The 16th anniversary of the United States’ invasion of Iraq is almost here, and every March I sit reminiscing about this time in 2003. My Army Reserve Civil Affairs battalion was mobilized the previous month. After 17 years in the National Guard-only being called up for disasters-I was heading into a combat zone.

Our government and that of the UK invaded Iraq because they believed that Saddam Hussein had supported al-Qaeda, and that he himself had developed weapons of mass destruction. In the new Post-9/11 world, we couldn’t afford to let our enemies make the first strike, so the logic went.

Serving my country was something I’d wanted to do for a very long time. During the late 60’s and early 70’s, I’d watch footage of soldiers in Vietnam, thinking how brave they were and confused as to why everyone looked down on them. That last part didn’t stop me from wanting to be like the soldiers on the TV screen.

There was another event which was impossible for me to ignore: the 1973-1974 OPEC Oil Embargo. The Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries had banned the selling of oil to the United States because of our support for Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. I remember long lines of cars at every gas station around my town. Although I was only 10, it left the lasting impression on me of just how dependent we were on petroleum from the Middle East. It was a bad feeling.

Recently, radical groups have threatened-and followed through-to overthrow dictators in the region who had had a good relationship with the West, like the Shah of Iran and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Once these leaders are deposed, there is a power vacuum in that particular country, and these Islamic Fundamentalists rush in to fill the void. The fear is that these groups could make the OPEC Oil Embargo in the 70’s seem like 3 days detention. 

April 2008: Along with a bunch of other Iraq veterans, I’m sitting in the office of a New York Congresswoman. We’re here to support General David Petraeus as he testifies in front of Congress that he needs to keep additional troops in Iraq. They are crucial for the security in that country to improve. We are trying to convince her, based on our experiences in Iraq, that General Petraeus is on the right track to stabilizing Iraq. He needs Congressional approval to keep the troops there.

After each of us has made our sales pitch, the Congresswoman says to us, “(Congressman) Charlie Rangel said that Bush told him that the only reason why you went there was for the oil!”

Normally, I would have been offended by her statement. But let’s face it: our entire economy is based on that one commodity. You can’t go anywhere without encountering a consumer product that hasn’t been distilled or created from petroleum. We can thank politicians in Washington-on both sides of the aisle, including the one giving us our history lesson. They’ve been accepting campaign contributions for decades from the major oil companies.

In Southern Iraq, close to the Kuwait border, there lies the Rumaila Oil Field, the third-largest in the entire world. If you’re the President of the United States, and you’re even the slightest bit concerned that our country will be cut off from foreign oil and experience an embargo far worse than in 1973-1974, then you do an Oklahoma Land Grab. You go in and take the estimated 17 billion barrels, before some nut jobs take it first. And he did this in the name of every person who calls themselves an American citizen.

At the time of the US invasion in 2003, we imported at least 20 million barrels of oil a day. As President George W. Bush said in one of his State of the Union speeches: “We have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.”

Since the invasion, America has partially weaned itself off foreign oil, and is now a top exporter, thanks to the Bakken Shale Formation in the Midwest. The Rumaila Oil Field? It’s now being developed by 2 oil giants, BP and PetroChina.

Maybe we’ll invade England and China next. Who knows?

I have met so many people who have thanked me for my service, and for protecting democracy, etc. While all the thanks made me feel good, I cannot ignore the fact that there was a far bigger and more immediate reason for my being deployed.

I also believe that I and my fellow Iraq veterans should receive free gasoline for life, but that hasn’t happened yet. It also turns out that the Five Second Rule doesn’t work, and Elvis ain’t cutting records anymore.

The people who’ve thanked me were only partially right: I hadn’t been sent to Iraq merely to defend freedom and democracy. The American economy was at stake. So, I didn’t really mind the Congresswoman telling me I was there for the oil. If that was to protect our way of life, so be it.

Fill ‘er up!

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