Iraq and the Politics of Oil

Iraq and the Politics of Oil

An Insider’s Perspective

Gary Vogler

University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, 2017, 318 pages

Book Review published on: March 30, 2018

Iraq and the Politics of Oil gives an oil insider’s perspective of how the Iraqi oil story played out beginning prior to 2003 and culminating in September 2011. Gary Vogler details the story of his experience serving as a senior oil advisor for both the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) and the Iraqi minister of oil. This fascinating account of the behind-the-scenes drama and the struggle for power depicts the role the U.S. government and coalition forces played in the Iraqi oil sector since 2003. A former Army officer with twenty-one years of training with ExxonMobil and Mobil, Vogler had the ability to hone in on important aspects of prewar oil planning. This allowed him to be part of decisions made during the first few months of hostilities that ensured Iraqi economic vibrancy through its oil industry.

Replete with stories and vignettes, the author demonstrates the importance of how the coalition forces, partnering with the Iraqis in the Ministry of Oil, ensured the success of various oil-related functions throughout Iraq over a period of almost nine years. In order to overcome both internal and external obstacles pertaining to oil flow, Iraqis and coalition forces focused on teamwork and partnering. One example of this involved finding a project the Iraqis wanted to accomplish that was off the radar of the U.S. embassy. It was later deemed the most important Iraqi infrastructure project in decades by the oil minister himself.

Vogler contends that a majority of the obstacles were self-inflicted due to American arrogance. However, while arrogance by the Americans might have contributed to some problems, in other cases that is doubtful. The Washington political agenda, the Syrian agenda, and Coalition Provisional Authority budgeting and payroll policies did create some self-inflicted obstacles, but the government procurement delays were enacted to prevent fiscal abuses. This book covers in detail how successful the oil sector became despite facing other obstacles such as the uptick in insurgent and criminal activity, and the political turmoil that ensued after de-Baathification and the Iraqi military policies took effect.

Several chapters provide a unique perspective of the oil agenda. The author gives some credible evidence for another possible reason the United States and coalition forces may have been drawn into the war other than evidence pointing to weapons of mass destruction. He provides anecdotes which, when pieced together years later, give a more nefarious motive for U.S. involvement in Iraq. Before the war and all throughout his time in Iraq, Vogler contended that oil was not the reason the United States went to war, and he lays that out in most of his chapters. However, as he was writing the book and recalling different bits of information and news stories, he realized that there was real credence to an oil agenda that focused on other countries besides benefitting the United States directly.

Vogler relates some great anecdotes on the importance of leadership styles, networking, and key performance indicators from his time with Mobil and how he applied them to his new position, but at times, he gives too many details. For instance, he goes into too much detail giving the background information and appointee qualifications for deciding on an Iraqi Ministry of Oil leadership team. In another chapter, too much background information is written on an individual within the interagency planning cell. In other parts of the book, too many details and too much information only confuse the situation.

Despite its few flaws, this is a great read for all military leaders currently working or about to work with interagency or intergovernmental organizations. Its focus on strategic and operational issues that demonstrate strong leadership and team-building skills to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles makes it a must read for military and Department of Defense leaders.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Stephen Harvey, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas