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Friday, March 04, 2005

The Oil Factor in Bush's 'War on Tyranny'

By F William Engdahl

Asia Times Speaking Freely Column (March 3 2005)

In recent public speeches, President George W Bush and others in the US administration, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have begun to make a significant shift in the rhetoric of war. A new "war on tyranny" is being groomed to replace the outmoded "war on terror". Far from being a semantic nuance, the shift is highly revealing of the next phase of Washington's global agenda.

In his January 20 inaugural speech, Bush declared, "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world" (author's emphasis). Bush repeated the last formulation, "ending tyranny in our world", in the State of the Union address. In 1917 it was a "war to make the world safe for democracy", and in 1941 it was a "war to end all wars".

The use of tyranny as justification for US military intervention marks a dramatic new step in Washington's quest for global domination. "Washington", of course, today is shorthand for the policy domination by a private group of military and energy conglomerates, from Halliburton to McDonnell Douglas, from Bechtel to ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco, not unlike that foreseen in president Dwight Eisenhower's 1961 speech warning of excessive control of government by a military-industrial complex.

Congress declared World War II after an aggressive Japanese attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. While Washington stretched the limits of deception and fakery in Vietnam and elsewhere to justify its wars, up to now it has always at least justified the effort with the claim that another power had initiated aggression or hostile military acts against the United States of America. Tyranny has to do with the internal affairs of a nation: it has to do with how a leader and a people interact, not with its foreign policy. It has nothing to do with aggression against the United States or others.

Historically Washington has had no problem befriending some of the world's all-time tyrants, as long as they were "pro-Washington" tyrants, such as the military dictatorship of President General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, a paragon of oppression. We might name other befriended tyrants - Ilham Aliyev's Azerbaijan, or Islam Karimov's Uzbekistan, or the
al-Sabahs' Kuwait, or Oman. Maybe Morocco, or Alvaro Uribe's Colombia. There is a long list of pro-Washington tyrants.

For obvious reasons, Washington is unlikely to turn against its "friends". The new anti-tyranny crusade would seem, then, to be directed against "anti-American" tyrants. The question is, which tyrants are on the radar screen for the Pentagon's awesome arsenal of smart bombs and covert-operations commandos? Rice dropped a hint in her Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony two days prior to the Bush inauguration. The White House, of course, cleared her speech first.

Target some tyrannies, nurture others

Rice hinted at Washington's target list of tyrants amid an otherwise bland statement in her Senate testimony. She declared, "in our world there remain outposts of tyranny ... in Cuba, and Burma and North Korea, and Iran and Belarus, and Zimbabwe". Aside from the fact that the designated secretary of state did not bother to refer to "Burma" under its present name, Myanmar, the list is an indication of the next phase in Washington's strategy of preemptive wars for its global domination strategy.

As reckless as this seems given the Iraq quagmire, the fact that little open debate on such a broadened war has yet taken place indicates how extensive the consensus is within the Washington establishment for the war policy. According to the January 24 New Yorker report from Seymour Hersh, Washington already approved a war plan for the coming four years of Bush II, which targets ten countries from the Middle East to East Asia. The Rice statement gives a clue to six of the ten. She also suggested Venezuela is high on the non-public target list.

Pentagon Special Forces units are reported already active inside Iran, according to the Hersh report, preparing details of key military and nuclear sites for presumable future bomb hits. At the highest levels, France, Germany and the European Union are well aware of the US agenda for Iran, on the nuclear issue, which explains the frantic EU diplomatic forays with Iran.

The US president declared in his State of the Union speech that Iran was "the world's primary state sponsor of terror". Congress is falling in line as usual, beginning to sound war drums on Iran. Testimony to the Israeli Knesset by the Mossad chief recently, reported in the Jerusalem Post, estimated that by the end of 2005 Iran's nuclear-weapons program would be "unstoppable". This suggests strong pressure from Israel on Washington to "stop" Iran this year.

According also to former US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) official Vince Cannistraro, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's new war agenda includes a list of ten priority countries. In addition to Iran, it includes Syria, Sudan, Algeria, Yemen and Malaysia. According to a report in the January 23 Washington Post, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), also has a list of what the Pentagon calls "emerging targets" for preemptive war, which includes Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, the Philippines and Georgia, a list he has sent to Rumsfeld.

While Georgia may now be considered under de facto North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or US control since the election of President Mikheil Saakashvili, the other states are highly suggestive of the overall US agenda for the new "war on tyranny". If we add Syria, Sudan, Algeria and Malaysia, as well as Rice's list of Cuba, Belarus, Myanmar and Zimbabwe, to the JCS list of Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia and the Philippines, we have some twelve potential targets for either Pentagon covert destabilization or direct military intervention, surgical or broader. And, of course, North Korea, which seems to serve as a useful permanent friction point to justify US military presence in the strategic region between China and Japan. Whether it is ten or twelve targets, the direction is clear.

What is striking is just how directly this list of US "emerging target" countries, "outposts of tyranny", maps on to the strategic goal of total global energy control, which is clearly the central strategic focus of the Bush-Cheney administration.

General Norman Schwarzkopf, who led the 1991 attack on Iraq, told the US Congress in 1990: "Middle East oil is the West's lifeblood. It fuels us today, and being 77% of the free world's proven oil reserves, is going to fuel us when the rest of the world runs dry." He was talking about what some geologists call peak oil, the end of the era of cheap oil, without drawing undue attention to the fact.

That was in 1990. Today, with US troops preparing a semi-permanent stay in Iraq and moves to control global oil and energy chokepoints, the situation is far more advanced. China and India have rapidly emerged as major oil-import economies at a time when existing sources of the West's oil, from the North Sea to Alaska and beyond, are in significant decline. Here we have a pre-programmed scenario for future resource conflict on a global scale.

Oil geopolitics and the 'war on tyranny'

Cuba as a "tyranny target" is a surrogate for Hugo Chavez' Venezuela, which is strongly supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin, via Cuba, and now by China. Rice explicitly mentioned the close ties between Cuban President Fidel Castro and Chavez. After a failed CIA putsch attempt early in the Bush tenure, Washington is clearly trying to keep a lower profile in Caracas. The goal remains regime change of the recalcitrant Chavez, whose most recent affront to Washington was his latest visit to China, where he signed a major bilateral energy deal. Chavez also had the gall to announce plans to divert oil sales away from the United States to China and sell its US refineries. Part of the China deal would involve a new pipeline to a port on Colombia's coast, which avoids US control of the Panama Canal. Rice told the Senate that Cuba was an "outpost of tyranny" and in the same breath labeled Venezuela a "regional troublemaker".

Indonesia, with huge natural-gas resources serving mainly China and Japan, presents an interesting case, since the country has apparently been cooperative with Washington's "war on terror" since September 2001. Indonesia's government raised an outcry in the wake of the recent tsunami disaster when the Pentagon dispatched a US aircraft carrier and special troops within 72 hours to land in Aceh province to do "rescue work". The USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, with 2,000 supposedly Iraq-bound Marines aboard, together with the USS Bonhomme Richard from Guam, landed some 13,000 US troops in Aceh, which alarmed many in the Indonesian military and government. The Indonesian government acceded, but demanded that the US leave by the end of March and not establish a base camp in Aceh. No less than deputy defense secretary and Iraq war strategist Paul Wolfowitz, former US ambassador to Indonesia, made an immediate "fact-finding" tour of the region. ExxonMobil runs a huge LNG [liquefied natural gas] production in Aceh that supplies energy to China and Japan.

If we add to the list of "emerging targets" Myanmar, a state that, however disrespectful of human rights, is also a major ally and recipient of military aid from Beijing, a strategic encirclement potential against China emerges quite visibly. Malaysia, Myanmar and Aceh in Indonesia represent strategic flanks on which the vital sea lanes from the Strait of Malacca, through which oil tankers from the Persian Gulf travel to China, can be controlled. Moreover, 80% of Japan's oil passes here.

The US government's Energy Information Administration identifies the Malacca Strait as one of the most strategic "world oil transit chokepoints". How convenient if in the course of cleaning out a nest of tyrant regimes Washington might militarily acquire control of this strait. Until now the states in the area have vehemently rejected repeated US attempts to militarize the strait.

Control or militarization of Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar would give US forces chokepoint control over the world's busiest sea channel for oil from the Persian Gulf to China and Japan. It would be a huge blow to China's efforts to secure energy independence from the US. Not only has China already lost huge oil concessions in Iraq with the US occupation, but China's oil supply from Sudan is also under increasing pressure from Washington.

Taking Iran from the mullahs would give Washington chokepoint control over the world's most strategically important oil waterway, the Strait of Hormuz, a three-kilometer-wide passage between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. The major US military base in the entire Middle East region is just across the strait from Iran in Doha, Qatar. One of the world's largest gas fields also lies here.

Algeria is another obvious target for the "war on tyranny". Algeria is the second-most-important supplier of natural gas to continental Europe, and has significant reserves of the highest-quality low-sulfur crude oil, just the kind US refineries need. Some 90% of Algeria's oil goes to Europe, mainly Italy, France and Germany. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika read the September 11 2001, tea leaves and promptly pledged his support for Washington's "war on terror". Bouteflika has made motions to privatize various state holdings, but not the vital state oil company, Sonatrach. That will clearly not be enough to satisfy the appetite of Washington planners.

Sudan, as noted, has become a major oil supplier to China, whose national oil company has invested more than $3 billion since 1999 building oil pipelines from southern Sudan to the Red Sea port. The coincidence of this fact with the escalating concern in Washington about genocide and humanitarian disaster in oil-rich Darfur in southern Sudan is not lost on Beijing. China threatened a United Nations veto against any intervention against Sudan. The first act of a re-elected Dick Cheney late last year was to fill his vice-presidential jet with UN Security Council members to fly to Nairobi to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, an eerie reminder of defense secretary Cheney's "humanitarian" concern over Somalia in 1991.

Washington's choice of Somalia and Yemen is a matched pair, as a look at a Middle East/Horn of Africa map will confirm. Yemen sits at the oil-transit chokepoint of Bab el-Mandap, the narrow point controlling oil flow from the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean. Yemen also has oil, although no one yet knows just how much. It could be huge. A US firm, Hunt Oil Co, is pumping 200,000 barrels a day from there but that is likely only the tip of the find.

Yemen fits nicely as an "emerging target" with the other target nearby, Somalia.

"Yes, Virginia", the 1992 Somalia military action by George Herbert Walker Bush, which gave the US a bloody nose, was in fact about oil too. Little known was the fact that the humanitarian intervention by 20,000 US troops ordered by father Bush in Somalia had little to do with the purported famine relief for starving Somalis. It had a lot to do with the fact that four major US oil companies, led by Bush's friends at Conoco of Houston, Texas, and including Amoco (now BP), Condi Rice's Chevron, and Phillips, all held huge oil-exploration concessions in Somalia. The deals had been made with the former "pro-Washington" tyrannical and corrupt regime of Mohamed Siad Barre.

Siad Barre was inconveniently deposed just as Conoco reportedly hit black gold with nine exploratory wells, confirmed by World Bank geologists. US Somalia envoy Robert B Oakley, a veteran of the US mujahideen project in Afghanistan in the 1980s, almost blew the US game when, during the height of the civil war in Mogadishu in 1992, he moved his quarters on to the Conoco compound for safety. A new US cleansing of Somali "tyranny" would open the door for these US oil companies to map and develop the possibly huge oil potential in Somalia. Yemen and Somalia are two flanks of the same geological configuration, which holds large potential petroleum deposits, as well as being the flanks of the oil chokepoint from the Red Sea.

Belarus is also no champion of human rights, but from Washington's standpoint, the fact that its government is tightly bound to Moscow makes it the obvious candidate for a Ukraine-style "Orange Revolution" regime-change effort. That would complete the US encirclement of Russia on the west and of Russia's export pipelines to Europe, were it to succeed. Some 81% of all Russian oil exports today go to Western European markets. Such a Belarus regime change now would limit the potential for a nuclear-armed Russia to form a bond with France, Germany and the EU as potential counterweight against the power of the United States sole superpower, a highest priority for Washington Eurasia geopolitics.

The military infrastructure for dealing with such tyrant states seems to be shaping up as well. In the January 24 New Yorker magazine, veteran journalist Seymour Hersh cited Pentagon and CIA sources to claim that the position of Rumsfeld and the warhawks is even stronger today than before the Iraq war. Hersh reported that Bush signed an Executive Order last year, without fanfare, placing major CIA covert operations and strategic analysis into the hands of the Pentagon, sidestepping any congressional oversight. He added that plans for the widening of the "war on terror" under Rumsfeld were also agreed upon in the administration well before the election.

The Washington Post confirmed Hersh's allegation, reporting that Rumsfeld's Pentagon had created, by Presidential Order, and bypassing Congress, a new Strategic Support Branch, which co-opts traditional clandestine and other functions of the CIA. According to a report by US Army Colonel (retired) Dan Smith, in Foreign Policy in Focus last November, the new SSB unit includes the elite military special SEAL Team 6, Delta Force army squadrons, and potentially a paramilitary army of 50,000 available for "splendid little wars" outside congressional purview.

The list of emerging targets in a new "war on tyranny" is clearly fluid, provisional, and adaptable as developments change. It is clear that a breathtaking array of future military and economic offensives is in the works at the highest policy levels to transform the world. A world oil price of $150 a barrel or more in the next few years would be joined by chokepoint control of the supply by one power if Washington has its way.

F William Engdahl is the author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, published by Pluto Press Ltd.

Copyright 2005 F William Engdahl.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.

Bill Totten


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