comaring US with communist Russia. You must be feeling patriotic today.

      December 14, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Reply
    • rob2tall

      Yes-Iraq was all about oil,natural gas,and recovering billions in gold and hundred $$ bills that were falling into the hands of terrorists.Not to mention gaining a strong presence in the center of the Middle East.Now that we occupy the largest embassy on earth with over 22,000 troops inside to protect our "interests" in Iraq-no other nation will try to invade.
      Iraq will allow big American business to ship expensive USA labor into Iraq and pay 1/10 the hourly rate to do crappy work until they have the training to do it half as good as we do.
      We needed a foothold for enslavement of the Muslim population to sway them from hate to love,lol..
      Its all a big business investment for us!Nothing about WMD-that was all Bush BS

      December 14, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  3. Louis

    Our embassy in Iraq is the largest and most expensive in the world. We will waste taxpayer dollars there forever.

    December 14, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Reply
    • Dick

      Would your solution be to disband all US embassies around the world?

      December 14, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Reply
  4. Stan

    Wake up America! We didnt invade Iraq because of the oil! Just because we built the most expensive Consulate doesnt mean we are going to stay. And Al Gore was completely wrong. We are having the best weather here in the Northeast. Conditions will be so good this winter I will save a bundle on my heating bill!

    God bless America!

    December 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Reply
    • JoJo

      Why do people always mix up God with unnecessary lie-based mass murder and the loss of a trillion dollars which could have been spent to save lives at home?

      December 14, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Reply
      • ME

        Oh, give it up already. Saddam wouldn't stop invading other countries and tried to assassinate a former President. He had to go one way or another.

        December 14, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • trex


      December 14, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Reply
  5. jerrystro

    We do not need Iraqi oil, we need American and Canadian oil. There is a plan to build a Candaidina pipe line but as always, anytime we see a supply of US or Canadian oil arise, the Democrats are there to kill it and keep us on foreign oil.
    We are tappng inot he oil fields in north Dakota also and environmentalist are attackin that also. WE need to hear one thing only....Drill, Baby, Drill!!!

    December 14, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Reply
    • Emperor Norton

      The reason why people are not willing to drill in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge and why people are opposing the currently-discussed oil pipeline is because the first is not worth the effort, and the second would cause significant enough environmental damage that it would, in the long run, completely supercede the financial benefits it provides. As we are currently exporting more gasoline than we consume, I believe the true culprits here are the oil speculators such as J.P. Morgan, who currently have a near-stranglehold on our domestic production.

      As usual, it's never as easy as "Democrats are killing jobs!" I'd also respectfully submit that if you are quoting Sarah Palin, it is possible you are not considering your ideas carefully enough.

      December 14, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  6. Prof. Zubairi

    The word"Shia " is glaringly missing from this discussion. The Iraqi people, most of them, and the Iranians are bonded by a strong sectarian priestly religion. We will find out within a year that we made a big mistake in removing anti-Iran, anti-alqaida Saddam. The six year war was between Sunni Saddam and Shia Iran. Iraq now is controlled by Shiites. We constantly seek unnatural alliances and then spend billions correcting the mistake.

    December 14, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Reply
    • Jackola

      You nailed it. Their loyalty in the end will be to each other. The Iraq/Iran war will be blamed on one individual – Saddam – and the two nations will emerge as bosom buddies. Iraq will again be governed by a dictator – AlMalki – if he is able to hang on, or a stronger man will take over. Sorry but I do not see a rosy future for Iraq.

      December 14, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Reply
  7. crusader12

    Contrary to this forum, I assure you, Iraq will not be an American satellite for long. As soon as the bulk of our fighting forces leave the population will turn on our remaining soldiers (and I don't blame them). Even if we think we are going to maintain a security force the Arabs hate us, and they hate Israel. Iran will have their hooks into that government in no time, so will the Russians just like we did to them when they left Afghanistan. The Middle East is on the other side of the world. Canada has lots of oil, its cheaper and easier to access. Killing their wilderness sucks since we have to hear about it but its better than destroying a people with Depleted Uranium, don't you think?

    December 14, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Reply
  8. Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus

    I love the people that say we invaded Iraq for the oil, who conveniently forget that the Iraqis awarded all of the rights to their fields to Russia and China.

    Logically, if the former were true, the fact of the latter would mean America is willing to spend 750billion to illegally invade a country for it's resources, killing tens of thousands of Iraq civilians in the process, but SOMEHOW bribing and/or killing a few Iraqi oil executives/politicians so that WE get the full rights to their fields is a big "no no"?

    Hahaha what morons the "it's all for oil" crowd is! Sad that people that mentally deficient allowed to reproduce...

    December 14, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Reply
    • Colin

      And yet you're too "mentally deficient" to understand that invading for oil doesn't have to be for our own consumption, right? Our trade partners are more dependent on oil from the Middle East then we are, where losing access to it would hurt our economy because these countries would not be able to trade with us at the level they were because the costs of production would increase, and with increased supplies (on the other hand) would be able to produce goods and trade with us at even greater rates.

      December 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Reply
  9. johnny

    Its not all about the oil. And US spent more than 750 billion US$. American soldiers lives lost in the war is a heavier cost.

    I think Pres Bush wanted to teach Saddam Hussein for his secret plan to assassinate then President – Bush Snr . Iraq and Saddam Hussein were punished at a heavy cost, at any cost for that matter. So, that everyone knows you dont plan to kill an American President and get away with it, unpunished. Especially when he is daddy.

    Saddam Hussein and Osama B Ladin suffered the same fate for the same reason.

    December 14, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Reply
  10. trex

    .......Thanks W. really screwed the po ch on this and we have over 4000 dead due to YOUR stupidity

    December 14, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Reply
    • trex I really HATE the gop....................

      December 14, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Reply
      • trex

        .......your gop leader lead us into a LOSER WAR for a LOSER country and we are over 4000 dead......... YOU got to say........"MISSION ACCOMPLISHED".......................and our families pauid the price................

        December 14, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • montyross

      psychic spies from china try to steal youre minds elation

      December 15, 2011 at 3:25 am | Reply
  11. trex

    ...................the ONLY winner has been hailburton and friends.............

    December 14, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Thank you, trex. I couldn't agree more. Actually, it's the MIC(military-industrial-complex) that won as it increases it's stranglehold on this government.

      December 14, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  12. FlopFlipper

    Lets not forget, Saddam was one of our loyal, funded puppets – right up until he decided he wanted a bigger slice of the pie than what we gave him. We helped Saddam gain power, hold power, and fight the Iran-Iraq War.

    December 15, 2011 at 1:37 am | Reply
  13. Curt

    I can't believe they called Sadam "weird in this this article, pretty unprofessional.. U.S.A found Sadam wanted to work away from U.S. Dollars for oil trading and have higher prices...

    That is the only "weird" behavior I'm aware of..

    December 15, 2011 at 8:34 am | Reply
  14. TP

    Oil.....The overall point of this war from the admit: this is what our people died for.

    December 15, 2011 at 10:19 am | Reply
  15. Doug

    Insurgents, malcontents, & Iranian agents have already been attacking the Consulate in Basra for over a 2 years with rockets and mortars. The British have a consulate there too. Its too easy for anybody to cross the border; lauch an indirect fire attack and then melt into the city of Basra a population of well over a million people. Iran want influence, but the Iraqi's dont want Iran; they will take their support and money but not give up their sovereignty.

    December 15, 2011 at 11:08 am | Reply
  16. Wastrel

    The oil in Iraq belongs to the US by right of conquest, else our soldiers died for nothing.

    December 15, 2011 at 11:48 am | Reply
  17. johnny

    This is why I say The US President should NOT be the Commander in Chief at all. Because he is not made accountable to Americans for starting any war against another nation. So he gets away with his WMD accusation Irag, and was not punished for that fairy tale.

    This war power should be given only to Congress to decide . But looking at the present Republican Congress, I hesitate to suggest such a change in war policies, because these old Congress fellows is most pathetic bunch of ignorant, self serving Republican senators in American history.

    December 15, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Reply
    • Phlyer

      And while the Democrats controlled both the executive and congressional branches of government, the national debt increased by $4 trillion, more than under any other president, and pushed our economy almost into default.

      December 25, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Reply
  18. Rokon

    Fareed, Iraq and Iran share the same concern with USA and Israel. Your example of war between this two country is not correct. It was a war between Saddam and Iran. One of the reason US invaded Iraq is to stablish a permanent base (to appease AIPAC), but never imagined that they will lose the war (or had a doubt but did not have a choice). So, United States essentially find itself in a worst position. In fact US handed over Iraq from Saddam to Iran.

    December 16, 2011 at 1:39 am | Reply
  19. Phlyer

    We "don't have fundamentally different interests"? You mean that, apart from removing the ruling Sunni class (about 50% of the population) from power, while killing many of them and by being allied with their religious archenemy, Israel, we can be friends? Good luck with that.

    December 25, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Reply

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