Getting the Pipeline Map and Politics Right

by Stephen Gowans

November 12, 2001


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"Our first objective is to prevent the reemergence of a new rival," said the leaked Pentagon policy-planning document, excerpted in The New York Times, in 1992. "First, the US must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests." (1)

The document, widely believed to have been authored by Dick Cheney, set out a plan to seal Washington's ascendancy over the globe -- a new, bolder, imperialism than was possible before the Soviet Union crumbled. What was necessary was to have a way to deal with anyone who might be foolish or bold enough to contest Washington's developing suzerainty over the globe.

So what do you do when potential competitors end up aspiring to a greater role and began to pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests? That's the problem Washington faced, when, last June, Russia and China drew four Central Asian countries -- Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- into the Shanghai cooperation organization. Its purpose? "To foster world multi-polarization," said China's Jiang Zemin. (2) In other words, to thwart Washington's imperial ambitions.

Not that this was the first time Washington's old Cold War adversaries had become a little testy about America's unilateralism. Just before he and his booze-soaked brain shuffled off into retirement, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin lashed out at then US President Bill Clinton. "It seems he has for a minute, for a second, for half a minute, forgotten that Russia has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons," he thundered. "A multilateral world, that is the basis for everything. As we have agreed with Jiang Zemin.....we will dictate to the world, not him, not him alone."

It seemed almost pitiable. The once mighty Russia, now an impoverished, hollowed out shell of its former self, reduced by the IMF, corrupt politicians and gangsters to third world poverty faster than you can say "the Washington Consensus," almost pleading to be recognized as one of a triad of countries that dictate to the world. Dealing with Russia, increasingly encircled by an ever expanding NATO, wouldn't be much of a problem.

But the Shanghai cooperation organization -- that was a problem in the making. The four Central Asian republics are key to a region teeming with vast oil and gas reserves, enough to supply America's voracious appetite for oil for the next 30 years, not to mention the oil industry's illimitable appetite for profits. This was wealth American oil men, like Cheney, and William Farish, friend of President George W. Bush and US Ambassador to the UK, dream of. "I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian," said Cheney. (3) Certainly not a region it would be advantageous to have under the thumbs of Moscow and Beijing.

Farish agreed. A Bush intimate, and himself scion of a rich Texas oil family, Farish is "fascinated by the 'black gold' that lies in large quantities in the countries around the Caspian Sea," says The London Sunday Times. And, adds the newspaper, Farish says, "US policy advisors are evaluating how best to safeguard American and European" access to "the vast oil and gas reserves of central Asia." (4) Or, to put it in less high-faulting terms: US policy advisors are evaluating how best to ensure Western firms, and especially American firms, monopolize the action. In December 1997 the National Defense Panel released a report underscoring the importance of access to Middle East and Caspian Basin oil. "We will continue to be involved in regions that control scarce resources, such as the Middle East and the emerging Caspian Sea areas for oil." (5)

That the Pentagon was promising that it would continue to be involved in the Caspian, as if it were perfectly natural and legitimate for the US military to be involved in someone else's affairs half away around the globe, raised few eyebrows in Washington. It should have. But not since the Roman Empire has a country so confused appetite for entitlement as the US.

Echoing the report, Clinton's Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, explained, "We've made a substantial political investment in the Caspian, and it's very important to us that both the pipeline map and the politics come out right." (6)

Except, curiously, Richardson said this in connection with US threats to bomb Yugoslavia, just months before the first NATO bombs began to rain down on Belgrade, Novi Sad and Nis.

So, what does the Caspian have to do with the Balkans?

The answer, it seems, is a pipeline, to carry the "black gold" Farish is fascinated by, that comes from a region Cheney says has emerged quickly to become strategically significant. One planned pipeline route would see oil from the Caspian transit the Balkans into Europe, bypassing Russia.

Is that why the US-led NATO coalition spent 78-days bombing Yugoslavia? Richardson's words certainly point to a connection.

Another pipeline would see oil from the Caspian Basin piped to the coast of Pakistan through the second country Washington has, in the space of the last three years, bombed around the clock -- Afghanistan. Getting the pipeline map and politics right, means ensuring Washington controls the pipelines. And that means controlling the Balkans and Afghanistan. And that's meant bombing the stuffing out of both countries. Before NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia and the ouster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic -- who's been knocked off his perch by Osama bin Laden and the Taliban as Washington's official enemy number one -- Washington didn't control the Balkans. Now it does.

That leaves Afghanistan, key not only to making sure the "pipeline map and politics come out right," but also key to undermining Moscow's and Beijing's Shanghai cooperation organization.

As George Monbiot puts it, "If the US succeeds in overthrowing the Taliban and replacing them with a stable and grateful pro-western government, and if the US then binds the economies of central Asia to that of its ally Pakistan, it will have crushed not only terrorism, but also the growing ambitions of both Russia and China." (7)

Except, it's unlikely that terrorism will be crushed by the overthrow of the Taliban, and it's not Russia's and China's growing ambition that's at issue -- it's America's.

It's curious that there are plenty of silver linings to be found in the dark cloud of Sept. 11's horrors. Bush's popularity has soared. Opposition to his legislative agenda has vanished. There's talk of accelerating tax cuts for the wealthy, raiding social security, new spending for the military, new life for the NMD, scads of new funding for the intelligence apparatus, and a pumped up patriotism that keeps Americans from asking too many questions. And this: Bush issues his "either you're with us, or you're with the terrorist" threat, the central Asian republics line up with Washington on pain of being pulverized if they don't, and before you know it, the Shanghai cooperation organization is in a shambles.

In 1944, John Flynn pointed out we always wage war for some high moral purpose -- to uphold international law, to deter aggression, for human rights -- but somehow, in doing so, we always seem to capture our enemies' markets and blunder into their oil wells. And undermine their alliances.

At what price for ordinary people never seems to be much of a consideration for those who order wars, or for those who stay home and eagerly beat the drums of war on the editorial pages of newspapers.

"Living conditions in the country are among the worst in the world," writes Reuters reporter Jack Redden, referring to Afghanistan. "A quarter of all children die by the age of five. Life expectancy is about 45 years. Literacy, now about 30 percent of Afghan adults, is likely to drop under the Taliban's opposition to education of young girls." (8)

This is the country the Pentagon can't return to the stone age, but is bombing anyway. Obliterating Red Cross warehouses, leveling hospitals, flattening residential neighborhoods. A curious turn this "war on terrorism" has taken. Ask an Afghan in one of the refugee columns streaming toward the Pakistan border or up north into Northern Alliance territory who the terrorists are.

"It is a scandal in contemporary international law," writes political scientist C. Douglas Lummis, "that while the wanton destruction of towns, cities and villages is a war crime of long standing, the bombing of cities from airplanes goes not only unpunished but virtually unaccused. Air bombardment is state terrorism, the terrorism of the rich. It has burned up and blasted apart more innocents in the past six decades than have all the anti-state terrorists who ever lived." (9)

Film maker and journalist John Pilger charges, "The war against terrorism is a fraud. After three weeks' bombing, not a single terrorist implicated in the attacks on America has been caught or killed in Afghanistan. Instead, one of the poorest, most stricken nations has been terrorized by the most powerful - to the point where American pilots have run out of dubious "military" targets and are now destroying mud houses, a hospital, Red Cross warehouses, lorries carrying refugees." (10)

But don't fret too much, counsels Toronto's The Globe and Mail, equally at home with specious moral reasoning as it is with lending a hand to Washington and London to keep the public on side. "The attack on Afghanistan ... is a necessary evil for which scores of innocent Afghan civilians have already paid the price," reads the newspaper's Oct. 30 lead editorial.

A necessary evil? Hadn't I heard those words before? American civilians are as complicit as their government in the military occupation of Saudi Arabia, in the sanctions-related deaths of Iraqis, in support of the Israeli military occupation of Palestine, says the arch-terrorist himself, Osama bin Laden. Killing American civilians, he continues, is perfectly justifiable -- a necessary evil to pressure the US government to rethink its Middle East policies. Is it any surprise that the monstrous reasoning that blithely dismisses such immense human suffering as a necessary evil to achieve some political goal is equally at home on the Globe's editorial pages?

Just what is to be gained by bombing Afghanistan? In what service is this necessary evil committed? The capture of Osama bin Laden? Days ago US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld mused aloud that bin Laden may never be captured. Finding the Saudi-exile, he said, is like finding a needle in a haystack. Does it make sense then to put millions of wretched Afghans at risk of starvation, to force countless numbers from their homes, to kill thousands, to pursue a goal whose achievement is as likely as finding a needle in a haystack?

The Taliban, it should be recalled, offered to hand bin Laden over to a third country for prosecution, if Washington would present evidence that bin Laden had ordered the Sept. 11 attacks. George Bush fired backed, "No negotiations." The bombing began soon after.

Earlier, Washington backed off a promise made by Secretary of State Colin Powell to present its evidence that bin Laden was behind the attacks on Washington and New York. To date, the White House has presented no evidence at all. And while British Prime Minister Tony Blair presented a 70-point brief to justify his country's participation in the attack on Afghanistan, what was most remarkable about the brief is that it had not a single shred of concrete evidence linking bin Laden to the Sept. 11 atrocities. Blair later admitted that what evidence he had wouldn't stand up in court. Which means, he, and his master, George W. Bush, are killing innocent civilians, and adding to the misery of millions more, to pursue a man they have little hope of capturing, who, moreover, they have no evidence was behind Sept. 11. Could anyone, therefore, be blamed for concluding the war on Afghanistan is a fraud?

Writer Michael Parenti points out that most people "recognize that politicians lie, that they are capable of saying one thing then doing another...But when it comes to...foreign policy, many of us retreat from that judgment. Suddenly we find it hard to believe that (our) leaders would lie to us about their intentions in the world." (11)

But they've lied before. Remember the Gulf of Tonkin affair? A new book by historian Michael Beschloss, Reaching for Glory, cites secret tapes and the diary of former president Lyndon Johnson's wife, Lady Bird, to show that Johnson admitted the incident he used to win congressional approval for the Vietnam war was a fake. (12)

And how about the Bay of Pigs? The secret bombing of Laos and Cambodia? The illegal funneling of arms to the Contras? How about the Sudan pill factory that Bill Clinton flattened with cruise missiles, at a time attention was focussed on his lying over the Lewinski affair? Clinton said the factory was manufacturing chemical weapons. It turns out it wasn't. What about Tony Blair declaring he had overwhelming and incontrovertible proof that bin Laden was behind the Sept. 11 attacks, and then, when he was challenged, having to confess the evidence wouldn't stand up under legal scrutiny?

"Politicians are lying to you," warns Harper's publisher John R. Mac Arthur, who wrote a book on censorship and propaganda during the Gulf War. "One of our big problems," he continues, "is that reporters themselves are helping amplify the lies." (13)

And in the process, while we think an heroic struggle against terrorism is being waged, a struggle that requires the escalation of the misery of an already miserable people as a "necessary evil," what's really happening is that our leaders are making sure their considerable investment in the pipeline map and politics comes out right.



1.  The New York Times, March 8, 1992.  (back)
2.  George Monbiot, "America's Pipe Dream," The Guardian, October 23, 2001.  (back)
3.  Ibid.  (back)
4.  Tom Walker, "US to build buffer zone in Balkans," The Sunday Times, September 23, 2000.  (back)
5.  Report of the National Defense Panel, December 1997. http://www.dtic.mil/ndp/.  (back)
6.  The New York Times, Nov. 8, 1998.  (back)
7.  George Monbiot, "America's Pipe Dream," The Guardian, October 23, 2001.  (back)
8.  Jack Redden, Reuters News Agency, August 29, 2001.  (back)
9.  The Nation, September 26, 1994.  (back)
10.  The Mirror, Nov. 7, 2001.  (back)
11.  Michael Parenti, Against Empire. City Light Books, San Francisco, 1995, p.71.  (back)
12.  LBJ tape 'confirms Vietnam war error', The Times (London), November 7, 2001.  (back)
13.  "Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War: How Government Can Mold Public Opinion," Speech delivered to Independent Policy Forum, San Francisco, October 7, 1993.  (back)


       Stephen Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Stephen Gowans 2001. All rights reserved.

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Published November 12, 2001
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