For Washington, A Lining Of Black Gold In This Dark Cloud?

by Stephen Gowans

October 1, 2001

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Did George W. Bush act quickly to take advantage of the September 11th attacks? Are future attacks something he might not be altogether displeased with?

Strange as it sounds, the answer to both questions may be yes.

Start with the question of whether Bush is turning an atrocity into an asset. Others have. The airline industry, already reeling before the attacks, has exploited the tragedy to justify calls for a hand out from the government. Even Canada's major air carrier, Air Canada, which has a virtual monopoly on air travel in Canada, is asking its own government for a bailout. The airline, long a basket case, has stumbled from one financial crisis to another. It's not going to let this opportunity pass.

As for Bush, look at the possibilities. A Congress ready to do his bidding; approval ratings in the 90s; questions about the legitimacy of his presidency dismissed; his critics in full retreat; a public willing to give him the latitude, and a Congress having given him approval, to use his military colossus to press US dominance over the greater part of the globe even more strongly than Washington had been able to do before the public's outrage had been aroused. For Bush, these are golden days.

In his private moments, or in meetings with the grandees who plot US foreign policy, Bush's friend, William Farish, might agree. Farish, the US ambassador to the UK, is an oil man, like so many other Bush intimates. Farish sees the attacks as an opportunity to intensify the US military presence in the Balkans. Tom Walker, diplomatic correspondent for the (London) Sunday Times, says Farish outlined a scenario "in which NATO strengthened its presence in the region, turning the Balkans into a prominent theatre of operations and training." Walker adds that the US is afraid Islamic fundamentalism may arise in Turkey, and, as a defensive measure, would use the Balkans as "a buffer zone in future against unstable regimes to the east." (1)

The rationale is full of holes. Far from being a buffer zone against Islamic fundamentalism, the Balkans has been a focal point of US-backed Islamic fundamentalism aimed at picking apart the former Yugoslavia. For geopolitical reasons, Washington allied itself with the Bosnian Muslims, and then trained and equipped the KLA in Kosovo and NLA in Macedonia, at the same time their former friend, Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11th attacks, was doing the same.

According to a 1999 Washington Times report, (2) parts of the KLA "were trained in terrorists camps run by international fugitive Osama bin Laden." The Muslims Washington sided with in the air war against Yugoslavia had "enlisted Islamic terrorists -- members of the Majahideen -- as soldiers in its ongoing conflict against Serbia." Bin Laden's organization, al-Qaeda, had "both trained and financially supported the KLA," and "many border crossings into Kosovo by 'foreign fighters' (had) been documented and (included) veterans of the militant group Islamic Jihad from Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan." The report pointed out that "State Department officials (had) labelled the KLA a terrorist organization (in 1998), saying it bankrolled its operations with proceeds from the heroin trade and from loans from known terrorists like bin Laden."

Try oil as a more plausible explanation for why Washington wants to cement its military occupation of the Balkans. Walker himself, while paying lip service to the "for-public-consumption" rationale of a buffer zone, let the cat out of the bag. Farish, he notes, "is fascinated by the 'black gold' that lies in large quantities in the countries around the Caspian Sea," and mentions that "US policy advisors are evaluating how best to safeguard American and European interests in the region, including pipelines to the vast oil and gas reserves of central Asia" (my emphasis).

Pipelines. Could they be at the heart of so much human misery, so many intrigues, so many lies, so many lives lost and destroyed? An oil pipeline is to be built across the Balkans from Bulgaria's Black Sea port of Burgas to Vlore on Albania's Adriatic coast. The pipeline, which will have a daily capacity of 750,000 barrels of crude oil, will cross the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), carrying oil from the Caspian. As it happens, the pipeline will transit the territories occupied by the NLA, the KLA offshoot in Macedonia.

Canadian journalist Scott Taylor visited NLA guerillas, dug in outside of Tetovo, Macedonia's second largest city. Welcomed by shouts of "God bless America ...for all that they have provided to us!" (3) Taylor found the guerillas to be well-equipped with weapons marked Made in the U.S.A. At the guerillas' headquarters, fighters wear T-shirts emblazoned with the words NATO Air -- Just do it! George W. Bush, now brandishing a mighty sword to be wielded indiscriminately in a battle against "terrorism," just a few short weeks ago lauded Skopje's Washington-ordered capitulation to NLA-directed terrorism. It seems this is a battle, as veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk remarked, against Washington's enemies, not terrorism.

That the US administration, filled with so many oil men like Farish, is fascinated by Caspian Sea oil, is plain. But you don't have to come from the oil business to appreciate the geopolitical significance of the region. The December 1997 Report of the National Defense Panel, written under the Clinton administration, reads "We will continue to be involved in regions that control scarce resources, such as the Middle East and the emerging Caspian Sea areas for oil, as we try to hedge our own and our allies' resource dependencies." The report might have added that we will also act to ensure the Russians don't get their hands on the region's energy riches, a strengthened rival that can challenge US supremacy being a possibility, from Washington's perspective, to be aggressively guarded against.

The end of the Cold War brought a fleeting moment of optimism to parts of the world. The bogeyman of communism, laying in the ruins of the Berlin Wall, was gone. There would be a peace dividend, new money redirected from a decades-long military build-up, necessary to deter Soviet expansionism, we were told. But it never happened. Instead, Colin Powell, then the country's top military man, lamented that he was "running out of enemies." (4) Powell's dilemma was soon resolved. Shortly thereafter, a new hobgoblin arose in the person of Saddam Hussein, or Saddam, as Bush Sr. called him, a new Hitler for a new age, and a new reason to postpone the peace dividend. Saddam also turned out to be a reason to extend Washington's military tentacles even further afield -- this time right into the heart of the oil-rich Middle East. With the threat of Soviet expansion gone, US expansionism could proceed unchecked. US, and its allies', resource dependencies -- and oil profits -- depended on it.

Next came the Serbs, the new Nazis. The Serbs' problem was that they weren't keen enough on becoming subject peoples of Washington, an offense tantamount to lese majesty, given the Serbs were occupying a strategic region between the Albanian port of Vlore on the Adriatic coast and Bulgaria's Black Sea port of Burgas, terminal points for a pipeline to carry "black gold" from the Caspian. Resource dependencies -- and oil profits -- again. And so various US-engineered intrigues followed, involving material, diplomatic and other support to forces which would tear Yugoslavia apart and leave the Serbs isolated, alone to face a public relations campaign of demonization and finally, the sting of sanctions, a 79-day air war, a bought political opposition, and a coup. Serbs were painted as Nazis, Slobodan Milosevic as a new Hitler, knocking Saddam off his perch as official enemy #1, and the Pentagon's budget swelled, along with the profits of General Electric, Raytheon, McDonnel-Douglas, and other titans of the global killing industry. Death is good business.

Ten years after the Cold War was over, The Washington Post noted, "the United States actually expanded its global military presence. With the establishment ...of a semi-permanent presence of about 20,000 troops in the Persian Gulf area...the United States is now a major military power in almost every region of the world -- the Mideast, Europe, East Asia and the Western Hemisphere." (5)

NATO, searching desperately for a raison d'etre after the fall of the Berlin Wall -- the alliance was after all said to exist to deter a Soviet invasion of Western Europe -- has found a new lease on life, a new mission...or, to put it more accurately, a new cover story. The official line about deterring Soviet aggression was just that -- a line. NATO has always been Washington's way of dominating Europe, of being a European power, as Colin Powell put it not too long ago. So, with the collapse of the original cover story, a new one had to be invented, to get all those daft legislators to stop asking embarrassing questions like, If the Soviet threat is gone, why do we still need an alliance to deter the Soviet threat? Why do we need to spend over $300 billion every year on the military, far in excess of what Cuba, Libya, Sudan, Syria, North Korea, Iraq and Iran -- "states of concern" -- spend combined? And these states aren't in Europe, so why do we still need a NATO? Why does NATO have to keep expanding, gobbling up parts of the former Soviet Union? And why is it that leaders who aren't interested in joining NATO end up being denounced as dictators and targeted for election-defeat by US-backed and funded political parties, NGO's and media?

Inventing reasons for funnelling billions into the pockets of the military-industrial complex and forcing other countries to throw open their doors to US firms buying up their assets and resources can be a tough business. But not if you have something really big, something like communism, something that's pervasive and can't be defeated in a single campaign, but keeps going. Compare Powell's "I'm running out of enemies," uttered soon after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, to this, uttered two weeks ago: "I think (the war on terrorism) will certainly be years and I think it's a campaign that will probably continue for as long as I can imagine." (6) You can hear a collective sigh of relief in Washington. At long last, an enemy that won't go away quickly. If the Soviet Union had never existed, Washington would have invented it, indeed, it did invent the idea that the Soviets were bent on world conquest, a handy cover to hide Washington's own campaign of world conquest. "We're only doing it to save the world from communism!" But now we have a new crusade. Welcome to the new anti-communism -- the War on Terrorism...or at least on terror directed at the US.

"Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear--kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor--with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil...to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded." These are the words of General Douglas MacArthur, uttered in 1957. He went on to say that the evils usually turned out to be inventions.

But this time the evil isn't an invention. It's real. The Twin Towers did collapse. And part of the Pentagon did crumble. Thousands of lives were lost. Still, the evil, real or invented, has the same effect. We're still blindly rallying behind the president, prepared to furnish whatever exorbitant funds he demands, prepared to take whatever draconian measures he commands. September 11th lets Washington do a lot. It gives the administration an opportunity to mobilize the US public in support of a more strident and aggressive campaign of securing military access to oil rich central Asia and to consolidating US military control over the Balkans, under cover of defeating terrorism and safeguarding American lives at home. It gives Bush an excuse to limit civil liberties and to crackdown on dissent. It gives Washington carte blanche to raid social security and to pitch fork money into the Pentagon and intelligence services. It gives the president an opportunity to make over America in a way he could never make it over without a national emergency to frighten the public into going along.

But it's a cover. Washington's War on Terrorism won't stop terror attacks. It will only encourage more. Israel's brutal military occupation of Lebanon didn't stop terror attacks. Tanks, helicopter gun ships, extrajudicial assassinations and F-15s haven't stopped Palestinians from waging their Intifada. And it hasn't stopped suicide bombings. On the contrary -- the terror attacks are now more frequent. When President Reagan ordered jets to bomb Muammar Qaddafi's tent in 1986, a Libyan agent soon after planted a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Close to 300 people were killed. Prosecutors said the agent was avenging the US attack on Qaddafi.

Unless criminally stupid, the people who run Washington know that bombing Afghanistan, establishing a military presence in Pakistan, bullying central Asian countries into accepting a US military presence, and attacks on Libya and Iraq, are going to provoke more terrorist attacks, not safeguard the American public. But they also know that, from their perspective, more terror attacks against American civilians aren't entirely to be wished against. A public that fears for its safety is willing to line up behind the administration, to consent to bigger military budgets, to crackdowns on dissent. It will lay politics aside, retreat from criticizing the administration on domestic policy, grow intolerant of "black-clad anarchists" and the anti-globalization movement, and bully into silence anyone who dares speak out against the flexing of US military muscle abroad. It will agree to a police state, where the authorities have the right to open mail, intercept e-mail, listen in on phone conversations, trample civil liberties, and jail suspicious characters, in the name of keeping the public safe. It will see nothing wrong with the airline industry getting handouts to recover from the September 11th attacks, but never ask why the jobs of airline workers are not likewise protected, or why the victims of the attacks are forced to rely on charity, while corporate executives and investors get government bailouts. It won't wonder why the profits of the firms that supply the military rise in proportion to its growing sense of insecurity. It will accept that democracy has to give way to security, because after all, we're at war.

American journalist H.L. Menken once remarked, "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary." He might have added that when you can find one that isn't imaginary, and then intensify it by acting in ways that makes its recurrence all the more likely, you've really hit on something. And what you've hit on breeds a complex pattern of behavior: blind patriotism; militarism; racism; concentration of power in the administration; an intolerance of, and therefore a virtual absence of political opposition; a readiness to subordinate democracy and civil liberties to the imperatives of rooting out terrorists; aggressive use of the military to threaten other countries; a perpetual sense of being under continual attack.

There's a name for this -- fascism.



1.  Tom Walker, US to build buffer zone in Balkans, The Sunday Times, Sept. 23, 2001, http://www.sunday-times.co.uk/news/pages/sti/2001/09/23/stifgneur02003.html  (back)
2.  Jerry Seper, KLA rebels train in terrorist camps, The Washington Times, May 4, 1999.  (back)
3.  Scott Taylor, Macedonian's Civil War: 'Made in the USA', August 20, 2001, http://www.antiwar.com/orig/taylor1.html  (back)
4.  Robert Borosage, We Do Guns--Not Plagues, http://fpif.org/papers/aids/index_body.html  (back)
5.  Thomas E. Ricks. Empire or Not: A Quiet Debate over US Role, The Washington Post, August 21, 2001.  (back)
6.  Camillo Fracassini, Powell warns war on terror may never end, Scotland on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2001, http://www.scotlandonsunday.com/index.cfm?id=SS01037052&feed=N  (back)


       Stephen Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Stephen Gowans 2001. All rights reserved.

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Published October 1, 2001
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