Clarifying a controversial comment in his new memoir, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said he told the White House before the Iraq war that removing Saddam Hussein was “essential” to secure world oil supplies, according to an interview published on Monday.
Greenspan, who wrote in his memoir that “the Iraq War is largely about oil,” said in a Washington Post interview that while securing global oil supplies was “not the administration’s motive,” he had presented the White House before the 2003 invasion with the case for why removing the then-Iraqi leader was important for the global economy.
“I was not saying that that’s the administration’s motive,” Greenspan said in the interview conducted on Saturday. “I’m just saying that if somebody asked me, ’Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?’ I would say it was essential.”
In his new book “The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World,” Greenspan wrote: “I’m saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: The Iraq war is largely about oil.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday rejected the comment, which echoed long-held complaints of many critics that a key motivating force in the war was to maintain U.S. access to the rich oil supplies in Iraq.
Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Gates said, “I have a lot of respect for Mr. Greenspan.” But he disagreed with his comment about oil being a leading motivating factor in the war.
“I know the same allegation was made about the Gulf War in 1991, and I just don’t believe it’s true,” Gates said.
“I think that it’s really about stability in the Gulf. It’s about rogue regimes trying to develop weapons of mass destruction. It’s about aggressive dictators,” Gates said.
Greenspan retired in January 2006 after more than 18 years as chairman of the Fed, the U.S. central bank, which regulates monetary policy.
He has been conducting a round of interviews coinciding with the release of his book, which goes on sale on Monday.
In The Washington Post interview, Greenspan said at the time of the invasion he believed like President George W. Bush that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction “because Saddam was acting so guiltily trying to protect something.”
But Greenspan’s main support for Saddam’s ouster was economically motivated, the Post reported.
“My view is that Saddam, looking over his 30-year history, very clearly was giving evidence of moving towards controlling the Straits of Hormuz, where there are 17, 18, 19 million barrels a day” passing through,” Greenspan said.
Even a small disruption could drive oil prices as high as $120 a barrel and would mean “chaos” to the global economy, Greenspan told the newspaper.
Given that, “I’m saying taking Saddam out was essential,” he said. But he added he was not implying the war was an oil grab, the Post said.
Greenspan, who in his memoir criticized Bush and congressional Republicans for abandoning fiscal discipline and putting politics ahead of sound economics, also expressed dismay with the Democratic Party in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published on Monday.
Greenspan told the Journal he was “fairly close” to former President Bill Clinton’s economic advisers, but added, “The next administration may have the Clinton administration name, but the Democratic Party ... has moved ... very significantly in the wrong direction.” He cited its populist bent, especially its skepticism of free trade. Clinton’s wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, is the Democratic presidential front-runner.
Greenspan, a self-described libertarian Republican, told the Journal he was not sure how he would vote in the 2008 election.
“I just may not vote,” he was quoted as saying, adding, ”I’m saddened by the whole political process.”
In an interview with The Associated Press later Monday, the former Federal Reserve chairman put the odds of a recession at greater than one in three. “But best I can judge it is less than 50 percent,” he said.
Greenspan’s one-in-three prediction earlier this year rocked Wall Street, which has been suffering through a period of turbulence. A deepening housing slump and a spreading credit crunch have raised fears on Wall Street, on Capitol Hill and on Main Street about the country’s economic health.
Meanwhile, a German magazine reported that Greenspan said it is possible that the euro could replace the U.S. dollar as the reserve currency of choice.
According to an advance copy of an interview to be published in Thursday’s edition of Stern, Greenspan said that the dollar is still slightly ahead in its use as a reserve currency, but added that “it doesn’t have all that much of an advantage” anymore.
The euro has been soaring against the U.S. currency in recent weeks, hitting all-time high of $1.3927 last week as the dollar has fallen on turbulent market conditions stemming from the ongoing U.S. subprime crisis. The Fed meets this week and is expected to lower its benchmark interest rate from the current 5.25 percent.
Greenspan said that at the end of 2006, some 25 percent of all currency reserves held by central banks were held in euros, compared to 66 percent for the U.S. dollar.
In terms of being used as a payment for cross-border transactions, the euro is trailing the dollar only slightly with 39 percent to 43 percent.
Greenspan said the European Central Bank has become “a serious factor in the global economy.”
He said the increased usage of the euro as a reserve currency has led to a lowering of interest rates in the euro zone, which has “without any doubt contributed to the current economic growth.”