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(HOST) Commentator Bill Seamans says that the importance of oil in the Iraq war is once again a hot topic of debate.

(SEAMANS) President Bush in his State of the Union address said that “America is addicted to oil” – but neither he nor his Cheney/Rumsfeld/Condi support group has said out loud that the reason for invading Iraq was to protect our oil supplies and the billions of dollars invested in the area. Despite White House reticence the word “oil” is appearing more and more in the comments of the punditocracy but, to my knowledge, only one celebrity opinionator has come right out and, in effect, called the crisis in Iraq Bush’s petroleum war.

In his first article in his new role as a contributing columnist for the New York Times, Ted Koppel said that Bush’s sensitivity about charges that we are in Iraq “because of oil” is curious because keeping oil flowing out of the Persian Gulf has been bedrock American foreign policy for more than half a century. And Koppel noted that when Saddam Hussein, after invading Kuwait, looked like he might also invade Saudi Arabia, Dick Cheney predicted a petroleum war. Cheney said then that “We’re there because that part of the world controls the world supply of oil and whoever controls the supply of oil, especially a man like Saddam Hussein, would have a stranglehold on the American economy and on the world economy.”

But even the noted New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who has maintained that it was a conflict of civilizations, has become oilier in his recent columns. He wrote in January that “The biggest threat to America and its values today is not communism, authoritarianism or Islamism – it’s petrolism.” And in another column Friedman named oil as the resource that would have the most decisive impact on international relations this year.

Meanwhile, President Bush continues sounding more attuned to spreading democracy as the noble legacy of his administration. But critics note that Bush cannot achieve that grand objective without first assuring the security of the U.S.’s major source of energy.

That we are, in fact, engaged in a petroleum war is expected to impose a heavy burden on Republican campaign strategists as the November elections approach. Polls show that public opinion is turning more and more against the war and that Bush is under increasing pressure to reduce our forces in Iraq. With White House warnings of a nuclear threat now growing in Iran that is sounding a lot like Bush’s disinformation run-up to the Iraq war it would seem that the Pentagon would need to maintain a significant force level in the area.

For obvious election campaign reasons a token force (Rumsfeld has indicated about 7,000) might be returned home. But the bad news that most of our troops must stay in the Middle East will come only after the election.

This is Bill Seamans.

Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.

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