The Military-Petroleum Complex

In November 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, then secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld told Steve Kroft of CBS that U.S. saber-rattling toward Iraq had “nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil.” In 2003, Rumsfeld called the assertion that the United States had invaded Iraq to get at its oil “utter nonsense.” (“We don’t take our forces and go around the world and try to take other people’s . . . resources, their oil. That’s just not what the United States does.”) In 2005, speaking to American troops in Fallujah, Rumsfeld reiterated the point: “The United States, as you all know better than any, did not come to Iraq for oil.” Strong denials for sure, but were they true?

Rumsfeld’s boss — and a man who knows a thing or two about addiction – President George W. Bush, proclaimed, in early 2006, that “America is addicted to oil.” Later that year, Bush almost came clean about Iraq, admitting (after a fashion), according to Peter Baker of the Washington Post, that “the war is about oil.” For the first time he used petroleum as a justification for continuing the occupation of Iraq, saying, “You can imagine a world in which these extremists and radicals got control of energy resources.” Bush’s acknowledgment was no great revelation. After all, oil is not only a key driver of the U.S. economy but also a major source of the nation’s energy. As a former oilman (with Dick Cheney, the former head of oil-services giant Halliburton, as his vice president), Bush knew this all too well—hence an invasion of one of the Middle East’s key oil lands topped by an occupation where, initially, looters were allowed to tear almost every part of the Iraqi capital to pieces, save for the Oil Ministry.

But Rumsfeld’s military was more than just an armed occupier sent to lock down the planet’s oil lands. It was also a known petrol addict. In his book Blood and Oil, Michael Klare laid out the little-acknowledged facts about the Pentagon’s oil obsession:

The American military relies more than that of any other nation on oil-powered ships, planes, helicopters, and armored vehicles to transport troops into battle and rain down weapons on its foes. Although the Pentagon may boast of its ever-advancing use of computers and other high-tech devices, the fighting machines that form the backbone of the U.S. military are entirely dependent on petroleum. Without an abundant and reliable supply of oil, the Department of Defense could neither rush its forces to distant battlefields nor keep them supplied once deployed there.

And the deployments DoD has “rushed its forces” to in recent years – in Afghanistan and Iraq – have sucked up massive quantities of oil. According to Fuel Line, the official newsletter of the Pentagon’s fuel-buying component, the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), from October 1, 2001, to August 9, 2004, the DESC supplied 1,897,272,714 gallons of jet fuel, alone, for military operations in Afghanistan. Similarly, in less than a year and a half, from March 19, 2003, to August 9, 2004, the DESC provided U.S. forces with 1,109,795,046 gallons of jet fuel for operations in Iraq. In 2005, Lana Hampton of the DoD’s Defense Logistics Agency revealed that the military’s aircraft, ships, and ground vehicles were guzzling 10 to 11 million barrels of fuel each month in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Yet, while the Pentagon reportedly burns through an astounding 365,000 barrels of oil every day (the equivalent of the entire nation of Sweden’s daily consumption), Sohbet Karbuz, an expert on global oil markets, estimates that the number is really closer to 500,000 barrels.

With such unconstrained consumption, recent U.S. wars have been a boon for big oil and have seen the Pentagon rise from the rank of hopeless addict to superjunkie. Prior to George Bush’s Global War on Terror, the U.S. military admitted to guzzling 4.62 billion gallons of oil per year. With the Pentagon’s post-9/11 wars and occupations, annual oil consumption has grown to an almost unfathomable 5.46 billion gallons, according to the Pentagon’s possibly low-ball statistics.

As a result, the DoD had some of the planet’s biggest petroleum dealers, and masters of the corporate universe, on its payroll. In 2005, alone, the Pentagon paid out more than $1.5 billion to BP PLC – the company formerly known as Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (on whose behalf the CIA and its British counterpart covertly overthrew the Iranian government back in 1953) and then British Petroleum. In 2005, the Pentagon also paid out over $1 billion to N. V. Koninklijke Nederlandsche Petroleum Maatschappij — also known as the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company (and best known in the United States for its Shell brand gasoline) – and in excess of $1 billion to oil titan ExxonMobil.

In 2005, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Petroleum, and BP ranked sixth, seventh, and eighth on the Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s five hundred largest corporations in terms of revenue. The next year, they bumped their way up to first, third, and fourth, respectively. They also ranked 29th, 30th, and 31st on the DoD’s 2006 list of top contractors, collectively raking in over $3.5 billion from the Pentagon. The big three petrogiants are, however, only the tip of a massive, oily iceberg. Also on the Pentagon’s 2006 list were such oil services, energy, and petroleum conglomerates as:

Ranking

Company name

Total take from the DoD (in dollars)

6

Halliburton

6,059,726,743

34

Kuwait Petroleum

1,011,270,194

45

Valero Energy

661,171,541

55

Refinery Associates of Texas

576,557,185

66

Abu Dhabi National Oil

494,286,000

70

Bahrain Petroleum

477,535,378

83

CS Caltex

356,313,452

94

Tesoro Petroleum

310,564,052

It’s almost impossible to catalog all the companies with at least some ties to the oil game that are doing business with the Department of Defense, but if just the most obvious names on DoD’s payroll are any indication, the U.S. military is mainlining petroleum from a remarkable assortment of places. For instance, in 2005 alone, the Pentagon payroll listed 145 companies (from A & M Oil to Wyandotte Tribal petroleum).

These 145 companies — far from constituting a complete list of energy-related firms on the DoD dole – took in more than 8 billion taxpayer dollars in 2005. To put that figure in perspective, that was more than the army paid out in the same year to the military-corporate powerhouses Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Electric, and the Bechtel Corporation, combined. Or over $2.7 billion more than it spent in 2005 on bombs, grenades, guided missiles, guided missile launchers, unmanned aerial vehicles, bulk explosives, all guns, rockets, rocket launchers, and helicopters.

No doubt due to his outfit’s penchant for petroleum guzzling, in 2005, then secretary of defense Rumsfeld issued a memo calling on DoD staff to develop plans for employing alternative power sources and energy-saving technologies. As defense technology expert Noah Shachtman noted in early 2007, while the “Department of Defense might not care about the environment,” it had met its green goals ahead of schedule. As a result, the Pentagon now touts itself as environmentally conscious, drawing attention to its use of wind power at the naval station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and its dabblings in “cleaner, ‘greener’ hybrid fuel.” On March 24, 2006, the Pentagon’s American Forces Press Service published an article, “Hydrogen Fuel Cells May Help U.S. Military Cut Gas Usage,” speculating that someday such technology might significantly reduce the military’s “dependence on hydrocarbon-based fuels for transportation needs.”

That day is not yet in sight. In fact, on March 23, 2006, the day before that article was published, the Pentagon quietly announced a series of DoD contracts that demonstrated the degree of its continuing addiction to oil: a $241,265,176 deal with Valero Energy; a $171,409,329 agreement with Shell Oil; separate contracts of $156,616,405 and $23,923,354 with ConocoPhillips; a $124,152,364 agreement with Refinery Associates of Texas; a $121,053,450 deal with Calumet Shreveport Fuels; a $118,374,201 jet fuel contract with Gary-Williams Energy Corporation; a $75,094,613 agreement with AGE Refining; a $43,994,360 deal with Tesoro Refining; and a $29,524,800 contract with Western Petroleum – all of which had a completion date of April 30, 2007.

Couple this with the fact that, on Rumsfeld’s watch, the Environmental Protection Agency granted the DoD a “national security exemption” on trucks that failed to meet current emissions standards; that the army canceled plans to introduce “hybrid-diesel humvees” (the current military model gets just four miles per gallon in city driving and an equally dismal eight miles per gallon on the highway); and that it similarly dropped plans to retrofit the fuel-guzzling Abrams tank with a more efficient diesel engine (the current model, in service in Iraq, gets less than a mile per gallon), while the air force deep-sixed plans for the possible replacement of aging “surveillance, cargo and tanker aircraft engines” – and you’re looking at a Pentagon patently incapable of altering its addiction-addled ways in any near future.

Since then, it’s been more of the same. In March 2007, the Pentagon, now under Rumsfeld’s replacement, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, went on a two-day bender of epic proportions. On March 22 and 23, the DoD announced that it had struck “fixed price with economic price adjustment” deals, to be fulfilled by April 30, 2008, with ExxonMobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Valero, Refinery Associates of Texas, and ten other petrogiants to the tune of $4 billion. Another petro-binge occurred around the 2007 Labor Day holiday. Over the course of three days, the DoD acknowledged fuel contracts with BP, Chevron, Tesoro, and four others worth more than $1.4 billion.

The Pentagon needs two things to survive: war and oil. And it can’t make the first if it doesn’t have the second. In fact, the Pentagon’s methods of mass destruction — fighters, bombers, tanks, Humvees, and other vehicles — burn 75 percent of the fuel used by the DoD. For example, B-52 bombers consume 47,000 gallons per mission over Afghanistan. But don’t expect big oil (or even smaller petroplayers) to turn off the tap for peace. Such corporations are just as wedded to war as their most loyal junkie. After all, every time an F-16 fighter “kicks in its afterburners and blasts through the sound barrier,” it burns through $300 worth of fuel a minute, while each of those B-52 missions means a $100,000 tax-funded payout.

According to retired lieutenant general Lawrence P. Farrell Jr., the president of the National Defense Industrial Association (“America’s leading Defense Industry association promoting National Security”), the Pentagon is “the single largest consumer of petroleum fuels in the United States.” In fact, it’s the world’s largest energy consumer, according to Shachtman. That, alone, guarantees the military-petroleum complex isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon – just some fuel for thought next time you head out to a Shell, BP, Exxon, or Mobil station to fill ’er up.

Nick Turse, a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, is the associate editor and research director of Tomdispatch.com.