" Universal Community of Friends - The War for Oil Subtext in Afghanistan by Fran Shor

Published on Sunday, November 25, 2001


The War for Oil Subtext in Afghanistan
by Fran Shor


A recent article in the "Washington Post" provided a brief but revealing portrait of the role of US Special Forces in Afghanistan. The story was not about searching out Bin Laden and his followers in the caves of Afghanistan. Instead, the "Post" reported on a US Special Forces operation aimed at interdicting and destroying Iranian oil shipments to Afghan cities. According to the report, the trucks carrying the oil were destroyed by the camouflaged and goggled-eyed soldiers. Shouting "terrorists" at the frightened Iranian truck-drivers, the Special Forces handcuffed the drivers and led them away from where the trucks were then blown to bits. Although not harmed physically, the Iranians were completely baffled by why they were targets of such an attack, especially given the alleged civilian customers.

The reader of the story might also be baffled as to why US Special Forces would conduct such an operation. Certainly, one could argue from the Pentagon's perspective that delivering precious fuel to potential Taliban supporters would constitute an important target. Of course, acknowledging that military targets encompass fuel supplies raises questions about how precise and restricted these military targets are. In fact, the Pentagon has conducted its military campaign in Afghanistan with weapons (e.g., cluster bombs) and targets (e.g. power stations) that put civilians, in particular, at risk.

But, then, the larger question remains: "Why Iranian oil trucks?" What does Iranian oil, or indeed, any oil have to do with the war in Afghanistan? Simply put, the answer is that one of the primary subtexts for the Bush Administration's war in Afghanistan has been to guarantee control over the oil flow and reserves in Central Asia.

Such intervention in this region is not new. In fact, when the popularly elected Dr. Mohammed Mossadeq threatened to nationalize Iranian oil in 1953, US and British secret services conspired in overthrowing him and restoring the Shah to power. Then, the political rationale for this intervention was the "communist" threat. So, Cold War ideology became a convenient cover for what would become an oil bonanza for Standard and Gulf. It's also not surprising that one of the key CIA operatives at the time in Iran, Kermit Roosevelt, later became an executive with Gulf Oil.

Protection of US oil interests became a consuming matter to a host of Administrations. The so-called Carter doctrine, based on President Carter's State of the Union address in 1980 in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution made clear that an "attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf will be regarded by an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

The presence and build-up by the Carter, Reagan, and Bush Administrations of the US military in the region was, of course, not viewed as an "outside force," at least not by the client Gulf states whose corrupt and undemocratic regimes were willing partners in the oil business and even more willing clients for Pentagon products and forces. As long as Iraq was a willing junior partner in its war with Iran, the US willingly fed Saddam Hussein all the heinous weapons that he turned against the Kurds and other inhabitants of Iraq. Only when Iraq threatened Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and talked about taking its petrodollars elsewhere did the Bush Administration raise its concern about stability in the region and US vital interests.

Obviously, other geopolitical matters and internal politics in the US were part of the subtext for the Gulf War. But it's no surprise that the Gulf War was quickly labeled a war for oil by opponents of Bush's policies in the region and gained some resonance with the general population in the US. Unfortunately, the corporate media, submitting rather pliantly to government censorship, had little interest in probing the connections between the politics of oil and the Bush Administration.

Now with another Bush Administration in Washington, but with many of the same players, including those with obvious oil connections like VP Dick Cheney, and another war in the region, there needs to be some analysis of the politics of oil. The "Post" article gives no inkling of the oil connections. Nor should one expect to find those linkages in the corporate media. However, when one turns to alternative media sources and the internet, an interesting history comes to light - a history focused in particular around the role of the Unocal Oil company.

Unocal has been actively engaged in doing business with repressive regimes throughout the world in their search for oil and natural gas reserves. From connections to military dictatorships in Burma and Indonesia, Unocal spread its oily tentacles throughout the third world. Having been part of a consortium of US oil firms exploring potential gas and oil reserves in Central Asia, Unocal turned its attention to Afghanistan in the late 1990's. Not averse to doing business with the Taliban, Unocal unsuccessfully tried to induce the Taliban as late as last summer into making a deal for a major oil pipeline across the country. When the talks broke off, there were rumblings in Washington that the Taliban would have to make way for a more pliable government.

It's important to stress that Unocal, like many Washington policymakers, was willing to do business with the Taliban and turn a blind eye to their outrageous human rights abuses. More importantly, Unocal was fishing around for Washington to assert its power in the region to get a more pliable government in Afghanistan. Appearing before the House International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific in February of 1998, John J. Maresca, Unocal's VP for International Relations asserted: "From the outset, we have made it clear that the construction of our proposed pipeline cannot begin until a recognized government is in place that has the confidence of our government, lenders, and our company." Maresca went on to urge "the Administration and Congress to give strong support to the UN-Led peace process in Afghanistan."

Now that the Bush Administration through its military campaign has devastated an already brutalized country, the touting on a new non-Taliban government has become a key political objective and the UN is offering its services to help broker a new government in Afghanistan. Of course, neither the UN nor any other international agency was utilized by the Bush Administration to seek an alternative to the war in Afghanistan. Working through the World Court on the newly developed International Criminal Court (which the US has spurned) would have been impossible given the track record of Washington in these matters. Even when the Taliban offered to give up Bin Laden to a third country, Washington rejected this and pursued its nearly unilateral military campaign.

With this larger context in mind, the US Special Forces operation against Iranian oil shipments to Afghanistan becomes less murky. Furthermore, Bush's executive orders to prevent release of the presidential papers of his father's Administration and the Reagan Administration and the use of secret military tribunals against terrorist networks also takes on a new perspective. A cover-up of connections to the politics of oil, including the financial involvement of the Bin Laden family interests in Saudi Arabia, is an obvious subtext in all of this.

It would be a mistake to assume that the only motivation for the war in Afghanistan is oil. The whole agenda of military and business interests in the region and the continuing necessity to prop-up an arcane military Keynesianism, especially through the expenditure of funds for weapons, however immoral and in violation of international law, is of paramount importance to the military-industrial complex running this country. Until the people wake up to the message contained in Eisenhower's farewell address, we will face unending wars made by Washington policymakers. Warning against the "unwarranted influence" of the "military-industrial complex," Eisenhower prophesied about the "potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power."

In this two front war at home and abroad, we are witnesses to the misplaced power of the Bush Administration. Before there are more victims of such megalomanical Washington policymakers, we need to recall another Eisenhower prophecy, albeit paraphrased: Some day the people of this country will get so tired of the warmakers that they will rise up and get rid of them. With so many lives in the balance, can we afford to wait any longer?

Fran Shor is a Professor at Wayne State University and a member of the Michigan Coalition on Human Rights. He can be reached at f.shor@wayne.edu.

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