Tags: Assad | Obama | Syria | oil

Who Wants Syria's Oil — and Why?

Wednesday, 28 Aug 2013 07:53 AM

By Patrick Watson

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Based the political rhetoric I hear, cruise missiles could already be flying by the time you read this. Elected officials all over the Western hemisphere are eager to see Syrian President Bashar Assad receive whatever reward the next life holds for him.

The war frenzy's proximate cause is the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons. A year ago, President Obama said any such use would cross a "red line" and force U.S. intervention.

Assad knows the equation, too. He has resisted many other rebel assaults without needing chemical help, making me wonder why this time was different. I'm not at all convinced we know the full story yet. Regardless, some combination of other powers will soon flex its muscles against Syria.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Syria has 2.5 billion barrels of crude oil reserves, 8.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 50 billion tons of oil shale. Production and export of these resources slowed to a trickle after anti-government protests heated up in early 2011.

Call me crazy, but I think other nations are far more interested in those chemicals than weaponized chemicals. It also doesn't hurt that Syria occupies critical ground between Iran, Iraq and the Mediterranean Sea. Pipelines across that territory nicely bypass the Persian Gulf and Suez Canal. One already exists, but the 2003 Iraq war left it heavily damaged. The present instability prevents additional construction.

With this in mind, the motivations become clearer. Russia provides Assad with weaponry and diplomatic cover at the United Nations. The ever-cagy Vladimir Putin knows that keeping Syrian oil off the market keeps Europe dependent on Russian energy exports. It also raises energy prices for everyone.

This also explains why French, German and British politicians expressed such immediate outrage at Assad's alleged chemical attacks. They would love to open up Syria's own oil supply and ease access to Iraqi and perhaps Iranian oil shipments. Having the United States do the dirty work is an added benefit.

The problem for everyone: missile strikes will not accomplish what they want. Even if Assad is somehow removed from action, the rebel forces (many friendly to al Qaeda) may be no more willing (or able) to open up the oil spigot.

Israel, of all nations, wants the Arab League to provide an interim government for post-Assad Syria. Saudi Arabia's princes love the idea, of course. They know the U.S. shale boom will soon bite into their exports and pricing power. Getting their hands on Syria would be a big help.

The wild card is U.S. public opinion. Surveys show very little support for another extended Middle East ground commitment — but that's probably what it will take to dislodge the Assad regime. Can the Obama White House fool the nation into another war? We will find out soon.

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