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William Blum on the Real Reason for the Invasion of Afghanistan: Oil

The late William Blum, an inveterate and bitter critic of American foreign policy and imperialism also attacked the invasion of Afghanistan. In his view, it was, like the Iraq invasion a few years later, absolutely nothing to do with the terrible events of 9/11 but another attempt to assert American control over a country for the benefit of the American-Saudi oil industry. Blum, and other critics of the Iraq invasion, made it very clear that America invaded Iraq in order to gain control of its oil industry and its vast reserves. In the case of Afghanistan, the invasion was carried out because of the country’s strategic location for oil pipelines. These would allow oil to be supplied to south Asian avoiding the two countries currently outside American control, Russian and Iran. The Taliban’s connection to al-Qaeda was really only a cynical pretext for the invasion. Blum lays out his argument on pages 79-81 of his 2014 book, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy. He writes

With the US war in Iraq supposedly having reached a good conclusion (or halfway decent… or better than nothing… or let’s get the hell out of here while some of us are still in one piece and there are some Iraqis we haven’t yet killed), the best and the brightest in our government and media turn their thoughts to what to do about Afghanistan. It appears that no one seems to remember, if they ever knew, that Afghanistan was not really about 9/11 or fighting terrorists (except the many the US has created by its invasion and occupation), but was about pipelines.

President Obama declared in August 2009:

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.

Never mind that out of the tens of thousands of people the United States and its NATO front have killed in Afghanistan not one has been identified as having had anything to do with the events of September 11, 2001.

Never mind that the ‘plotting to attack America’ in 2001 was carried out in Germany and Spain and the United States more than in Afghanistan. Why hasn’t the United States attacked these countries?

Indeed, what actually was needed to plot to plot to buy airline tickets and take flying lessons in the United States? A room with some chairs? What does ‘an even larger safe haven’ mean? A larger room with more chairs? Perhaps a blackboard? Terrorists intent upon attacking the United States can meet almost anywhere.

The only ‘necessity’ that drew the United States to Afghanistan was the desire to establish a military presence in this land that is next door to the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia – which reportedly contains the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world – and build oil and gas pipelines from that region running through Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is well situated for oil and gas pipelines to serve much of South Asia, pipelines that can bypass those not-yet Washington clients Iran and Russia. If only the Taliban would not attack the lines. Here’s Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, in 2007: ‘One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so taht energy can flow to the south’.

Since the 1980s all kinds of pipelines have been planned for the area, only to be delayed or canceled by one military, financial or political problem or another. For example, the so-called TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) had strong support from Washington, which was eager to block a competing pipeline that would bring gas to Pakistan and India from Iran. TAPI goes back to the 1990s, when the Taliban government held talks with the California-based oil company Unocal Corporation. These talks were conducted with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration, and were undeterred by the extreme repression of Taliban society. Taliban officials even made trips to the United States for discussions. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on February 12, 1998, Unocal representative John Maresca discussed the importance of the pipeline project and the increasing difficulties in dealing with the Taliban:

The region’s total oil reserves may well reach more than 60 billion barrels of oil. Some estimates are as high as 200 billion barrels… From the outset, we have made it clear that construction of the pipeline we have proposed across Afghanistan could not begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of governments, leaders, and our company.

When those talks stalled in July, 2001 the Bush administration threatened the Taliban with military reprisals if the government did not go along with American demands. The talks finally broke down for good the following month, a month before 9/11.

The United States has been serious indeed about the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf oil and gas areas. Through one war of another beginning with the Gulf War of 1990-91, the US has managed to establish military bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

The war against the Taliban can’t be ‘won’ short of killing everyone in Afghanistan. The United States may well try again to negotiate some from of pipeline security with the Taliban, then get out, and declare ‘victory’. Barack Obama can surely deliver an eloquent victory speech from his teleprompter. It might include the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, but certainly not ‘pipeline’.

This was obviously written before the electoral victory of Hamid Karzai and his government, but the point remains the same. The Taliban are still active and fighting against the supposedly democratic government, which also remains, as far as I know, dependent on western aid.

But the heart of the matter is that this wasn’t a war to save humanity from the threat of global terrorism, nor is it about freeing the Afghan people from a bloodthirsty and murderously repressive Islamist regime. The Americans were quite happy to tolerate that and indeed do business with it. It was only when the Taliban started to become awkward that the Americans started threatening them with military action. And this was before 9/11. Which strongly supports Blum’s argument that the terrible attack on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and the White House were and are being cynically used as the justification for the invasion. 17 out of the 19 conspirators were Saudis, and the events point to involvement by the Saudi state with responsibility going right to the top of the Saudi regime. But America and NATO never launched an attack on them, despite the fact that the Saudis have been funding global Islamist terrorism, including Daesh. That is before ISIS attacked them.

It was Remembrance Day last Wednesday. The day when Britain honours the squaddies who fell in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts. One of those talking about the importance of the day and its ceremonies on Points West, the Beeb’s local news programme for the Bristol area, was a former squaddie. He was a veteran of Afghanistan, and said it was particularly important to him because he had a mate who was killed out there. He felt we had to remember victims of combat, like his friend because if we didn’t ‘what’s the point?’.

Unfortunately, if Blum’s right – and I believe very strongly that he is – then there’s no point. Our governments have wasted the lives, limbs and minds of courageous, patriotic men and women for no good reason. Not to defend our countries from a ruthless ideology which massacres civilians in order to establish its oppressive rule over the globe. Not to defend our freedoms and way of life, nor to extend those freedoms and their benefits to the Afghan people. But simply so that America can gain geopolitical control of that region and maintain its dominance of the oil industry, while enriching the oil companies still further.

Lobster Review of Book on the Real Reasons for Trump’s Hostility to China

The conspiracy/parapolitics magazine Lobster has put up a fascinating piece by Scott Newton, ‘The USA, China and a New Cold War?’ reviewing Jude Woodward’s The US vs China: Asia’s New Cold War?, published in 2017 by Manchester University Press. Woodward’s book is an examination of how Western attitudes towards China fell from being extremely positive in the first decade of this century to the current state of tension and suspicion. The chief causes for this, according to the pronouncements of our politicos and the media, are concern over massive human rights abuses in Sinjiang, Hong Kong and elsewhere, Chinese territorial claims to islands in the South China Sea, which threaten western strategic interests and the other neighbouring countries, and the threat to national security posed by Chinese companies, particularly in telecommunications and social media. Woodward’s book turns these assumptions upside down. She recognises that there are real concerns about Chinese human rights abuses and the persecution of the Uighurs, but argues that this situation is far more complicated. And the real reason for America’s change of attitude to China is due, not to Chinese authoritarianism, but because China represents an emerging threat to America’s status as the world’s dominant superpower and their attitude towards capitalism is very different from American neoliberalism.

Relations between China and the West were initially positive and very good because the new, capitalist China had helped prop up the global economy after the financial crash of 2008. The development of the country’s infrastructure created a huge demand for raw materials, which benefited other countries around the world, including the west. The introduction of capitalism is also transforming China. It’s gone from a largely agricultural nation to an industrial and commercial superpower. In 2013 it passed America as the world’s largest trading nation. later on this century it is expected to surpass America as the world’s most prosperous nation both as a country and in terms of per capita GDP.

China’s build up of military forces in the South China Sea is seen by Woodward as a defensive posture against the Americans. They’ve assembled a large naval force in the area, which poses a threat to Chinese access to the Straits of Malacca. 80 per cent of the oil imported by China and much of its merchant shipping pass through the Straits, hence Chinese determination to defend them. Woodward believes that China believes in a multipolar world, and has neither the economic power nor the will to establish itself as the world’s ruling nation.

Nor is China pursuing its economic and commercial interests at the expense of everyone else, as has also been alleged. Woodward argues that while western capitalism views trade as a competition between two parties, in which one party must beat and impoverish the other, the Chinese instead really do see it instead as benefiting both parties.

The oppression of the Uighurs and suppression of democracy in Hong Kong by the Chinese government are real and matters of serious concern, but the West is also covertly attempting to interfere in China’s control of these regions. This is through the National Endowment for Democracy, the non-state outfit to which the American state has given the task of regime change after it was taken away from the CIA in Hong Kong, and through sponsorship and funding of various extreme nationalist and Islamist groups in Sinjiang. Newton writes

But the picture is not clear cut. The Chinese government has
complained about unhelpful ‘foreign interference’ in Hong Kong and there
is evidence to support this. Senior US politicians such as Vice-President Mike Pence have met leading members of the opposition in Hong Kong,
and civil society organizations there have received significant financial
support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA spinoff established in 1983 to promote what later became known as ‘regime
change’. This has, of course, always been change to one committed to a
political economy characterised by neoliberalism, in other words by free
market capitalism. In Hong Kong the NED has been financing groups
since 1994. A China Daily article from 2019 stated that the NED has been
financing groups in Hong Kong since 1994 and that the Hong Kong Human
Rights Monitor received $1.9 million between 1995 and 2013. A search
of the NED’s grants database further reveals that, between 2016 and
2019, the (US-based) Solidarity Center received more than $600,000 and
the (US-based) National Democratic Institute $825,000.

As far as Xinjiang is concerned, the real story is complex. This area is
rich in oil, gas and ‘other natural resources and profoundly important to
China’s national security’. The region borders Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. At times of invasion and civil
war in Chinese history it has tended to fall under foreign influence: for
much of the twentieth century until the mid-1980s the Soviet Union
played a powerful role in the province’s politics, backing separatist
groups. This role has now been taken by the USA, which is funding a set
of far-right and fundamentalist Islamic organisations such as the Victims
of Communism Memorial Foundation in a bid to promote instability in
Xinjiang and perhaps even its detachment from China itself.

The efforts of these shadowy parapolitical outfits have been
supported by another NED-financed group, the World Uyghur
Congress(WUC), which is keen to promote the creation of a separate
Turkic State out of Xinjiang. WUC is linked to the extreme Right in Turkey,
notably to the Fascist Grey Wolves organization. Finally there is the East
Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) whose objective is also the
establishment of an independent state carved from Xinjiang, known as
East Turkestan. The EU, UN Security Council and indeed the US
government have all identified ETIM as a terrorist organization linked to
Al-Qaida. In addition to its activities in the Middle East, during the last
twenty years ETIM has carried out terrorist attacks in China, including in
Xinjiang. Given Xinjiang’s strategic importance to China’s security and
territorial integrity and given the nature of the externally-trained and
funded agencies at work in Xinjiang, the attitude of the Chinese State to
dissidents there cannot be called surprising, even if the taking of a
repressive line has exacerbated problems in the region. It has also
provoked increasing global disquiet and has contributed to international
tension, though it cannot be said to be the root cause of this, which stems
from changing geopolitical conditions.

Woodward also argues that current American hostility to China comes from the conviction that America really is divinely ordained to be the world’s governing nation with a particular mission to promote free market capitalism. America demands trade at the expense of privatisation, the suppression of organised labour, and the free movement of capital. The Chinese have no interest in promoting any of this. They’re solely interested in trade, not in the economic and political transformation of their partners. Newton writes

It may not seem rational for the US to pursue a confrontation here but two quotations explain the reality from Washington’s perspective. The first is the comment of former French Foreign Minister Hugo Vedrine that ‘most great American leaders have never doubted . . . that the United States was chosen by Providence as the “indispensable nation” and that it must remain dominant for the sake of humankind’. The second is a comment by Perry Anderson that the US state acts ‘not primarily as a projection of the concerns of US capital, but as a guardian of the general interest of all capitals, sacrificing – where necessary and for as long as needed – national gain for international advantage in the confidence of the ultimate pay-off’.

In other words, the US both writes and polices the rules of the game
and the rise of China represents a de facto challenge to this hegemony.
On the surface this seems a strange observation. China has engaged very
successfully and indeed supportively (shown by its reaction to the 2008-9
Crash) with global capitalism. But it does so in a qualified way, or, to
paraphrase Xi Jinping, ‘with Chinese characteristics’. Not only does the 33
Chinese economy continue to operate a large state-owned sector but its
financial system is closely regulated, with controls over the currency and
over capital movements. China does not possess the conviction that
private economic activity trumps public enterprise, that government
should be small, organised labour suppressed, trade free and
international capital flows unhindered. Its assistance for developing
nations is not accompanied by requirements that states cut spending,
privatise public industries and services and liberalise the foreign trade
sector. In short China has never, in practice, endorsed the neoliberal
norms of the ‘Washington consensus’ established during the 1980s and
there is a real prospect that, if it does become the world’s largest
economy, it will seek to re-write the rules of the game in a way that is not
compatible with free market capitalism. This is what the US fears and its
strategy is therefore directed to forcing China to accept Washington’s
leadership and ‘enter the world family of nations’ on US terms or it would
face the likelihood of pre-emptive diplomatic, economic and, if necessary,
military action to halt its rise. As Woodward points out, this approach is
designed to ensure not only protection of the interests of global capital
but to secure ‘a longer-term pay-off’ for US domestic industry and finance
‘by preventing China reaching the point of competing at US levels of productivity and technology’.

It’s very doubtful if this new policy towards China will succeed. Many of the surrounding Asian countries have embraced China as a new market for their goods, while much of the American commercial hostility comes from firms and industries threatened by Chinese competition. Newton concludes that other countries may choose not to follow America’s lead but there will be considerable pressure on Britain to do so following Brexit. He writes

There is clearly a strong push within the British establishment, coming mostly from within the Tory Party and its friends in the City and the armed
services, in favour of military deployment in support of US forces in the
Far East, even if few other nations are willing to join. This might make
sense for the complex of defence industries, banks, hedge funds and
private equity firms at the core of modern British Conservatism but it is
hard to see what benefit there is for the rest of us in the UK from
confrontation with a nation which appears to harbour no aggressive
intentions to foreign countries and seems destined to become within a
short time the world’s largest economy.

See: https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster80/lob80-usa-china-cold-war.pdf

In short, the new strained relations between China and America are a result, not so much of Chinese aggression, but due to Trump’s America trying to maintain itself as the world’s dominant nation economically and militarily. In this America is determined to promote its own very predatory form of capitalism, which is challenged by the less extreme form embraced by China. And it’s a situation that may benefit the military-industrial complex and financial sector that supports to the Tories, but won’t provide it to anyone else.