Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Great Game - Wake Up Canada

Afghanistan. Forget everything you heard. It's not about 9/11. It's not about democracy. It's not about the Taliban and al-Qaeda very much either.

It's about America and Europe and Russia, it's about China and India and Iran. Washington knows it, so does Moscow, Beijing and Mumbai.

Fighting insurgents and terrorists is the subplot at best, the story line for the folks at home. It's an essential narrative because it's the only one that remotely justifies countries like Canada and the Netherlands and Australia slogging it out there. If it was ever viewed by the public according to the main plot, the geopolitical struggle for regional dominance and the containment, by America, of both Russia and China the fairy tale would explode. We would be compelled to see our forces as something of an American Foreign Legion unwillingly ensnarled in a high-stakes, high-risk and potentially volatile wrestling match among powers in transition. And we're not backing the country on its "way up" either.

It's all about oil and gas. Not so much about ownership of those resources but who gets to control them and who gets shut out. Those who win control can prosper. Those who lose endure a big setback. The control part is a very aggressive game and, right now, we're just a pawn playing our role.

Do you really believe that Washington gives a fig for what Georgia and the Ukraine can contribute to bolster NATO? Bush/Cheney have been positively rabid about shoehorning these two dubious democracies into NATO for how that will help with encircling and containing Russia. It's like those missile batteries in Poland ostensibly intended to shoot down rogue ICBMs from Iran. Oh please! Sarkozy and Merkel know what's up and they don't like the Americans using their backyard to poke the Bear with sharp sticks.

As I've written several times before, there's a great store of oil and natural gas in what's called the Caspian Basin, mainly in Turkmenistan. Getting at the stuff isn't the real problem. Getting routes that are free from Russian control or influence is the key. There are but two options. One is the Black Sea route but that requires an "independent" Georgia and Ukraine, preferably under NATO protection. The other is via Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Now, with all the vexing problems of warlords and insurgents and terrorists and common criminals in Afghanistan, the western route through Georgia and Ukraine would seem a no-brainer, right? But there are other considerations that keep the Afghan-Pakistan option alive. One is the prospect of an overland route to supply America's new BFF, India. Another is the possibility of controlling pipeline routes through the southern Pakistani Balochistan region. That's where the seaport to transport Caspian oil and gas by tankers to Europe is being developed.

America and India aren't the only countries eyeing Balochistan either. This is where China comes in. The Chinese are openly discussing a pipeline of their own through Balochistan that would give them overland access to - wait for it - Iran. The very notion of a China-Pakistan-Iran corridor is a prospect the Americans don't even want to mention.

In case you haven't heard of it, China and Russia have been busy building a NATO-style alliance of their own, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, founded in 1996. The official languages of the SCO don't include English, French or German. Try Russian and Chinese.

At the moment the SCO comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Guess who's also nudging their way in? Pakistan and Iran. Oh mama, mama.

Sorry to keep dragging you all over the map, but imagine a line running from China through Pakistan and into Iran. Okay, who's contained now? In terms of overland access to oil and gas, that would be India, America's new ally. Not only would India be entirely dependent on sea lanes but its transit through the Arabian Sea and into the Persian Gulf would pass by the combined coastlines of Pakistan and Iran. Suddenly India's and the West's access to Persian Gulf oil becomes astonishingly insecure, especially if Pakistan and Iran have a mutual defence pact with Russia and China.

See how something as simple and straightforward as fighting the Taliban gets blindingly complex? But don't take my word for it. Here's an interesting piece from today's Asia Times:

"The measure of success of president-elect Barack Obama's new "Afghan strategy" will be directly proportional to his ability to delink the war from its geopolitical agenda inherited from the George W Bush administration.

...It is obvious that Russia and Iran's cooperation is no less critical for the success of the war than what the US is painstakingly extracting from the Pakistani generals.

But then, Moscow and Iran will expect that Obama reciprocates with a willingness to jettison the US's containment strategy towards them. The signs do not look good. This is not only from the look of Obama's national security team and the continuance of Robert Gates as defense secretary.

On the contrary, in the dying weeks of the Bush administration, the US is robustly pushing for an increased military presence in the Russian (and Chinese) backyard in Central Asia on the ground that the exigencies of a stepped-up war effort in Afghanistan necessitate precisely such an expanded US military presence.

...It seems almost inevitable that Moscow and Tehran will join hands. In all likelihood, they may have already begun doing so. The Central Asian countries and China and India will also be closely watching the dynamics of this grim power struggle. They are interested parties insofar as they may have to suffer the collateral damage of the great game in Afghanistan. The US's "war on terror" in Afghanistan has already destabilized Pakistan. The debris threatens to fall on India, too.

Speaking in Moscow on Tuesday, chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, General Nikolai Makarov, just about lifted the veil on the geopolitics of the Afghan war to let the world know that the Bush administration was having one last fling at the great game in Central Asia.

Makarov couldn't have spoken without Kremlin clearance. Moscow seems to be flagging its frustration to Obama's camp. Makarov revealed Moscow had information to the effect that the US was pushing for new military bases in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Coincidence or not, a spate of reports has begun appearing that Russia is about to transfer the S-300 missile defense system to Iran. S-300 is one of the most advanced surface-to-air missile systems capable of intercepting 100 ballistic missiles or aircraft at once, at low and high altitudes within a range of over 150 kilometers. As long-time Pentagon advisor Dan Goure put it, "If Tehran obtained the S-300, it would be a game-changer in military thinking for tackling Iran. This is a system that scares every Western air force."

...Moscow is maintaining an air of "constructive ambiguity" as to what is exactly happening. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov commented in October that Moscow would not sell the S-300 to countries in "volatile regions".

But, on Wednesday, Russia's Novosti news agency cited unnamed Kremlin sources as saying that Moscow was "currently implementing a contract to deliver S-300 systems". Again, on Wednesday, the deputy head of the Federal Service of Russia's Military-Technical Cooperation, Alexander Fomin, publicly defended Russian-Iranian military cooperation as having a "positive influence on stability in this region". Fomin specifically commented that systems such as the S-300 benefited the whole region by "preventing new military conflicts".

The US thrust into the Russian backyard in the Caucasus and Central Asia will most certainly have a bearing on the Russian-Iranian tango over the S-300. Moscow and Tehran will be on guard that despite the stalemate of the Afghan war and the mounting difficulties faced by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces, the cold warriors in Washington continue their great game in the Hindu Kush.

There's more to this story, a lot more. You can read the whole article here:

It might be nice to believe that Canadian soldiers are fighting and dying in Afghanistan to avenge the atrocities of 9/11 and defeat the Taliban. In fact it would be nice, very nice to believe that. It would be great if we were fighting the war that John Manley and Stephen Harper have painted for us. Unfortunately, reality just keeps getting in the way.


Larry Gambone said...

This is really a first rate analysis. No war is ever fought for democracy, the rights of women, defeating the "terrists" or other high-minded reasons. They are always fought for wealth and power. People should be grown up enough to realize this, but many people aren't. Hope this article gets around...

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks Larry for the kind words. The trouble with writing about this is that there are so many tangents. It's like tentacles on an octopus. Every player here seems to have interests that both overlap and conflict with every other player. That presents a startling number of ways this whole business could go off the rails.

That's why I get so disappointed when I hear the latest Canadian general discuss our efforts in the context of a pure battle with the Taliban.

NATO won't determine what Afghanistan is going to look like in ten or twenty years. That will be a function of how this geopolitical struggle is resolved. Afghanistan is bound to wind up reflecting the realities outside its borders. We don't even know what Pakistan is going to look like twenty years down the road.

susansmith said...

Great post - also have known it is about geopolitical positioning and power struggle over resources.

And make no mistake, the libs in higher political positions such as Martin knew this too - thus he became a part of the propaganda stream.

The libs need to withdraw their support - it's never the sons and daughters of the elites in this country who die in war, but the working class who fight their dirty wars for them - on both sides of the divide.

The Mound of Sound said...

Jan, thanks for the advice. Now I'll return the favour. How 'bout you get that siding salesman running your party to man up and endorse carbon taxes as the only viable way to fight AGW?

LeDaro said...

MoS, right on. You rolled back this one real good and left it totally wide open revealing the real reasons behind this hyperbole of democracy and freedom for women and women rights - or Afghans are free to fly the kite now.

Anonymous said...

Your post was the best I have read for quite some time. The point of view of those who are involved first hand should be heard more. How can anyone know the truth when they only hear one side?