THE ROVING EYE
Pipelineistan, Part 2: The games nations play
By Pepe Escobar
Part 1: The rules of the game
Two months ago, the White House was deliriously happy
with the official opening of the first new pipeline of the Caspian
Pipeline Consortium - a joint venture including Russia, Kazakhstan,
Oman, ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil and a bunch of other minor players.
This $2.65 billion pipeline links the enormous Tengiz oilfield
in northwestern Kazakhstan to the Russian port of Novorossiysk
on the Black Sea: from there, the sky - ie the world market -
is the limit. Bush II, according to the White House, is developing
"a network of multiple Caspian pipelines that also include
the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, Baku-Supsa, and Baku-Novorossiyisk oil
pipelines, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline". So
one of the key nodes in the American petrostrategy is composed
by Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.
The pipeline consortium for Baku-Ceyhan, led by British Petroleum,
is represented by the law firm Baker & Botts. The principal
attorney is none other than Texan superstar James Baker - secretary
of state under Bush I and chief spokesman for the Bush II 2000
campaign when all gloves were off to shut down the Florida vote
Texas-based, scandal-prone Enron, together with Amoco, Chevron,
Mobil, UNOCAL and British Petroleum, were all spending billions
of dollars to pump the reserves of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and
Turkmenistan. Baker, Scowcroft, Sununu and Cheney have all closed
major deals directly and indirectly on behalf of the oil companies.
But now the Enron scandal has just exploded right in the face
of the oil industry - and Bush II's administration. It will be
very enlightening to see what the American tradition of investigative
journalism will make of all this.
Enron once had a market value of $70 billion. It filed for bankruptcy
in December 2001 after admitting it ovestated its profits by
almost $600 million. Paul Krugman wrote that "Enron helped
Dick Cheney devise an energy plan that certainly looks as if
it was written by and for the companies that advised his task
force". The Enron big-time crooks - close pals of Cheney
and Bush II - dwarf any Asian "crony capitalists" Americans
were carping about before and after the Asian financial crisis.
There's no shortage of crooks in the oil industry. Turkmenistan
and Azerbaijan have intimate relations with Israeli military
intelligence. A so-called "former" Israeli intelligence
agent, Yousef Maiman, president of the Mehrav Group of Israel,
is nothing less than "Special Ambassador", official
negotiatior and even policymaker responsible for developing the
enormous energy resources of Turkmenistan.
Maiman is a citizen of the gas republic by presidential decree
- signed by the Turkmenbashi himself, the fabulously megalomaniac
Saparmurad Niazov, former member of the Soviet Politburo. Maiman,
according to the Wall Street Journal, is actively involved in
advancing the "geopolitical goals of both the US and Israel"
in Central Asia. He certainly does not beat around the bush:
"Controlling the transport route is controlling the product."
Nobody knows where Mehrav's money comes from.
Mehrav's planned pipelines bypass both Iran and Russia. But after
the conquest of Afghanistan, oil sources in Singapore say Mehrav
may consider dealing with Iran. It's all to do with the importance
of the Turkish market. Russia and Turkmenistan are fiercely competing
to conquer the Turkish gas market. Considering the strategic
relationship between Turkey and Israel, the Israeli game remains
preventing Turkish strategic dependence on Iran. Turkey is a
NATO member and a key US ally. The US and Britain routinely strike
against Iraq from Turkish bases - from which they patrol the
unillateraly-declared Iraqi "no-fly zones". These "no-fly
zones" are obviously not sanctioned by the UN.
Mehrav is also involved in a murderous project to reduce the
flow of water to Iraq by diverting water from the Tigris and
the Euphrates rivers to southeastern Turkey. And Magal Security
Systems, an Israeli company, is also involved with Turkey: it
will provide security for the 2,000 km-long oil pipeline from
the Caspian Sea to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.
Crook-infested Enron - the biggest donor to the Bush campaign
of 2000 - was ubiquitious: it conducted the feasibility study
for the $2.5 billion trans-Caspian pipeline being built under
a joint venture signed almost three years ago between Turkmenistan
and Bechtel and General Electric. The go-between in the deal
was none other than the Mehrav Group. Chairman Maiman spent a
fortune hiring the Washington lobbying firm Cassidy and Associates
to seduce official Washington with the trans-Caspian pipeline
The intrincate relationship between Israel, Turkey and the US
means that as much as the trans-Caspian pipeline, the Baku-Ceyhan
pipeline is also absolutely crucial. It could be extended to
bring oil directly to thirsty Israel. During the Clinton years,
oil giants were under tremendous pressure to build East-West
pipelines. But all of them preferred to build North-South pipelines
- much cheaper, but with the inconvenience of crossing Iran,
an absolute anathema for Washington.
Russia already has a contract with Turkmenistan to purchase 30
billion cubic meters of gas a year. This represents a big blow
to the US field of dreams, the trans-Caspian gas pipeline. This
also means that Russia will never let go of its sphere of influence
without a tremendous fight. The Central Asian republics are on
its borders, Russia has dominated them for centuries and they
are home to millions of Russians. Russian is still the language
they all use to do business with each other.
Thanks to master political chess player Vladimir Putin, Russia
is now on the cosiest terms possible with Washington - and US-Iran
antipathy is apparently receding. Russia may eventually become
a partner in at least some of Washington's petrostrategy games
in Central Asia - like the Caspian Pipeline Consortium. The regional
map also reveals that Iran, besides holding important gas reserves,
offers the best direct access from the Caspian Sea to the Persian
Gulf, where oil and gas can be quickly exported to Asian markets.
Iran assumes, not entirely without reason, that it is the rightful
guardian of Central Asia because of centuries of ethnic, historical,
linguistic and religious ties. And Iran is very conscious that
American military links and now physical presence in Central
Asia are part of a strategy to encircle it. But even amid so
many geopolitical and ideological pitfalls, the fact remains
that as long as the US is militarily involved in Afghanistan,
there will be some sort of US-Iranian diplomatic engagement.
Under the control of the China National Petroleum Corporation
(CNPC), pipelines from Central Asia will also reach China's Xinjiang.
Oil sources in Singapore stress that this will certainly spell
a slump for the sea routes across the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
Washington is more than aware through its think tanks of the
consequences: an extremely likely strategic realignment between
China, Japan and Korea.
The Chinese have their sights on only one terrifying prospect:
the encirclement of China by the US. UNOCAL is dreaming about
profits. Washington is thinking about the robust Chinese economy.
Whatever "war against terror" distractions, China remains
the key strategic competitor to the US in the 21st century. With
Afghanistan in the bag, UNOCAL dreams of monster profits in the
Asian market - much higher than in Europe - while Washington
closely monitors the Chinese economy: growth of 8 percent in
2000, 7 percent in 2001, and needing all the oil and gas it can
get. Chinese strategists are working around the clock to develop
local forms of energy production.
What happens next will be closely linked to the deliberations
of the Shanghai Five, now Shanghai Six, or more burocratically,
the Shangahi Cooperation Organization (SCO): China and Russia,
plus four Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Takijistan
and Uzbekistan). Manouvering with extreme care, China is using
the SCO to align Russia economically and politically towards
China and northeast Asia. At the same time, Russia is using the
SCO to maintain its traditional hegemony in Central Asia. The
name of the game for solidifying the alliance is Russian export
of its enormous reserves of oil and gas.
Since the NATO war against Yugoslavia and the de facto occupation
of Kosovo - where America built its largest military base since
the Vietnam War - China and Russia have their minds set on Chechnya
and Muslim Xinjiang. For the moment, at least, America has absolutely
no way of interfering in these domestic problems, since China
and especially Russia are endorsing the war against terrorism.
The Taliban were never a target in the "war against terrorism".
They were just a scapegoat - rather, a horde of medieval warrior
scapegoats who simply did not fulfill their contract: to insert
Aghanistan into Pipelineistan. All the regional players now know
America is in Central Asia to stay, as Washington itself has
been stridently repeating these last few weeks, and it will be
influencing or disturbing the economy and geopolitics of the
region. The wider world is absolutely oblivious to these real
stakes in the New Great Game.
The US at the time of the Gulf War did not show any interest
in replacing "Satan" Hussein. That would seriously
compromise the American design to establish bases on the Arabian
peninsula on the convenient pretext of helping poor Arab sheikhs
against the Iraqi Evil Monster.
More than a decade later, Satan Hussein is still there, Bush
I is now Bush II, and assorted Pentagon hawks are still fuming,
trying to fabricate any excuse to blow Saddam back to Mesopotamian
ashes. But Saddam will not be attacked, because Saddam is the
ultimate reason for American military bases in the Gulf - a splendid
affair because on top of it all it is a free ride, the expenses
being paid by the ultra-flush sheikdoms. Now, after the (also
unfinished) New Afghan War, American forces are already establishing
themselves in Central and South Asia to once again "protect
the interests of the free world".
It is never enough to remember that after the end of the communist
regime in Afghanistan, the American strategy was to deliberately
let Islamic extremism go wild - a perfect way to scare the unstable
regimes in the Central Asian neo-republics. Islamic fundamentalism
has always been a key card in the American strategic design since
the Cold War days when the CIA subcontracted to the Pakistani
ISI the arm-them-to-their-teeth policy regarding the mujahideen.
It is always easy to forget that the good-guys-turned-bad-guys
were once were hailed by Ronnie Reagan himself at the Oval Office
as "the moral equivalent of the founding fathers".
America has been trying hard to "get" Afghanistan -
the heart of Asia in Antiquity, the Pipelineistan crossroads
of Asia nowadays - for more than 20 years. In the process, the
mujahideen transformed Afghanistan, with CIA blessing, into the
world's leading producer of heroin, opening the crucial and ultra-profitable
drug pipeline Afghanistan-Turkey-Balkans-Western Europe. More
than a martini, oil-arms-drugs is the classic CIA cocktail. This
"Drugistan" road has just been spetacularly reopened
after the fall of the Taliban.
Pipelineistan is not an end in itself. Oil and gas by themselves
are not the US's ultimate aim. It's all about control. In Monopoly,
Belgian writer Michel Collon wrote: "If you want to rule
the world, you need to control oil. All the oil. Anywhere."
If the US controls the sources of energy of its rivals - Europe,
Japan, China and other nations aspiring to be more independent
- they win. This explains why pipelines from the Caucasus to
the West have to be America-friendly - ie Turkish or Macedonian
- and not "unreliable", meaning Russian-controled.
Washington, always, has to control everything: that's what Brzezinski
and Henry Kissinger always said. The same goes for the military
bases in Saudi Arabia, and now in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
There's no business like war business. Thanks to war against
Iraq, the US has its military bases in the Persian Gulf. Thanks
to war against Yugoslavia, the US has its military bases in Bosnia,
Kosovo and Macedonia. Thanks to war against the Taliban, the
US is now in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Not to mention the base in Incirlik, Turkey. The US is also in
the Caucasus - in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Iran, China and Russia
are practically encircled. There's no business like show business.
Raise the curtains. Enter Pipelineistan. (Applause).
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Part 1: The rules of the game
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