The Flâneur

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Dr De Ath. 7th March 2005.

Oil wars, mushrooms, Marx and vampires.

So, hail the chief, Dubya rides again folks. Now what with the Oval Office, the Senate and the House of Representatives in his holster, with Arafat shuffling off, Powell stepping down to do some gardening and Condoleezza ‘Fangs’ Rice fitting in seamlessly alongside the other Neo-cons in his crazy gang of Tontoes, the Lone Ranger can really get down to sorting out those wogs in the Middle East. After all, what do they know of civilisation and the global creed? Perle, Rice, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Negroponte and their ilk are sure to get the message across, how can they fail? Let’s face it, ever since the West decided to fuel its economic development with the mineral wealth of that region by carving up the post First World War mandates during the 1919 Paris Conference bean feast, there has never been any way that we would permit such an uncivilised Asian rabble control over our destiny, as our history of involvement there has consistently reflected. And thus has it ever been. Can they indeed afford to fail? Our species has always operated on the principle of the mighty having the privilege of creating history, whilst the weak may only take what they are given. Until they don’t. "History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.", thus spake the immortal idol of our ‘brave new world’: Henry Ford in 1916. So now Mr Ford, wherefore the human race as we march lockstep to create our own present mesmerised by our rectitude and fed by the effluent of the embedded Capitalist media? And the purpose of this modern crusade? "It’s the economy, stupid.", daddy Bush. So, let’s burn Kyoto in the oil fire and keep those assembly lines rolling.

Once Upon A Time

Our Texan friend apparently likes to associate himself with Churchill. Perhaps he sees this link as appropriate given the involvement of Western chemical and biological weapons manufacturers with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and the British attacks on Kurds in the 1920s. "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.",. W. S. Churchill (U.K. Colonial Sec.). Clearly, it is not hard to see where Saddam might have taken his cues from. To accompany the quelling of the locals after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the feast continued with the Treaty of Mosul, leaving The U.K. with a 52.5% slice of The Iraq Petroleum Co., the U.S.A. and France got 21.25% each. Oh, I almost forgot, that great Armenian benefactor C. S. Gulbenkian managed to squeeze out a tasty little 5% commission for services rendered, such is the stuff of personal fortunes.

At around the same time, 1925, the Cossack Reza Khan ousts the Qajar Dynasty just over the border in Persia (Iran from 1935 on ). With his elevation to Shah of Persia, he institutes a programme of modernisation along the lines of that initiated in Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Pasha ( Ataturk ). In 1933, he succeeds in extracting an increased share of revenue to the Tehran government from the Anglo-Persian/Iranian Oil Co. (A.I.O.C.) concession. Come the Second World War, Britain and the U.S.S.R. invade Iran to guarantee supplies will not fall into the wrong hands, he then is forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Mohammed Reza, and sent packing off into exile in South Africa. The British and Soviets eventually withdraw after the end of the war, and while the allies glory in their newfound peace, the Iranians appear to delude themselves by the notion that they may have gained the right to control the resources which lie under their feet. What quaint ideas these unfortunate and uncivilised tribes get sometimes. So, in 1951, the Majlis ( the Iranian parliament ) passes a bill to nationalise the oil fields after failed attempts to raise more royalties from the A.I.O.C.. The Iranian Prime Minister is assassinated by Muslim militants for his opposition to the bill and the popular Iranian politician Mohammed Moussadeq is elected to the premiership and enforces the decision to nationalise. Big mistake! The response of The U.K. is to cripple the Iranian economy by blockading the oil fields. No prizes for guessing the name of the British Prime Minister of the day. Yes folks, Winnie strikes again! Moussadeq is fondly remembered to this day as having been an open man of the people, who wished to eliminate the social injustices being meted out by the corrupt and exclusive club at the top of Persian society. Indeed, one of his first acts on his ascension to the premiership was to lift the veil of political censorship from the press. Moussadeq, now heading a coalition of Communists and Muslims, increases his popularity after re-election for a second term in office by introducing more Socialist reforms such as bringing an end to the feudal agricultural system and collectivising the farms. However, in 1953, following attempts to gain full control of the military and bring down the monarchy, he himself is toppled in a coup organised by Britain and the U.S.A.. The U.K. and the U.S.A., fearful that Iran may become a Muslim/Socialist republic, concludes that the Iranian government’s policies are harmful to Iran, and in April 1953, Allen Foster Dulles, C.I.A. Director, sets aside $1million to be utilised for the ousting of Moussadeq by whatever means. Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson, Kermit, orchestrates a combined C.I.A./S.I.S. operation in Teheran, designated `Operation Ajax’. $1million to pay off the army and a bunch of thug demonstrators renders 300 fatalities and victory for the pro-monarchists and western oil companies. Cheap at the price really. Mohammed Moussadeq is gaoled for three years on treason charges and, after his release, remains under house arrest until his death in 1967. In a statement to Iran following the downfall of Moussadeq, Churchill’s successor to the British premiership, Anthony Eden, gives his blessing to the whole sordid episode: "I am sure that our two countries can now go forward together in confidence and goodwill.". Perhaps the success of the plot later gave him the confidence to challenge Nasser over the Egyptian nationalisation of the Suez Canal. Iran is further hamstrung by reparation payments for lost oil revenues, Mohammed Reza Shah's powers are enhanced and supported by the West militarily until finally, in 1979, the Iranian people stand up and end decades of western inspired and funded murder, torture and political repression. Unfortunately, the timing of the opportunity for change does not always coincide with the availability of the most benefic devices for such. In times of desperation, people will grasp for the most powerful weapon that comes to hand, irrespective of the ultimate consequences, just so long as change is brought about. In the case of late 70s Iran then, Mohammed Reza jets off to his Swiss bank account and oblivion whilst the people of Iran stumble headlong into theocratic persecution and eventual war with Iraq. This war, instituted by Saddam Hussein and supported militarily by the usual suspects in the West, is on a scale equivalent to that of the First World War in Europe. In the course of this war, not only does the U.S., destroy half the Iranian navy for Saddam, but also attacks Iranian oil platforms and, in the most notorious action of all, the U.S.S. Vincennes, whilst in Iranian territorial waters, shoots down an Iranian Airbus, killing 290 civilians. The Iranian people still await an apology. What lesson then should be learned from all this by the uncivilised tribes of Iran and elsewhere? Surely it must by now be clear that if they ever entertain notions of Socialism or delusions of having the right to control the disposal of their mineral wealth, they do so at their peril.

Operation Ajax was the first time that the U.S.A. had overthrown a foreign democratic government by the more economical option of sponsoring insurrection rather than sending in an army. A technique again applied with a ‘positive outcome’ in the Chile of the seventies. Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s Ambassador to the U.N., 1993-97, and his Secretary of State, 1997-2001, said of Ajax: "The Eisenhower administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons. But, the coup was clearly a setback for Iran’s political development and it is easy to see why so many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America.". A setback! One wonders whether she will come to see her own attitude with respect to her support for the sanctions against Iraq during her tenure as having created a similar setback for the political development of Iraq. When asked during a television interview whether the half-a-million dead Iraqi children resulting from the sanctions was appropriate, she responded by saying: "We think the price is worth it.". For those who think that foreign policy under the Democrats would be preferable to that which currently prevails under the Bush regime, not only is the attitude of Albright worthy of note, but so too that of James Rubin, the man heavily tipped as John Kerry’s choice for Secretary of State in the recent Bush versus Kerry showdown. During an interview for the U.K’s Channel Four News during the 2004 American election campaign, he was invited by Ch 4 anchor John Snow to outline how U.S. foreign policy might differ from Bush’s sledge-hammer approach. Rubin’s response was to say that it would be the same but "nicer."! It must comfort the people of the Middle East no end to feel that the last thing they will see before they die is a smiling American!

The Texan And The Khan

"Marines are agents of wrath to bring justice on wrongdoers…….terrorists.", U.S., marine chaplain prior to the American assault on Fallujah. "I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment such as myself upon you.". Thus did internationalist and diplomat par excellence Genghis Khan address the Muslim peoples of the Oxus region in the thirteenth century. Words which still today echo resoundingly across the Hindu Kush mountains of modern Afghanistan. In terms of Asian history, Genghis, like Alexander before him and Tamerlane, one of the khan’s successors, was not an unreasonable man. His philosophy, like theirs, was open, direct and simplicity itself, you were either with him or you were against him, or, in current political argot, ‘join up or you’re buggered!’ He was known for rewarding loyalty generously and excoriating traitors, meting out punishment with equanimity upon not only those who betrayed himself but also those who betrayed his enemies. His technique for convincing potential foes to see things his way normally involved an invitation to note the fate of those who had already opted to resist him. Such an approach to diplomacy will likely not be lost on the so-called terrorists of the city of Fallujah in Iraq today, whose plight is intended to be an example for the edification of any who have the gall to maintain objections to the current American hegemony in the Iraq. The only public relations device we have as yet neglected to employ is the skull towers so favoured by Tamerlane. Damn, I forgot, he was one of those savage, uncivilised, Mohammedan types (at least when it suited him), wasn’t he? Of course, real people don’t die when we wage war, do they? Ponder for a moment the ‘heroic’ stature of Alexander in the West compared with that of the ‘barbaric‘ Genghis and Tamerlane. As Iraq becomes further emaciated, and we revel shamelessly in manipulating an already entrenched cultural divide, ultimately, we stand a good chance of wreaking havoc on our sacred and most precious economy. From the Crusades to oil the West has ridden rough-shod over the sensibilities of Asia just a little too often, I fear.

It would however be a mistake to compare the Khan’s approach to international cooperation too closely with that of the present incumbent of the Oval Office. In those days of course, Genghis was blessed in not needing to possess the thespian skills required by today’s political figures in order to mask their true intentions. Ultimately, no matter which approach one takes: the dishonesty of the oil junkies, when manufacturing fears to justify the somewhat oxymoronic notion of illegal wars, or the murderous simplicity of the Mongols, the blood of the Middle East and Central Asia still flows like the Oxus because of the interests of interlopers. No matter how bloodthirsty and reprehensible he may have been, Genghis Khan succeeded in building one of the geographically largest empires the world has ever known with horses, bows and arrows. It remains to be seen whether Capitalism under the standard of American imperialism will manage to experience anything beyond hubris. The weapons may be smart but what of the minds that control them?

In the mid to late 1970s, apart from working for two years in Iran, I had the refreshing opportunity to also spend some six months in Afghanistan, my stay there coinciding with the period immediately following the coup led by the Popular Democratic Party of Afghanistan. Along with the overthrow of the King, this action lifted the feudal yoke of centuries from around the neck of the Afghan people. The rule of the new regime acted like a breath of fresh air, introducing more freedoms to ordinary Afghans than they had ever previously known, not least of which was the opening up of the higher education system and the economy to women. The Afghans, like their Iranian cousins, are a hugely proud and hospitable people and, despite popular assumptions in the West, their largely peaceful revolution was entirely home-grown. Indeed, it was made perfectly clear to me, during my travels there and via many conversations with locals, that they would have regarded any Soviet involvement in their affairs with the deepest suspicion. It was virtually impossible to extract anything other than insults with respect to the U.S.S.R., and whatever emanated from it. They, of course, knew only too well of the fate that had befallen their relatives on the other side of the Oxus under Czarist and Stalinist reigns. Although the American administration admitted they had no evidence of Soviet involvement in the coup (see: Cyrus Vance, Carter’s Secretary of State: "We have no evidence of Soviet complicity in the coup."), and despite the popularity of the new government within the borders of Afghanistan, the U.S.A., saw fit to fund insurrection, led by deeply conservative Muslim fundamentalists. Whilst the fundamentalists no doubt felt their position to be threatened by the new found freedoms radiating from Kabul, the Americans perhaps felt that the uncivilised tribes-people of Afghanistan and their approach to Socialism, nay, even democracy itself, could have an infectious and destablising influence over the neighbouring oil rich regions of the Middle East. After all, why should the West put its regional interests in jeopardy having spent so much time, money and effort into ensuring the smooth flow of oil to its economies by supporting some of the most undemocratic and repulsive regimes on the planet only to lose out to a bunch of Afghan peasants? Why change such a simple, cheap and affordable policy? Who cares if the waifs of Jeddah go shoeless, just so long as the princes can be kept happy in Monaco? The best policy therefore was to nip this nascent Muslim Socialist democracy in the bud and bring them under the cosh of folks who really know how to do democracy properly! And the consequences of this noble act in attempting to liberate the Afghans from themselves? Soviet invasion to prevent yet more American control along its borders, in addition to satisfying its own colonial ambitions in the region dating back to Czarist days. This, in turn, brought about increased U.S., support for the Mujaheddin, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden et al, which ultimately sowed the seeds of collapse in the U.S.S.R., and started us on the road to death and rubble in New York, tens of thousands of dead Afghans, and Hamid Karzai, erstwhile consultant to American oil consortium U.N.O.C.A.L. being ensconced in Kabul as minder. Our own minders meanwhile tried their utmost to soothe those consciences that may have felt pricked at the news of annihilated Afghan wedding parties by showing, as if on an endless loop, the same C130 dropping the same pallet of Herschy bars over the same middle-of-nowhere spot somewhere in Afghanistan. No doubt, we all feel thoroughly justified now in bombing the mediaeval villages of Afghanistan because a bunch of Saudi ex-mates of the C.I.A., had apparently had the nerve to attack the States. And what was the principle item on the new Afghan regime’s list of priorities? In the mid-nineties, the U.S. State Department and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Agency, funded, armed and trained the Taliban during its fight against the Northern Alliance. In the same period, U.N.O.C.A.L. proposed the construction of an oil and gas pipeline route (CentGas consortium) through Afghanistan from the mineral rich area of the Caspian and its environs to Pakistan’s coast on the Arabian Sea. Karzai, now President of Afghanistan, worked on the CentGas project together with Zalmay Khalilzad, now U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan. The possibility of securing such a pipe-line, with all the attendant profit which could accrue from it, was not limited to U.N.O.C.A.L.. Chevron was at this time particularly keen to persuade the Taliban to allow them to build it. Condoleezza Rice was on the board of Chevron before becoming National Security Advisor to Bush. What with the galling Russian monopoly as a conduit for oil and gas from Central Asia, and Iran firmly beyond the pale because of the conduct of Eisenhower and Churchill, the World Trade Centre attack certainly gave up Afghanistan on a plate to anyone prepared to chance their arm, completely Taliban free too. Prior to Sept 11th , the U.S. Energy Information Administration was emphasising the strategic importance of Afghanistan for routing oil and gas from Central Asia. Along with the need to secure this route, it is not for nothing that the U.S. has now located so much military hardware and so many troops in the Transoxanian oil field to the north of Afghanistan. One can but imagine the credentials of the individuals in this region now receiving backing from the U.S. in order to guarantee the smooth flow of the black stuff. As American soldiers dole out tax dollars like confetti to pliant warlords who come onside, the poverty stricken and war ravaged Afghan villagers must be wondering how things might have compared under Genghis. Anyhow, I am sure their feelings will moderate once they have come to fully appreciate the new democratic environment that we have so considerately created for them. In the words of U.S. Vice –president and Ex-C.E.O. of Halliburton ( the world’s largest oil services company and current service contractor for the U.K. Trident bomber fleet ) Dick Cheney, "The good Lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected regimes friendly to the U.S.. But, we go where the business is.". Halliburton remains under investigation for corrupt practices in respect of the Iraq saga. All this presumably gives the official seal of approval to U.N.O.C.A.L.’s current Yadana natural gas project in that haven of democracy Myanmar; the state formerly known as Burma. Much in the same way as the same company used to grease the palms of the Taliban in Kandahar. If I were a Burmese leader right now, I would be at pains to maintain a clean sheet with Yankeedom. The U.S., meanwhile, continues to claim, for the benefit of the western public, that their hunt for Bin Laden remains undiminished. Apparently, they are still blundering around the Hindu Kush, with the might of twenty-first century technology at their fingertips, and have yet to locate him. A technology whose sophistication is constantly bragged about when utilised to guide smart weapons to their targets or pinpoint, within a couple days, the identity of some kid in South-east Asia who has planted a virus on the net. It is now becoming increasingly difficult not to agree with Bin Laden when he says that the American administration is not really interested in capturing him. And this is the man that the western media cannot resist portraying as the twenty-first century’s most infamous caveman! One gets the distinct impression that with Karzai now enthroned, it is mission accomplished. This is assuming there is going to be a sufficiency of American troops and willing dollars around for long enough to rake in those greenbacks from the pipeline. Finally, in the context of our present oil consumption, the current rate of oilfield discoveries ( both subjects returned to later in this piece ), the investment in death and the trans Afghanistan pipeline, it is worth injecting at this point the content of a conversation I had some four or five years ago with a Kazakh oilman. During the course of our work together he revealed to me his concerns over his future employment prospects. I raised an eyebrow. However, he went on to tell me that his worries centred on the fact that the consortium he worked for were expressing disappointment at the volume of oil discovered in the Caspian region. His employer was U.N.O.C.A.L.. Many in the past have found victories in the Hindu Kush to possess a rather pyrrhic quality to them, perhaps our contemporary adventurers are about to rediscover the experience.

Harry Lime. Alive And Well In Kabul.

With all this talk of pipes, a tempting aside wafts by. A whiff of opium is in the air again over Jalalabad. It is reassuring to see, now that free market Capitalism and the West have brought the stamp of individual enterprise, democracy and civilisation to the region, Afghanistan has returned to pole position in its status as the world’s number one producer of opiates. Why suddenly does my mind drift back to Colonel Cooler and post Second World War Viennese penicillin rackets? It is unlikely that Graham Greene’s classic tale of blackmarket corruption and the U.S. military would ever have seen the celluloid light of day in the States if demands from David O. Selznick to minimise Greene’s scepticism over the moral self-righteousness of the U.S., and more particularly that of those in general who consider themselves to be standard bearers of civilisation had not been met. Selznick was keen to ensure that the film would portray America in as untarnished and patriotic a light as possible. Many alterations were made at his behest, more so to the U.S. than the U.K., version, amongst which was a change to the nationality of one of the central figures in the blackmarket penicillin gang from an American, Colonel Cooler, to a more acceptably repellent Romanian, Popesceau. The film ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ (covering the more recreational use of drugs) seems to have rankled with conservative authority as much recently as ‘The Third Man’ did in the late forties. Methinks some may be protesting a little too much here. Greene had no particular propaganda or commercial axe to grind other than reflecting his experiences of the tortuous complexity of our moral choices along with the darker and more pitiful aspects of the human condition as they emerge most prominently in unstable and threatening environments. He doubtless had plenty of opportunity to observe the beast at play whilst himself working for S.I.S.(M.I.6). So, the West is constructing a pipeline straight through the middle of Afghan bandit country and poppy production is in bonanza mode again after the Taliban’s crackdown on it. Harry Lime would have loved it, and all tax free too! Magic, I’ll smoke to that! The incidental bonus of this whole miserable fiasco of course is that when we grow weary of chattering about terrorists dwelling in the mountains of Afghanistan, we can change the subject to filthy smelly corrupt poppy farmers dwelling on the plains, can’t we? Anyhow, just a passing thought.

It is not of course uncommon to find crocodile tears being shed in the corridors of power over the health of our youth in connection with the question of recreational drug use. Take for instance the way in which the American administration has been milking their involvement in attempts to eradicate the Columbian cocaine industry. Much is made in the media when it comes to the burning of some impoverished farmer’s field, Hollywood too is also awash with celluloid portraying heroic special ops raids upon evil coke barons. However, little, if anything at all, is mentioned surrounding the millions invested in Plan Columbia to protect Occidental Petroleum’s Cano-Limon pipeline from attacks by the F.A.R.C. guerrillas; Socialist fighters attempting to rid their country of American inspired Fascist, corruption, political repression and murder. Venezuela is at least spared from being castigated as a haven for drugs barons. There, the Americans simply resort to the old tried and tested methods of sponsoring strikes and revolts in order to bring down the elected president, Hugo Chavez, and get their hands on the oil resources of the country. One of the reasons of course that Blair finds it necessary to cosy up to the U.S. is because the U.K. no longer has the military clout to protect its own interests, which in turn is precisely why B.P. donates so much to American election campaigns. In the case of Columbia, B.P. accounts for more than half of the oil pumped out of the country, has its own pipeline and is Bogota’s largest source of foreign investment. Just think what brilliant cinema could be made about the facts, forget the fantasy!

In Part II

  • Ethical Arms
  • Sacrificial Lambs On The Roadmap To Zion