Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Central Asia, the Middle East and the coming of Washington

By Michael Park

Applied Hermeneutics’ foreign affairs correspondent, Michael Park, looks at the gulf between the rhetoric of Pax Americana and the realpolitik of hegemony.

Well, it appears that the idea of the Israeli Lobby as the prime mover behind the foreign policy decisions of Washington dies a very slow death but, die it inexorably does. There is a significant rump of opinion that the invasion of Iraq – illegal as it was – was at the behest of this supposed nefarious cancer within the body politic of the United States.

It has been my experience that if history teaches anything about hegemonic powers and their actions, it is that they formulate policy and act almost unfailingly in their own interest. That does not, of course, mean that these actions do not benefit other nations as well as the hegemon. The United States of America, after the second world war, assumed by default as much as by action the hegemony of the Western hemisphere. By the close of the last century it had become the world hegemon.

The comparison to Rome is often made. That comparison is the “Pax Americana”, which is both as tendentious as it is tedious. The comparison that does match what are the results of a reasonably consistent trend in foreign policy settings followed by United States administrations since WWII – and like polls, it is the trend not the GWB-related swings that matter – is the inexorable engagement and inevitable absorption of the Macedonian imperial kingdoms of the east.

The span of the twentieth century was witness to the United States’ gradual – and increasing – abandonment of the founding article of faith of American foreign policy: isolationism. The opposite, of course, is engagement. The Philippines aside, US engagement abroad was kindled by WWI and given a dose of steroids by WWII.

Politics – and political theology – as always will cloak all. After WWI, that theological clash was the holy western democracy versus the unholy spread of communism. Whilst theological warriors abounded, US foreign policy kept a sure and steady eye on the battleground that mattered: economics and resources. The last four decades of the 20th Century saw the United States supporting all manner of regimes in regions critical to the resources that are the lifeblood of western economies.

None of this is either surprising or unexpected. Not only the United States benefited from these actions – other nations just as dependent on these resources reaped the benefits as well. It is the nature of those relations and how they were conducted that is illuminating.

Like Rome, America began by settling internal problems, arbitrating disputes – mostly by backing the side most easily manipulated to serve US interests. The “Client State”, as opposed to Rome’s client kingdoms. Instances of the US using its own military – directly – to install or preserve such are not overly numerous (Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, for examples). The preferred modus operandi is best exemplified by the Shah of Iran. At the beginning of the new century, that changed.

Grasping an unparalleled opportunity, the Bush administration fabricated, fashioned and foisted a case for war against Iraq. Like Rome, the current administration decided that it had had enough of third party meddling and decided absorption was the way to go.

If we are to believe some of what we read, this was done at the behest of the Israel Lobby in Washington. Again, to believe that this course of action was taken to benefit the nation of Israel is to believe that the US “engagement” with Azerbaijan and the other assorted “Stans” (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc) of the Caucasus is all about the furtherance of democratic principles. The invasion of Iraq had little to do with Israeli interests and much to do with strategic US interests. Those interests being resources, along with economic and political influence.

Last year I wrote of how “big oil” had steamrolled the supposed “neocon cabal” who had fabricated the reasons for the war and planned the war itself. The core of this was the fact that these people had – amongst other economic articles of faith – planned for the privatisation of the entire Iraqi oil industry and its support structure.

The oil men wanted nothing of the sort. What they wanted were “PSAs” – otherwise known as Profit Sharing Agreements (see pdf file). In short, these are an agreement – for periods of forty, fifty years or more – where the extractor (the oil company) is guaranteed a take – fixed under the contract and unalterable by succeeding governments of the host country. The oil company – to all intents and purposes – owns the yet to be extracted crude. It is able to “book” it, that is, to show known but yet to be extracted reserves as an asset in its ledger. Does marvellous things for your stock price!

To quote Greg Palast again:

After two mad years of hunting, I discovered the real plan for Iraq’s oil, the one that keeps our troops in Fallujah. Some 323 pages long and deeply confidential, it was drafted at the James A. Baker III Institute in Houston, Texas, under the strict guidance of Big Oil’s minions. It was the culmination of a series of planning groups that began in December 2000 with key players from the Baker Institute and Council on Foreign Relations (including one Ken Lay of Enron). This was followed by a State Department invasion-planning session in Walnut Creek, California, in February 2001, only weeks after Bush and Cheney took office. Its concepts received official blessing after a March 2001 gathering of oil chiefs (and Lay) with Dick Cheney where the group reviewed with the Vice-President the map of Iraq’s oil fields…

The plan the Establishment created, crafted by Houston oil men, called for locking up Iraq’s oil with agreements between a new state oil company under “profit-sharing agreements” with “IOCs” (International Oil Companies). The combine could “enhance the [Iraq’s] government’s relationship with OPEC,” it read, by holding the line on quotas and thereby upholding high prices.

Wolfowitz Dammerung: Twilight Of The Neo-Con Gods

Indeed. One could argue the politics of the invasion until the human causes of global warming are proved fact or fiction. What is beyond doubt is that the world hegemon has acted in its own interest as always, that interest not being “the bringing of democracy” to Iraq, or the betterment of the Iraqi people as such; nor was it for the benefit of the Israeli state. Were that to happen, then so much the better.

It was – as was always the case with the expansion of Rome – a securing of resources (and borders) and the furthering of the interests of the moneyed elite, who always manipulated the politics of the day to their ends.


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