Swans Commentary » swans.com August 24, 2009  



Eurasian Spectacle And Reality


by Gilles d'Aymery





(Swans - August 24, 2009)  In the midst of the night, sometime in June 2009, a grim mark was passed that was left unnoticed in the US main media: The "Global War On Terror" or "Long War" reached 5,000 American fatalities. According to the Pentagon, 5,116 deaths and 35,083 casualties have occurred as of August 19, 2009, (PDF) -- these figures are updated on a weekly basis. These grizzly numbers do not account, of course, for the loss of lives and limbs of the civilian contractors that US taxpayers pay handily to do many dirty jobs (e.g., Xe -- aka Blackwater -- et al.). Nor do they account for the casualties of the members of the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq and the military personnel of the 40+ countries that operate in Afghanistan; and sure enough, no one knows how many Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, and other untermenschen have joined the ledger of "collateral damage" (remember, "we don't do body counts"). Still, Americana is getting edgier about the Obama administration's decision to up the ante in Central Asia. Polls (that instrument of manipulation par excellence) show majority sour-feelings about the entire venture. Nominally "Progressives of America, Inc."TM are particularly distressed by Obama's strategic and tactical decisions. They question and wonder and wail. Yet they do not put their fingers, or brains, on the real stakes at play: The energy wars due to our (their) gluttony. The control of Eurasia is mostly about what Pepe Escobar -- the São Paulo, Brazil, correspondent for Asia Times and one of the most incisive observers of the New Great Game -- calls a "Liquid War" in "Pipelineistan."


The spectacle

Chris Hedges, a former New York Times correspondent turned antiwar activist (except in regard to the so-called humanitarian wars that led to the destruction of Yugoslavia) summed up the progressive dilemma in a July 20, 2009, column, "War Without Purpose." He wrote:

No one seems to be able to articulate why we are in Afghanistan. Is it to hunt down bin Laden and al-Qaida? Is it to consolidate progress? Have we declared war on the Taliban? Are we building democracy? Are we fighting terrorists there so we do not have to fight them here? Are we "liberating" the women of Afghanistan? The absurdity of the questions, used as thought-terminating clichés, exposes the absurdity of the war. The confusion of purpose mirrors the confusion on the ground. We don't know what we are doing.

One ought to sympathize with Chris Hedges and all his liberal pro-Obama acolytes. It does indeed look confusing. In early August, the administration's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke (of Yugoslavia shame), gave a press conference in Washington, D.C. According to another astute observer, William Pfaff:

The purpose was to explain to the American television audience that the mission in Afghanistan is to kill or capture drug traffickers, help farmers grow food instead of poppies, build a public health system, build "civil society" there, and in general rebuild the country.

For his part, (ret.) General Wesley Clark -- another shameless destroyer of Yugoslavia and adviser to President Obama -- emphasizes that the conflict is all about the defeat of al Qaeda. Obama himself added to the confusing message in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Phoenix, Arizona, Monday a week ago, when he told the assembly that following his new comprehensive strategy announced in March:

... We've begun to put this comprehensive strategy into action. And in recent weeks, we've seen our troops do their part. They have gone into new areas -- taking the fight to the Taliban in villages and towns where residents have been terrorized for years. They're adopting new tactics, knowing that it's not enough to kill extremists and terrorists; we also need to protect the Afghan people and improve their daily lives. And today, our troops are helping to secure polling places for this week's election so Afghans can choose the future they want.

Then the president said the fighting was fierce, the sacrifice heavy... As he so often does when addressing various topics (from the economy to health care), he underlined that "there will be more difficult days ahead. The insurgency in Afghanistan didn't just happen overnight. And we won't defeat it overnight. This will not be quick. This will not be easy."

And he added forcefully:

But we must never forget. This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.

Going forward, we will constantly adapt our tactics to stay ahead of the enemy and give our troops the tools and equipment they need to succeed. And at every step of the way, we will assess our efforts to defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and to help the Afghan and Pakistani people build the future they seek.

Setting aside whether the Afghan and Pakistani people ever solicited the help of the U.S. to "build the future they seek," the question as to whether this is a war of choice or a war of necessity is itself being questioned by the current president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former official in both the Bush Sr. and Jr. administrations, Richard Haass, in a New York Times Op-Ed ("In Afghanistan, the Choice Is Ours," August 21, 2009) that will prove even more confusing to Chris Hedges and his moralizing ilk. Here is a typical example of double-speak that elite think tanks peddle throughout the media. It says nothing and little of everything except that the US commitment to the task at hand should take into consideration the "other wars, of choice or of necessity, if and when they arise." Contradictions are blatant (e.g., "Taliban use of Afghan territory to destabilize neighboring Pakistan," and "The Taliban are resourceful and patient and can use Pakistan as a sanctuary"). Confusion abounds.

It goes without saying that if, as Mr. Holbrooke ascertains, one of the goals is to "kill or capture drug traffickers [and] help farmers grow food instead of poppies," then this administration has not yet learned of the abject failure of the "War on Drugs" and the US involvement in Colombia. In regard to al Qaeda, one has to question the need to have more than 60,000 military personnel and even more military contractors in Afghanistan to defeat the members of a shadowy organization that, according to intelligence estimates, numbers about 1,000, at most 1,500 fighters...located in Pakistan or elsewhere, but not in Afghanistan. The concern that if we left Afghanistan the country would once again become a safe haven for our enemies is a myth that is fully debunked by Stephen M. Walt, the Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations at Harvard University. The Taliban care little about attacking America and never did (care or attack), just as they did not go after the Russians once they withdrew from the country. They are defending against an invading force and would keep doing so, whatever the nationality of the invaders. It is far from certain that the Taliban, were they to regain power, would welcome al Qaeda back and risk another crushing military blow, as the U.S. would not leave new safe havens undisturbed and certainly does not need a very costly, open-ended military commitment to destroy future potential training camps. Concluding his detailed argumentation, Professor Walt writes:

For a realist, the "safe haven" argument is the only possible rationale for a large military commitment in Afghanistan. But the case is actually quite dubious, and somebody in the administration really ought to take a hard look at it. I doubt anyone will, however, because Obama is now committed, and his administration is filled with "can-do" types who never saw an international problem they didn't think the United States could fix. I sure hope they're right and I'm wrong, but I also wish that I didn't have that feeling quite as often as I seem to these days.

People will certainly be astounded that the administration wants to "build a public health system, build 'civil society' there, and in general rebuild the country," when we cannot even have a decent health care system in the U.S. or maintain our decaying infrastructure, and there is not one example of the U.S. rebuilding any single country in over 60 years.

It is worth noting here that none of the rationales made by the Obama administration and the pundits mentions energy. Indeed, oil & gas is simply not entering the conversation. This issue does not surface in the U.S. It simply is erased from people's consciousness; it does not exist. Only the threats to the "homeland" (a word that should chill Hedges's spine -- and those of all the readers) are emphasized. The Taliban, which never attacked us (remember Iraq?) and have absolutely no capability to deliver a military blow to either Europe or the U.S., and al Qaeda, which did not launch any attack from Afghanistan -- or Pakistan for that matter (9/11 was planned in Germany and the U.S.; the London attack was homegrown; the Madrid carnage originated in Morocco and Spain) -- are measly pawns in a much bigger chess game -- one that neither Chris Hedges and all the progressives nor the remaining of US society, want to acknowledge.

Last on the chapter of willing obfuscation about the real strategy at play is the whitewashing of The New York Times in the person of John F. Burns, the long-time foreign correspondent of the "paper of record." In a column entitled "John Burns Is Answering Your Questions on Afghanistan," Burns offers a perfect take of what he and his employer, and their coordinators in the White House and the military-industrial-congressional complex, want the public to know: It's about freedom and democracy, free and fair elections, nation-building, defense against terrorists and extremists -- messages that come directly from the Bush-Cheney playbook.


The reality

Indeed, the continuity of American muscular foreign policy in the Greater Middle East has remained remarkably unvarying ever since the king of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz Al Saud, granted an oil concession to Standard Oil in 1933 and ten years later, in 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that the defense of the kingdom was of vital interest to the USA, an oil-for-security relationship that was cemented on February 14, 1945, when the two statesmen met on the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake, Egypt. The strategy to secure the supplies of oil & gas from that region has remained immutable. When the democratically-elected president of Iran Mohammed Mossadegh nationalized Iranian oil the CIA had him removed through a coup in August 1953 (under the Republican administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower).

Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, declared in his State of the Union Address on January 23, 1980, that the U.S. would defend its national interests in the Persian Gulf through military force if necessary (cf. the Carter Doctrine). Meanwhile, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's national security adviser from 1977 to 1981, devised what he called the "Afghan Trap" -- the CIA funding and support of the Mujahedin, which eventually led to the Soviet intervention. The policy to bog down the Soviet Union in its "own Vietnam" was made, according to Brzezinski, in cooperation with China, and fully pursued by the Reagan administration, Saudi money, and the Pakistani intelligence services (ISA).

Osama bin Laden and what became known as al Qaeda were, it should not be forgotten, CIA assets. (Some conspiracy folks claim that they still are.) For Brzezinski, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism was utter "nonsense" and remains so to this day in informed national security circles. What counted was, first, the demise of the Soviet Union, and, second, the penetration of Eurasia. Brzezinski and the long line of foreign policy "Realists" and hawks have long been disciples of the Heartland Theory that was elaborated by Halford Mackinder (see "The Establishment's Tocsin," Swans, July 30, 2007), and the geostrategy professed by the "godfather of containment," Nicholas J. Spykman. Power and control of natural resources remain the two main pillars of US foreign policy. This has not changed with the arrival of Barack Obama in the White House.

There is little new here. As far back as 1961, the US Congress passed the "Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to target assistance to support the economic and political independence of the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia." Almost forty years later, that act was amended by the "Silk Road Strategy Act" of 1999, which directly addressed oil & gas in Eurasia (see "Armies of Compassion: The Missionary, the Businessman and the Military," Swans, August 7, 2000 -- long before the tragedy of 9/11). The fundamental importance of oil & gas in that region was also covered on Swans by Professor Haider A. Khan in "The Political Economy of Oil and the War against Terrorism" (March 3, 2003). The US invasion of Afghanistan had been planned long before 9/11, as I documented in "Osama Bin Laden: Convenient Scapegoat?" (Swans, October 29, 2001).

It is in this context -- a context that Chris Hedges and other progressives have continuously failed to notice -- that one has to understand the 1990s Clinton administration's strategy in the Balkans. The tragic destruction of Yugoslavia had little to do with human rights and so-called genocide. It was directly linked to Eurasia and the little-noticed Pan-European corridors -- especially corridors V and VIII -- which I briefly referred to in "The Ritual Murder of Milosevich" (Swans, April 30, 2001). Again, the control of oil & gas supplies to the West and the containment (and eventual overtaking) of Russia and her immense resources have been the driving forces behind the implemented policies of the US and European powers. It's also in this context that one has to analyze the frustrations of George W. Bush when then French president Jacques Chirac and German chancellor Gerhard Schröder refused to come on board in 2002 when the U.S. was on its path to invade Iraq. The difference between the allies was not about the strategy, but about the tactics. Both French and German elites were on board regarding the Eurasian gamble, but they felt that the Bush administration was losing sight of the prize by diverting its attention from Eurasia to Iraq, a country that was essentially boxed-in and easily controlled. (So went good champagne and wine to the sewer and "freedom fries" prevailed for a short while!)

To fully grasp the importance of "Pipelineistan," with such wonderful acronyms as BTC and TAPI (the Baku/Tblisi/Ceyhan and Turkmenistan/Afghanistan/Pakistan/India pipelines), the importance of the Georgian piece in this big chess-game puzzle, as well as SCO (the Shanghai Cooperation Organization) for counter measures, which space and time do not allow me to cover (though one should not be surprised that any action calls for a reaction), I recommend readers to look at what Pepe Escobar had to say in "Liquid War: Postcard from Pipelineistan" (Tom Dispatch, March 24, 2009). For those who believe in "freedom and democracy, free and fair elections, nation-building, defense against terrorist and extremists" in Afghanistan, I'd suggest they read the latest August 20, 2009, installment of Pepe Escobar's "Roving Eye" column in Asia Times, "The Afghan pipe dream."

French fries and champagne have returned to good favor and Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel are back in the fold. People change; interests do not. Barack Obama is no exception to that axiom. For the rest, Chris Hedges and his friends included, the spectacle rules.


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About the Author

Gilles d'Aymery on Swans (with bio). He is Swans' publisher and co-editor.



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Published August 24, 2009